Swat Valley Vintage Buttons - 2013
This photo is from the private collection
from Julie of Tika Imports
This photo is from Julie of Tika Imports
These Gilgit buttons are available in our warehouse
and ready for sale.
I first discovered these beautiful shell buttons in Tucson while visiting a vendor after the one day business was finished, and we were having a beer and some food in his booth/room. I looked in a paper bag stashed under a table and saw these incredible buttons inside. When I asked him what they were, Zahair told me they were old vintage Swat Valley buttons from Pakistan. There were about 400 buttons, and there were about 4 different sizes and designs. I bought them all on the spot, and my love affair with these fabulous buttons began.
Zahair is Afghani, and sold tribal antiques from Afghanistan and Pakistan. He told me these buttons were over 100 years old, and came from Gilgit, the regional city of the area in the Swat Valley of Northern Pakistan and the North Western Tribal Areas. Gilgit is on the crossroads of the ancient Silk Road, which was used by traders traveling from China to the west and India. I did more research, and found articles posted on the web by Kathleen of Global Beads in Mountain View, California, and Julie of Tika Imports. Both confirmed that these buttons were as Zahair stated. These buttons are also known as "Tany". The shell would have been imported into Gilgit from the Arabian Ocean, Indian Ocean and South China Sea, and quite possibly the Mediterranean Sea.
My stash sold out quickly, and soon I was scrambling to find more. I found a new source out of Pakistan, who had thousands in stock, of which I have been able to replenish my inventory several times. According to my new supplier, Tany (Gilgit or Swat Valley buttons) were carved in Gilgit, Pakistan between 1905 and 1930 during the British Raj era and were worn on traditional clothing and hats. Also according to my supplier, the President of Pakistan has declared antique Tany buttons a national treasure and not permitted to be exported out of Pakistan any longer. So as the antique button stashes run out, we will have to rely on new shell Tany buttons to fill our needs. And currently we still have some of the old ones still in stock in our warehouse.
Fairly new Gilgit buttons
Talking to Julie of Tika, who specializes in this area, new Tany are still being carved in Gilgit, but the shell looks new (does not have the golden patina which developed over the century the antique ones have been in existence) and have floral curved edges which look different than the old ones. New buttons are substantially cheaper in price than the antiques. But Pakistan is well known to have very talented smugglers, so as long as there are customers for antique buttons, and as long as there are antique buttons, sources will be available. Besides the fact, that Pakistan has bigger problems than button smugglers to worry about. Sometimes it is difficult to tell the new form the old, so we rely heavily on our suppliers.
One other major problem for me as an importer is that I like to go to areas of interest to find items such as the Gilgit buttons and purchase them direct either from the market or from the manufacturer.
The Swat Valley, being up north in the tribal areas of Pakistan, has become off limits to Americans because the area is a hotbed of militancy and terrorism, and currently is the place the US is fighting the Taliban with drone attacks. We are not well loved there and a business trip to the region could definitely end in disaster. So we will have to rely on Pakistani suppliers to bring the product to us. Our most recent supplier is an Afghani Pustan who visits the area once a year. On his last trip, March 2013, he only stayed four days because anything longer and people will start to pay attention to him and he could be kidnapped. He is also an American citizen, which would increase his danger.
Ancients and Antique buttons
Front side of the buttons
(photos courtesy of Julie of Tika Imports)
Backside of the buttons
The Gilgit area is also known for its brass buttons and parts.
J-Me and Guy are the owners of Wild Things Beads, a small family run import business specializing in Czech glass beads and buttons and finding the unusual to bring to their warehouse. They also run working bead tours to Jablonec and Hong Kong. Their warehouse is located deep in the Sierra Nevada foothills of Northern California, and can be reached by phone at (530)743 1339 or on the web at www.wildthingsbeads.com. They are also open by appointment at their warehouse.