What makes antique badges collectible and valuable? As with any collectible there is an appreciation for the craftsmanship, quality, and history that is embedded within an artifact. Badges have a special place not just for the pure history, but also because they represent power, authority, justice, and sacrifice. The men and women who wore law, fire, and transportation badges all made sacrifices and braved the odds to do their jobs every day. By collecting these artifacts and tracing their history we can remember in some small way how America became a land of law, order, and self-sacrifice.
There are several attributes that typically comprise the value of an antique badge:
- Condition – This is common sense to most collectors, but a badge that is in good condition (no scratches, dents, corrosion, or other damage) will be worth more than one that is in poor condition. With some exceptionally rare and old badges some condition issues will not greatly devalue it, but generally badges were well taken care of and should be in good to very good condition for collectors.
Note: Once common way to spot fake badges is corrosion, rust, rough texture, or pitting of metal that is either poor quality, or has been manipulated to look older.
- Rarity – Rarity is a tough issue among badge collecting because two badges that look very much alike can be worlds apart in rarity and value. In general, rarity is determined by some of the categories shown below, rank, owner, badge type, and provenance. Badges owned by famous lawmen, high ranking officers, presentation badges and other uncommon finds typically are worth much more than an average patrolman’s badge. However, even within large police departments there are rarer variants of badges and collectors of a particular department or area may pay top dollar for a hard to find badge that would complete their collection.
- Rank – Not all badges include the rank of the officer, but badges that are labeled as high ranking positions such as chief of police or similar are rare and highly collectible.
Note: Many counterfeiters know that high ranks bring more value and there are a lot of fakes with chief of police, sheriff, constable, US Marshal, or similar high ranking positions on them, so be very careful and if you don’t feel comfortable, don’t make the deal. There will always be more badges.
- Owner – If the badge has the name of the officer on it, and especially if there are records showing that person working at that time, it add significantly to the value and authenticity of the badge. Generally, names on the front of the badge add more value than a name on the reverse. Most badges do not have a name on them, but sometimes the officer number can be used in combination with department or government records to identify the officer.
- Material – Badges made of Sterling Silver or Gold are more valuable than those made of brass, steel, tin, copper, or other materials. These badges also tend to be engraved, enameled, or otherwise decorated and often were given as presentation badges for career achievement.
Note: If a badge is marked as Sterling or Silver, or advertised as silver and you can see rust on the badge or other tarnishing not consistent with silver then you may be looking at a fake, or at the very least a misrepresented item. Silver badges will not rust!!
- Type of Badge – While most badges were simply regular issue from the police department with one badge per officer, there were occasionally reauthorized duplicates if one were lost or stolen, sometimes these are stamped or marked by a different maker than the company that had the contract with, or stamped in an atypical location by the regular maker. Additionally, one-off unique badged with special engraving, or made with silver, gold, or gemstones called presentation badges are among the most collectible badges.
- Eye Appeal – This is purely subjective to the buyer and collector, but some badges just shout at you and catch your attention, while others fade to the back. This is what collecting is all about, find the things that strike you and get them.
- Provenance – Provenance is important for multiple reasons. First, it’s important because it can help authenticate a badge and make sure it’s not a fake. More importantly perhaps, is the historical story it adds to the piece. When a badge has pictures of the wearer with it, any documents that flesh out its history, or other information from family or government records it can add greatly to the value, sometimes 2-4 times what it would be worth without the provenance.
- Maker’s Hallmark – A maker’s hallmark is one of those things on collectible badges that doesn’t have to be there, but can be a nice bonus when it is. Maker’s marks or hallmarks are stamps on the back of the badge that identify the company that produced it. If the company is still in business, sometimes contacting them can help identify which years they used a specific mark and whether they had contracts with a given city or department.