The History of Corozo Buttons
The history of corozo dates back to the mid 1800’s and the explosive growth of trade routes between Europe and South America. Wooden sailboats carrying many types of South American exports skipped down the pacific coast line, jumping from port to port, as they collected supplies and passengers. It was common practice at the time to fill the bottom of these sail boats with sand in order to create ballast and provide added stability when traveling in rough seas. As the ships collected goods, sand would be removed from the ballast to account for the added weight of the goods. There was one fatal flaw with this strategy though and it was that being wooden ships, they would often corrode and rot around the hull causing leaks to filter water onto the sand. The sand would then absorb all the water and the resulting weight of this mixture could easily sink the ship. Sailors began looking for something they could replace this sand with; something that wouldn’t absorb water like sand did and was readily available in their shipping routes. They found that something in Tagua nuts. Tagua nuts were heavy, plentiful and most importantly they did not soak up water. Ships used the nut as ballast for years and often came back to port in Europe with big loads of them still stored in their hulls. By chance one of these ships ended up in Hamburg, Germany where an artist noticed them and took a few home to see what they were. He noticed he was able to carve the nut into different shapes and that the material was well suited for this type of work. He commercialized his creations and they were a success. Pretty soon, German businessmen noticed the potential profit they could make from the seeds and began paying to have them imported back to Germany. As the tagua trade grew, the first German tagua trading post was built in Manta, Ecuador, where they found the main source of these nuts. It was called the “Tagua Handelsgesellschaft M.B.H.” or Tagua Trading Company and, when settled in 1895, it marked the beginning of the Tagua Industry.
As the tagua business grew, German businessmen began to export the nuts to Italy, where they would be carved and then returned to the Germans for commercialization. The Italians then became interested in finding the source of these nuts, which had been kept a secret by the Germans, and they did years later in Ecuador. In 1910 Italian traders built the “Casa Tagua” or Tagua house in Manta, nearby where the German Tagua Trading Company had settled years before. Interestingly enough the Zanchi family, which owned the Casa Tagua, and the Hellwig family, who managed the Tagua Handelsgesellschaft are the direct lineage of the family that owns Corozo Buttons today. In a way, the history of Corozo Buttons dates back to the beginning of tagua trade. The tagua industry thrived and grew very quickly in the early 1900’s, unfortunately tagua demand suffered in the years leading up to the war with the advent of plastics. The German Tagua Trading Company was forced to close its doors and the Casa Tagua barely survived under the leadership of its original owners. It wasn’t until the 1960’s and 70’s, after decades of dwindling interest that natural materials made their way back into public interest and Tagua would take off again. Through an incredible coincidence and unbeknownst to them, the two grandchildren of the original families had become involved in an amorous relationship. Almost six decades later, the two families were united and in 1982, they retook the tagua business. It started as a raw blanks exporter, but over time the business evolved into finished button production and eventually became Corozo Buttons (Green Ivory International Inc.).