Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Not an acorn, but a button

This may well be the most controversial thing I ever write. But a purist can't let public opinion stop her from conveying the truth, can she?

Peter Pan did not give Wendy an acorn, despite the scads of interpretations that depict exactly that. According to Mr. Barrie, he gave her an acorn button, which was enough of a distinction to start me wondering. An acorn button began to seem like something so commonplace in the Edwardian era as to need no explanation, but which most of us have no knowledge of now.

And a button seemed so much reasonable to me. It's this button which Wendy puts on a chain around her neck, which saves her life when the lost boys shoot her down from the sky with an arrow on Tinker Bell's orders.  How, I wondered, would Wendy go about putting Peter's acorn on a chain around her neck? Did she pull a tiny drill out of her sewing kit and put a hole through the cap before the sound could wake her parents?

As I had only suspicions but no grounded knowledge, I set my crack team of vintage costumers (yes, it turns out I have one, and useful that turns out to be) on the trail, and sure enough:


are acorn buttons. It's one of the terms for shank buttons made of wood or metal, often wrapped with decorative thread, and that fact would have been common knowledge in the era when Peter Pan was written.

So the button that stopped Tootles's arrow from killing Wendy? Was one of those, not one of these:

(The link will take you to directions to make an acorn necklace, but it requires glue and time to dry. Still not something that can be done in minutes). The confusion is understandable, and not just because of cultural changes. Peter is from the wilderness, Wendy from domestic life in the city--an exchange of acorn and thimble has thematic resonance. And he would have more access to acorns than buttons, although I'm sure he would have no problem finding the latter on the London streets.

Still. Accuracy, please! Mind you, I think trinkets like the one above are lovely, and I have a couple myself which I've been wearing even though I had that feeling they were incorrect. (The one above is from Hooligan Alley on I won't blame the 1953 Disney film for the error (not this time); that film's entire exchange came to down to Wendy giving Peter a thimble because he was so alarmed by her attempt to give him an actual kiss. Wendy doesn't put anything around her neck, and Peter saves her from falling when the lost boys shoot their slingshots at her at Tinker Bell's order. As much as I love the 2003 film, it carries more blame because Peter does in fact give Wendy an actual acorn.

Thus do fairy tales change over time, although when I can look to the original for facts, I will continue to do so and wave my tiny, ineffectual banner in an effort to draw attention to them. The thimble/kiss confusion does play a part in The Stowaway. It will be easy enough to insert a bit of correction while I'm in there.


  1. Thank you for explaning this! Could you post the link how to make an acorn button? Would be much appreciated :)

    1. You're most welcome! Unfortunately, I don't know how to make one. You might try asking a historical costumer or looking in Victorian fashion books. I wasn't able to find much online, but there must be more information on these buttons out there somewhere.

  2. How wonderful! I am so glad I found this! I am considering a thimble/"acorn" tattoo and also noticed that it was an acorn button that was given, not an acorn! Any chance you have any clearer pictures of the buttons? I'd like to provide y artist with as accurate a representation as I can and yours in the only place I can find anything. I know it is a long shot, but I figured I would at least ask! Thanks for the information!

  3. Hello! Thanks for commenting.

    I had better luck finding images this time around (enough so that I'll be replacing the one in the blog post). I think this first one in particular might be useful to you:

    If you can't access the links, please let me know. I'm on a new laptop and not yet sure exactly how everything works. And I'd love to see a pic of the tattoo. :-)

  4. Thanks for the clarification, but I'll just stick to the Little White Bird, where she gives Peter a 'kiss' (thimble) and then ask for a 'thimble' in return, to which she explains a thimble is like this *and gives him a kiss*

    1. Not as good a plot device, I suppose. Ah well.

  5. But apparently in olde days people did wear real acorns as amulets (or so I have seen on google) and likely the edwardian buttons were a knock off of those?