In my personal family collection is a small button, 12.4 mm or half an inch in diameter, with a photograph on it of my great-uncle Willem Hendrik Schipper (1882-1932), dressed in his Dutch merchant navy uniform. I've not seen many of these around, so I thought I'd do some research on when they were popular and how they were produced. It would also be nice to know how many others have examples in their collections.
Judging from a comparison of this photograph with others of Willem in an old album which belonged to my great-aunt Tante Gien, it was taken in his mid- to late twenties, say between 1906 and 1912. He was eventually Chief Engineer on several ships belonging to Royal Dutch Lloyd, but I imagine that at this time he was of a more junior rank.
This photo button was designed with a pin on the reverse, presumably so that it could be worn on clothing.
The first cameras specifically designed to produce photo buttons appear to have been the rather unwieldy Takuquick (1902) and Taquta (1905), both using dry ferrotype plates loaded into a separate compartment which, after exposure, were dropped into a developing and fixing unit .
Wonder Automatic Cannon camera, c.1910
Two brothers Manuel and Louis Mandel, operating as the Chicago Ferrotype Company, started selling a variety of "one-minute picture-taking machines in 1907 .
Louis Mandel's Magazine Developing Camera, Patented Dec. 22, 1908
They introduced their first commercial camera, the Mandel-ette, capable of taking direct positive photographs using a 2½" x 3½" card format, in 1909, and followed that with the Wonder Automatic camera, originally patented in the United States 1908 as a "Magazine Developing Camera," shortly after . This condensed the photographic apparatus into a much smaller and handier package.
In 1910 an improvement marketed as the Wonder Automatic Cannon camera was being sold, capable of producing eight button photographs per minute, a complete outfit being priced at $23.30. This enabled a very low production cost, and a reasonable profit from selling the photo buttons at 5 cents each . One inch diameter sensitised blanks were loaded into the cannon, the shutter was operated by squeezing the rubber bulb, and a bolt-operated device dropped the exposed button into a developer tank in the base. After 30 seconds the button was removed from the tank, rinsed and inserted into a pinback frame . It was patented in England in 1911, and presumably sold there after that date.
Errtee button tintype camera by Romain Talbot, Berlin, 1912
Telephot by British Ferrotype Co., Blackpool, c.1913
Image courtesy of Early Photography
Several other similar photo button cameras were produced, including the Errtee and Wundergranate by Romain Charles Talbot of Berlin, Germany (1910), and the more telescope-like Telephot from the British Ferrotype Co. of Blackpool, England (1913) [1,6].
Räderkanone by Romain Talbot, Berlin, c.1912
Image courtesy of John's Rollei Collection
The Räderkanone (Romain Talbot, c.1912), operating with the same prionciples but fashioned in the shape of an artillery cannon, was commonly used by itinerant photographers at fairs, carnivals and other tourist attractions .
I found images of several different types of photo button on the net, sometimes with ornate or decorated frames, and often with the name of the type (Rapid Pinback), manufacturer (Granley Photo Button Mfg. Co., 4109 Wabash Avenue, Chicago; Indianapolis Photo Button Co., No 8½ E. Wash. St.) or photographer (W.T. Ross, Appleton, Wis.) printed inside the back, and in one case even a possible date (May 31, 98.).
I'd be keen to see other varieties, and perhaps even some dated examples. It suggested by some authors  that these button cameras continued to be used into the late 1930s, but it would be nice to see some dated examples or advertisements. Please feel free to send me some scans or, even better, blog about them yourself and post a link in the comments.
 Cameras: From Daguerreotypes to Instant Pictures, by Brian Coe, Crown Publishers, 1978, p.181-183.
 Chicago Ferrotype Company History, by Historic Camera History Librarium.
 Magazine Developing Camera, Louis Mandel, Patent Application filed 7 July 1908, Granted 22 Dec 1908, Courtesy of Google Patents.
 Photographic Advertising from A to Z Ads from 1888 to 1940's, by Mike Butkus.
 Camera: A History of Photography from Daguerreotype to Digital, by Todd Gustavson, New York: Sterling Publishing Co., 2009, p. 303-304.
 Telephot, by Early Photography.
 Historically Important Cameras, by John's Rollei Collection.