by Michelle Drummey
Sometimes a big mystery can come in a small package. Museum Textile Services recently acquired a jar of 20th-century buttons to aid in conservation treatments, such as replacing missing buttons from garments. Of all the buttons, a single one has inspired curiosity in the MTS team.
Crafted from what appears to be thin brass-colored metal, the stamped face of the hollow button bears an image of two figures surrounding a crown atop a crest or shield. Circling the image is text reading, “LUDOVICUS REX PLURES NON CAPIT ORBIS,” which translates as, “There is no room in the world for more than one King Ludovicus.” While this button is clearly modern, I wondered if it is a reproduction of an older design. As it turns out, these buttons are popping up throughout Europe, as well as in in Russia and the United States. The internet is abuzz with button collectors and even numismatists trying to figure out who King Ludovicus was.
The challenge is that the Latin name Ludovicus can translate into a number of names, including Louis, Ludwig, or even Luigi. Ironically, while the button states that there can only be one King Ludovicus, history says otherwise, as Kings bearing various forms of the name Louis reigned across Europe, as far back as the time of Charlemagne.
Although I’m no expert on buttons or European heraldry, the image encircled by the text may be the key. At the very center of the button are three cross-like shapes within an emblem resembling a crest, topped by a crown. After comparing our button to other examples, it seems that those three shapes may actually be fleurs-de-lis. I discovered that our button actually looks a lot like the insignia of French monarchy during the 17th and 18th centuries. An almost identical motif can be seen in this photograph of a carved ceiling at Versailles.
It appears, therefore, that Ludovicus Rex may refer to King Louis of France...but there was more than one King Louis, of course. The Palace of Versailles, where the above image above was taken, was the official residence of the Kings of France from 1682 until 1790, included Louis XIII through Louis XVI.
Still, some researchers claim that the King referred to on our button was King Ludwig II of Bavaria, who notably built the castle which stood as inspiration for the iconic Sleeping Beauty castle of Disney fame. Will we ever know who King Ludovicus is? Perhaps one day, with the help of specialists, we may.