Vegetable Ivory is certainly a strange name, isn’t it? Especially considering that Vegetable Ivory buttons are made from neither vegetable or ivory! It’s actually a nut that comes from a palm tree in South America! It has a dense meaty center, and is called either tagua or corzo. They are sliced as in the picture above, and shaped into buttons, and the designs are either carved or impressed into the surface. Because the nuts are so dense, they only take dye on the surface of the button. So, a lot of times underneath the button, where the shank is placed, you can still see the original nut color.
They were a favorite for uniform buttons because they were inexpensive to produce and took design easily. As an example, Brownie and Girl Scouts uniform buttons in the 1950’s, were vegetable ivory.
*Information came from Warman’s Buttons Field Guide by Jill Gorski