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The more you know about what you are looking for, the more likely you are to find it. If you know enough, you may even uncover rarities in caches where they have been overlooked by those who explored them before you. Some highly desirable buttons have eluded seasoned collectors because they were especially designed to be overlooked. Since a plain button can be worn constantly without getting any attention, the hollow inside can easily serve as a secret compartment. And a fancy button can use its obvious charms to conceal a hidden intent.
During the Civil War, we are told, soldiers carried gold pieces inside their uniform buttons so that they could offer ransom, if they were captured. During World War I, our soldiers could buy buttons which met army regulations in appearance. Each one, however, in addition to its function as coat fastener was a perfect locket which could be opened and fitted with two pictures.
Not every one put such secret compartments to innocent use. Japanese artists have made for special purposes a carved ivory button in two parts with a top and bottom that screw together. The joining is concealed completely in the carving-but not for art alone. The owner who wishes may carry opium or other contraband inside the seemingly solid button.
Hiding something inside a button is kindergarten work compared to the mechanics that went into designing a camouflage compass button, such as was used in World War II. Few G.L's ever heard of compass buttons, for their existence was a closely guarded secret. They looked just like ordinary buttons and even under close scrutiny gave no telltale evidence of their purpose. They were issued sparingly to flyers and paratroopers of certain American and British commands who might be caught behind enemy lines. With the proper know-how, it was a simple matter to set up one of the buttons as a compass.