Now, I’m no expert on buttons, but you’d be amazed how much research there has been done on this subject! As an example for the Nordic areas, there is a book by Otto Helander “Något om knappens historia i Sverige” (Something about the history of button in Sweden). The following knowledge I am about to share comes from this book and some diverse places in the Internet.
During prehistoric times, buttons were rare in the North. Well, there are button-like things known from Bronze Age, but then they disappear. During Late Iron Age, Viking Age in particular, buttons reappear in the North, but these are pretty much exclusively connected to the oriental connections. It is only starting from medieval times and from the 14th century when the real history of buttons starts. This coming of button was connected to the change in clothing – from long and flowing to tight. However, at first, buttons were just something for the clothes of wealthy people and these were, furthermore, mainly used as decoration and not as methods of closing clothing (for which lacing or hooks were used). From the end of the 16th century buttons became more common, but it is still only from the 18th century when buttons really did appear on the clothing of workers and peasants – at first, on male attire and from the mid 19th century also on female attire.
Unfortunately, among ca 30 buttons that I have documented during metal detector surveys at the Kvarnbo Hall site (from all over the field without any particular area of concentration), there isn’t a single one that I would dare to state to be older than the 18th century. But from the typological point of view, it can be stated that cast brass buttons with concave panel clearly dominate the material. Very similar to these are cast brass buttons with the flower motive in the middle that I have also discovered from my site. These kinds of buttons were one of the more prevalent types used by common people. There were many vests and pants with exactly these kinds of buttons during the late 18th and, especially, 19th century. Btw, in Finnish, the type with the flower motive in the middle has even its own name – Kansanpuvun nappi (folk costume button).
The most common type of button today, the 4-hole button was adopted only in the end of the 19th and in the beginning of the 20th century. At first, by men, but after the WW I, when more masculine female fashion became popular, also by women. Such buttons are very boring as these don’t allow any pattern on the button; I would also deem the two 4-hole buttons discovered at the Kvarnbo Hall site as the most mundane of buttons at the site. At the same time, the most interesting button from Kvarnbo has to be the very large and crudely made 2-hole button. Mostly because I haven’t seen anything alike before 🙂 (Actually, I’m not even sure if it is a button.).