Collecting Military Badges


Collecting Military Badges


New collectors are best advised to look out for any badges which are reasonably priced. The hobby does lend itself to thematic collecting, but initially there is no advantage in specialisation - go for what you can afford. It is possible to build up an impressive collection of military headgear badges without paying extravagant prices. And there is always the possibility of a large collection becoming more valuable in the future.

Popular themes usually take the form of collecting to a particular branch of the Army, to units from a certain region, or even units present at a given campaign.

Until the Cardwell Army reforms of 1881, most regiments of the British Army were not recognised by the well-known regional titles they bear today. They were numbered according to their date of foundation, in order of precedence from 1 to 109.

Their badges, displayed on the headdress, shoulder belts and buckles, usually featured the regimental number, which would sometimes be accompanied by other regimental symbols. Many different styles of badge were used.

After 1881, most infantry regiments became affiliated to a particular county or region of the British Isles. From then on the regimental emblem became the centrepiece of the cap badge and the number became less significant.

Since that time, major conflicts and political developments, as well as spending cuts have led to many changes. Army units have evolved, amalgamated, occasionally expanded and sometimes ceased to exist. These reorganisations have been reflected in the cap badges worn by each unit through the years.


Collecting Military Badges
Different designs of badges were developed in accordance to the headgear being used. Prior to 1881, soldiers generally wore a helmet badge bearing the number of the regiment. This was later replaced by a single, large badge in the shape of a star and topped by a crown, known as a Helmet Plate.

 This had an open centre, into which a separate circular badge was inserted to identify an individual regiment. These inserts were called 'Helmet Plate Centres' and usually bore the unit title around the outside and a symbol associated with the regiment in the centre.

When off-duty the normal style of headdress  worn by soldiers was the Glengarry. The badge adopted for the Glengarry after 1881 was the regimental Helmet Plate Centre with a separate crown above. The two parts were kept in position by a backing plate.

By the turn of the century the Glengarry had fallen out of favour and soldiers wore field service caps. Because the star and Helmet Plate Centre were too large to fit to the cap a new generation of badges evolved - again the regimental emblem became the main part of the badge, often with a small scroll bearing the regimental title or motto.

 This style of badge has prevailed to the present day, although many have changed over the years as a result of amalgamations. The distinctive cap badge worn by each regiment has developed into an emblem instantly recognisable by any soldier.

Collecting Military Badges


The approximate age of a cap badge can often be established by the type of crown accompanying the regimental device or from the Royal cipher. Although, some badges do not carry a crown or a Royal insignia, and therefore remain unaffected.

Victorian crowns are easily recognisable. One design is sharply angled at the top outer edges, whereas the most commonly spotted style is of similar shape, but rounded. On the death of Queen Victoria, the King's Crown or Imperial Crown was adopted - a rounded crown sloping away from the central point.

There were no further changes until Queen Elizabeth acceded to the throne. The crown then changed to one inverted at the centre, resembling the letter 'B' on its side.

Badges worn by ordinary soldiers were usually made of brass, white metal or both, referred to as bi-metal. Officer's badges were frequently made of more precious materials.

During the First World War many bi-metal badges were made of brass to cut costs and plastic badges were introduced for the same reason. Badges for 'Rifle Regiments' are easy to spot as they are often blackened brass.

'Staybright anodised aluminium badges appeared in the 1950s and remained in use until very recently.

 They are not popular with collectors because of their tacky, cheap appearance and most units have now re-introduced brass cap badges.

Collecting Military Badges


Cap badges worn by line infantry regiments, corps and support arms can still be purchased for around £5. Cavalry and Yeomanry badges are less common and a collector can expect to pay somewhere between £10-30 per badge. Any badge bearing Queen Victoria's crown is significantly more expensive than a later issue. Pre-1881 badges, Helmet Plate Centres and Glengarry badges are rare finds today and often command prices in excess of £50  Territorial battalions usually wore the same badge as the parent regiment, but occasionally some differed in design.

These were originally only issued to a few hundred men and as a result can be quite hard to track down and very costly.

One of the reasons why cap badges have not escalated in price at the same rate as other militaria is the preponderance of re-strikes.

 These are modern day manufactured badges, made from identical dyes to the originals. Some are easily identified, while others are virtually indistinguishable from the real thing. They are a cause of great irritation to collectors and have drastically undermined the market.

Each collector develops his own criteria for ruling out suspicious badges and experience is the only real protection against being deceived. However, even the keenest eye can be taken in by the dim light in a collector's fair. Some dealers are happy to admit they are selling re- strikes, while others will defend their displays to the last.

The best advice is - if you are not happy, don't buy. With certain exceptions, nearly all cap badges sold at antique and collector's fairs must be regarded as suspect. Despite the re-striking problem, cap badges are fun to collect and provide a low cost start point into the world of militaria.                                  

Collecting Military Badges


It is very difficult for the inexperienced collector to spot re-strikes, but there are some tell-tale signs:

The color of the badge maybe unusually bright and tawdry, indicating the use of an inferior metal.

Messy solder work around the lugs to the rear of the badge.

The badge could be unusually soft and pliable. Discreetly try to bend the extremities of the badge.

Slightly blurred lettering is a good indication of a re-strike - letters should be sharp and distinct.

A rough, almost jagged feel to the rear of the badge, as if it has only just been cut out. This harshness should have worn away from the genuine article.

Watch out for voided parts of the badge, not cleanly cut away.

The best protection of all, particularly when looking to buy an expensive item is to compare it with a badge known to be genuine.

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