So ya want to be a military collector, eh?
- Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 March 2018 04:31
Guidelines for the New Military Collector
Sponsored by the Calgary Military Historical Society
by David W. Love 2012
Reproduction or copying of any contents of this article, by any means, for commercial or personal gain, is prohibited without the express written consent of the author and then only with proper acknowledgement. Reproduction or copying for purely personal use is allowed.
Table of Contents
Let me start with a word of warning! Once you decide to join the ranks of enthusiastic military collectors, you are in immediate danger of contracting a 'disease' which, although not fatal, may well become obsessional. If allowed to go unchecked, this can quickly become epidemic with little chance of cure. So guard against this and approach the subject with care and method.
War has always been, and always will be, an evil force, but no matter how man strives to control his aggressive feeling and for all his intellect and veneer of civilization, that indefinable instinct seems to explode and overflow from time to time. Through the ages there have been many bloody wars and battles, and the paraphernalia of these conflicts make for an interesting study. Hence the great interest in all matters pertaining to the military.
Any appreciation of history will quickly give some idea of the potential scope of military collecting. The field of military collecting is vast. The military collector can, through his/her hobby, journey through a strange and wonderful world crowded with items that can be traced far back into the annals of history. With each new piece obtained, whether it is a mere brass button, cap badge or faded photograph, a little more is learned of the complex history of militaria. Using the Canadian experience alone by way of example (a relatively narrow and short-lived focus when compared to the military experience of other countries — but ours nonetheless), the combination of authorized and unofficial Volunteer, Militia and Permanent Force units, their establishments, disbandments, re-establishments, reorganizations, amalgamations, the advancement of technology and modernization, the passage of time and the universality of the military presence (most every Canadian community of any size has had a military presence of some sort), have all combined to produce a veritable wealth of potential collectibles. And this is just Canada. The variety of military artifacts worldwide boggles the mind and is only limited by the imagination of the individual collector. Items of such magnitude as tanks, artillery and vehicles vie with such triviata as buttons and crests (yes, there are individuals who collect all of these). Items of small intrinsic value compete for the affections of collectors with artifacts of high material worth. The exotic contends with the common. In addition, there are scores of other related items. Disabled groups, veterans’ organizations and other interest groups regularly issue material of various shapes, sizes and types, not to mention the related activities of society as a whole. As a result of all this, the oft-used phrase, “one man’s garbage is another man’s treasure” readily comes to mind here. The variety is available for any taste or inclination.
Despite the above and while becoming increasingly harder to do, military collecting can still be, by present-day standards and some constraint, a comparatively inexpensive hobby, unless the collector seeks the rarer examples. For example, cloth insignia or buttons are probably the cheapest of all, and more modern examples are plentiful and make an attractive display. It is still possible to gather together a decent collection at relatively little expense. To the general public, military items, especially the smaller examples, are still largely regarded as commonplace, and at garage sales, flea markets and similar events, they may still be had at quite reasonable prices. Any veteran collector can usually cite several examples where he was able to procure something of value for very little cash outlay. Then, of course, there is the added expedient of trading with other collectors to keep costs in check. Certainly though, the corollary is always present whereby it is very easy to quickly move your collection into the lofty heights of a significant investment.
The choice is yours though — no one else's. The potential field is vast and always-changing, and there is something for every pocketbook. These are the intrinsic beauties of this hobby.
Common Categories of Military Collecting
- Ammunition - small arms, artillery, infantry, armoured
- Art - original, prints, lithographs, trench art
- Cloth Insignia - shoulder flashes, unit patches, commemorative flashes
- Edged Weapons - swords, bayonets, knives
- Firearms - rifles, muskets, handguns, automatic weapons*
- Instruments and equipment- survey, navigation, communication, medical, etc.
- Medals - gallantry, service, campaign, tribute (e.g. homecoming, veterans recognition)
- Metal Insignia - headdress, collar, shoulder, belt
- Paper artifacts - letters, stamps, envelopes, propaganda, passes, postcards, military money, etc.
- Personal items - toiletries, cutlery, condoms, ration cards, etc.
- Photographs and prints
- Re-enactments – i.e. a need for period clothing and equipment
- Sweetheart brooches
- Uniforms and accessories - kit, webbing, packs, helmets, headdress, etc.
- Vehicles - soft skinned, armoured, specialty
- Miscellaneous - anything else that can be imagined but not included above
*Given the new and ever-tightening/changing government regulations in Canada regarding firearms and other weapons, it behooves the potential collector to carefully consider this avenue of military collecting before entering into it. Increasingly also, due to continuing violence involving firearms, politically this may not be an area to consider.
This booklet was originally compiled and handed out in 1992 as an accompaniment to a public display developed by The Calgary Military Historical Society. Using the annual national convention of the Military Collectors’ Club of Canada as a venue, the objective of the display was to provide some insights into the hobby of military collecting as well as supply some information on the Calgary Military Historical Society. The material contained within this booklet is the result of experiences gained through forty years of collecting experience by this author personally and that of other members of the Calgary Military Historical Society.
Although this document attempts to give practical information to the new military collector and interested individual, it can by no means cover all topics. To do this would be almost an impossible task. Because of this and for sake of expediency, it will discuss what is felt to be some of the major points in the hobby. It will also primarily concern itself with the Canadian scene, and in particular the fields of medal and insignia collecting. While it is recognized there are a vast number of individuals out there who have other broader interests, this booklet is seen as an overview rather than a definitive presentation. Notwithstanding this, it should be noted that certain truisms of military collecting exist regardless of any specific focus. Hopefully, many of these will be captured in the following discussion. Many of the more specific details are left to your joy of discovery as you pursue your hobby. As a final aside, you will find an appendix attached listing some further information which should assist the newcomer in this exciting hobby.
As one last aside, in order not to overlook any individual or company, or create any undue bias, no dealers, auction houses, or others who are in the ‘business of military collecting’, nor any specific artifact pricing will be recommended here. This will be left to you, the individual, to determine based on your own personal experiences and your circle of collecting contacts. Ultimately, most everything any collector learns is a evolutionary matter directly relating to the accumulation of personal experiences as the hobby is pursued. Now saying that, it is the author’s hope that this article will provide a practical accompanying framework and guide in developing this experience. Happy collecting!
Military artifacts come in a near-infinite variety of shapes, sizes and materials. Military collectors too are equally varied and come from every walk and station in life. It is safe to assume that for any particular type of artifact, you can be sure there are active collectors in competition for them. Most families in Canada have some sort of military experience in their history and it is quite possible one of your neighbours has more than a passing interest. The hunt is carried from many fronts and is usually keen.
Some collectors will spend a life-time searching for a particular item. Others will collect almost anything with a military flavour, filling their den, study or home with all manner of strange and varied items, often to the despair of a tolerant and ever-patient spouse. To be a collector of anything is a visible mark of idiosyncrasy, so those about to march into the strange world of military collecting should get used to the odd looks and comments of strangers, friends and relations!
From the perspective of numbers alone, and once again using only the Canadian experience, serious military collectors and other interested individuals number in the thousands (the same can be also be said of many other countries). Attached to each of these individuals are collections of varying size and quality, many of which are the envy of museums. Given that there are only about one hundred thirty museums in Canada with any sort of a military collection, one can quickly see where the majority of this collected material lies. However this very large collecting fraternity tends to reside outside the formal museum environment and, as such, is generally unadvertised.
While almost any Canadian community of consequence, has one or more military collectors, the collecting fraternity is close. Arising from this large population of similarly-focused individuals is a surprisingly intimate network kept alive through a very active and continuing correspondence. This network is seen to be both informal through personal contacts and formal through membership in collecting organizations. The result is a close-knit community based upon friendship, trust and shared interests. But what is the glue that keeps this phenomena viable? Simply put, it is the personal integrity of each individual collector.
The collecting fraternity is ultimately based upon the tenets of personal reputation. Nothing else is more important – period! Because of the intimacy of the collecting fraternity, the knowledge of any instance of unethical or improper behaviour towards fellow collectors can circulate very quickly. When that happens, and depending on the severity of the indiscretion, the collecting community could ostracize you just as quickly. At the very least you will have destroyed, in part, the trust that exists within your immediate circle of contacts. This idea of ethical behaviour includes not only honesty but also fairness of action, and commitment to agreements and understandings between individuals. As one example, a collector buys an item from another with an understanding that the former owner will be given first right of refusal should the article be available for sale in the future. Hard feelings may develop if the buyer, for whatever reason (and it may be as innocent as forgetfulness), sells the item without first offering it back to the original owner. At the very least, dealing with the former owner will be more tenuous in the future. In the foregoing, nothing illegal or inherently dishonest was present, but the understanding or agreement was not met. Keep track of these commitments and honour them, and always try to treat your collecting colleagues in a manner that you yourself would wish to be treated. An old notion perhaps — the Golden Rule — but nonetheless a cornerstone of the collecting world.
While each collector is as unique as the items being collected, and while each starts upon this hobby in different ways, it is safe to assume something of a specific motivational nature started the individual on this course. Many collectors can identify the exact start of their collecting experience. It could be the discovery of a relative’s military souvenirs, awards or belongings dating from some past service, or the interest of a parent. An article of design catches the aesthetic eye or an affinity develops through personal military or related service. Regardless of motivational differences and the varied background of each individual, it is interesting that almost all tend to pass through a similar evolution in their hobby.
Upon entering the field, an individual generally has limited knowledge on the subject and little enlightenment towards the collecting fraternity. This is nothing to be ashamed of, if one is willing to learn. Collecting at this stage manifests itself by purchases from readily visible sources such as flea markets, dealers or the occasional public collecting show. Trading tends to be rare and generally buying is frequent, uninformed and without any real sense of purpose or focused direction. While cost is a consideration, it is generally less important at this stage as the fair market value of acquisitions is not really understood. One could say that a "shotgun" approach of collecting is followed — that is, if you like it and can afford it, you purchase it. While being without clear objectives, this is nonetheless valuable as it serves to build up inventory rather quickly and, more importantly, you learn as you go. Over a variable period of time, ranging from months to years, with the realizations of an ever-shrinking wallet and the tremendous variety of supply, and greater insight in possibilities, the collector gains an appreciation that not everything can be acquired. Therefore he/she becomes more discriminating in interest. As with the early formative years of a child’s development, this represents the period of greatest growth in knowledge and experience.
Usually at some point, the collector evolves to the second stage of development — a formal narrowing or specialization of interests. Here again, individuals still tend to be somewhat limited in their knowledge of their chosen focus, but this is due more to the depth of investigation they will now undertake rather than an ignorance of the subject in general. The main difference from the first stage is that they now have in place reciprocal networks with other collectors and dealers, and have discovered pertinent reference and artifact sources within the collecting fraternity. They understand where to gain the needed knowledge and which questions need to be asked. In short, they understand the game.
The final or mature stage in a collector's life is that of an expert in a chosen specialty who is quite particular and very focused to the direction his/her hobby is going. It is in this stage that the best collections develop. Besides a longer tenure in the hobby, the individual is now very comfortable with a focus of interest and is acknowledged by others as a source of information on his specialty. The knowledge level is usually of high calibre and quite extensive — comparable in many cases to that expected of university academics and professional historians.
Of course, the above is often confused by the tendency of collectors to change their focus from time to time, and therefore many can be seen to simultaneously reside in the second and third stages as they gain knowledge in new directions. However this only builds on an already-impressive base of wisdom which any new collector should avail themselves of, given the chance. Remember it is not a reflection on your character to ask questions of individuals having more knowledge in a particular area. You gain some understanding, and just perhaps, initiate what could become a very rewarding and lasting friendship.
The question often arises among collectors about the relative merits of specialization vs. generalization. Initially, although you may have already determined to focus your sphere of activity, it is probably best to collect anything you can find at a reasonable price, or that you can obtain from friends, as those items you do not need for your own collection can be traded later with other collectors. In this way, a newly-established collection can be built to a point of personal satisfaction and credibility. This also serves to clarify your choice of focus as being realistic and attainable (most collectors strive for a “complete” collection in one or more areas). You gain experience. You gain knowledge in a variety of areas. As mentioned though, considerations of limited resources and a rapid realization that one individual cannot adequately or realistically cover all available avenues, ultimately leads the average collector to focus his/her interests. But just to say a collector is specializing can be somewhat of an oversimplification because there are several levels of specialization to be addressed before the individual is indeed truly focused.
It is recommended that one of the first big decisions in your collecting life should be a decision on what you intend to collect. Will your collection be of insignia, medals, or of any of a multitude of other areas too numerous to mention? If insignia, for example, will it be cap insignia or will it extend to other badges? (Besides badges worn on the headdress, there are those on shoulder belt plates, pouch belts, waist belts, collars and buttons, as well as shoulder and sleeve titles and flashes. All these form part of a unit’s insignia and should be included in certain instances). If cap insignia are preferred, will you concentrate on cap badges or extend to include shako and helmet plates? Do you intend to confine your collection to other ranks (i.e. below the rank of a commissioned officer) or will you include those of officers (which are often different)? And so on. Similarly, if you decide on medals, will you choose campaign or gallantry examples? If the former, do you limit your choice to a certain geographical part of the world or to a certain conflict? Do you collect those medals awarded to only certain units, or indeed do you collect medals awarded to only one family? These are questions only you can answer. The list goes on to varying degrees of specificity depending on the type of artifact, but each decision has real implications to your collection and considered thought should be given. (Now that all this has been said, it would seem that most collectors tend to stumble into their specialty rather than by any conscious decision — perhaps because they have not gained enough experience to understand the chain of decisions that need to be made).
Once coming to the realization of what you want to collect, another consideration is the period or age at which you will start. More will be said of this later. If this still appears too vast an undertaking, an alternative is to devote the collection to a specific section of the army or a particular group of regiments, or indeed one regiment or one individual alone. For example, all those raised in, say, Alberta or some other province, or all Highland regiments, or even the regiment associated with the area in which you live are viable alternatives. Once again the choice is yours, but a word of caution — too large an undertaking can lead to frustration because limited resources causes a trade-off between breadth of interest and potential completeness of the collection.
The environment in which you will find yourself has been briefly discussed and now comes the question of where to obtain material. Military collectibles are to be found in the most unexpected places. Friends or family may have hoarded a souvenir in a small tin box or in the attic with other unwanted items (indeed the tin box itself may be a collectible). Items put away by past generations become forgotten and only come to the surface during a thorough attic cleaning. 'Junk' sellers have them, some antique and jewelry shops sell them and there are a number of dealers who cater specifically for the hobby. To a serious and experienced collector, sources of artifacts are as varied as the imagination. However the most common is still the collecting fraternity and the informal associations that grow through friendship. It is these contacts that ultimately lead to acquisition of better quality examples – either by notification by friends of the whereabouts of a particular item,or through trading, rather than by outright purchase. Probably for the advanced collector, relationships, be they with other collectors or indeed dealers (you can often get first call on an item if you have good rapport with them), provide the single greatest source for the rarer items.
Now the newly-initiated collector cannot hope to compete in this manner until experience has been accumulated and networks established, so it is well to find out at an early stage if there are others in your area who enjoy the same hobby. Make their acquaintance as they will be only too happy to talk about collecting and will display the gems of their hard-won collections. In addition, you may materially benefit from the surpluses (trading stock) within their collection.
In a more organized sense, there are a number of societies which cater specifically to the military collector and enthusiast. In Canada, there is currently two nationally-based collecting organizations which collectively boast a membership of over one thousand five hundred (see appendix). In practice however, one of these tends to concentrate its efforts in Ontario and Quebec while the other is more western Canada-focused. Each has local chapters in various communities. There are also many local or specialized organizations across the country as well as numerous international counterparts. While each of these groups has members with overlapping or common memberships to other organizations, each also has a unique set of members. It benefits the individual collector to belong to several of these organizations to ensure an adequate exposure, and the yearly membership fees are usually modest.
Most of the larger organizations meet regularly (at least in local chapters) in an informal setting and generally publish membership lists detailing individuals’ interests. Several also issue some sort of regular newsletter or journal that serves to keep the individual collector appraised of goings-on, as well as offering useful tips and information. Once you join a society you will find most members pleased to help newcomers, and normally will supply additional information on request. However, when you make a written request (there are still those out there who have chosen not to use the internet), do remember to include a self-addressed, stamped envelope:Honorary secretaries will go to considerable lengths to help you but you cannot expect them to pay for the privilege of doing so!
A further hint — when corresponding with other members, you should give as much detail as possible or enclose rubbings of the artifact, accurate drawings or photos with dimensions. This will often save answering queries and unnecessary correspondence.
There are many other collectibles sources available if one is observant and knows what he/she wants. Those most commonly utilized tend to be antique stores, flea markets, military shows and sales, pawn shops, conventional auction sales and more increasingly these days, on-line sources such as eBay. Museums also divest parts of their collections from time to time.
There are also dealers who specialize in military artifacts and regularly send out catalogues. These can be extremely fruitful and reliable. These specialist dealers are well aware of the value of military artifacts, and while bargains are scarce in this direction, the lists and sale results are usually accurate in estimating (and often setting) fair market value, and buying and selling trends. The other advantage of a reputable dealer is their ‘guarantee’ of authenticity with exchange of dubious purchases, no questions asked. But how does the beginner know whom to trust? The first step is once again to make contact with fellow collectors because word-of-mouth is still the best means of finding the good dealers. Do not rush into buying from any particular dealer. Study as many catalogues and inventory lists as you can obtain to see how prices compare. Above all be wary of the dealer who consistently offers a large number of scarce and rare items with prices tags that appear too good to be true. They probably are. If stocks of the more common artifacts were running out many years ago (which was often the case), ask yourself how it happens that there are now so many rarer badges available. As a parting note, if a dealer sells to you, or someone you know, a badge that proves not to be authentic, and will not immediately without question refund your money, or is consistently offering bogus material, drop him like the proverbial brick. These people can survive only so long as you, the collector, supports them. Now having said all that, reputable dealers can also be one of your greatest allies. Once they learn of your own particular interests and your own trustworthiness, they will remember you and can often offer exceptional items to you, sometimes at discounted prices, and ahead of the general collecting public.
Lastly, the most lucrative sources of collectibles is and always has been the general public. This is still probably the single greatest untapped source of material as most people do not understand the value or significance of what they have in their own homes. To them it is often just interesting junk or clutter to be discarded. So garage sales and estate auctions can often prove very profitable. A hint though — when going to a sale of some sort, it pays to get there as early as possible. Veteran collectors know this and will use any reasonable method to get a jump on the competition, even to the point of finding a way of gaining access prior to the official opening of the event.
Many of these avenues are advertised and it is just a matter of patronizing each event or individual dealer, but you will find that as your interest becomes more serious, you will begin to always be on the lookout for opportunities or that lucky find, with one segment of your brain permanently centred on the hobby. You always get lucky from time to time but then isn’t luck usually the point where opportunity and preparedness meet.
One source deserves special and more detailed mention, this being the dealer/auction house. In the past several years these institutions, and in particular eBay, have gained a very prominent place in the military collecting environment. In addition, by participating in these sales and/or subscribing to mail order auctions (a rapidly-rising phenomena in Canada because advantages to the auctioneer are obvious — less overhead, smaller inventories and a chance to make profit from both buyer and consignee through commissions), one can pick up a considerable amount of knowledge and information. There are several well-known and reputable auction dealers that offer regular sales to Canadian military collectors and these should certainly be considered.
Because of an ever-increasing population of military collectors, it is becoming more difficult to find the scarce, desirable or good condition items in shops and at specialty shows. Most of this sort of material is now coming onto the market when old established collections are broken up either through veteran collectors changing interests, deciding it is time to sell out, or passing away. It is generally on eBay or in the auction room where these treasures appear. If this happens, not only are all collectors given an equal opportunity to bid for these items, but in this day and age, you do not necessarily have to be present to do so. Further, with the increasing numbers of auction sales happening, auctions are now tending to set the price of items. Once again, eBay, by its popularity, is now becoming the reference point or forum by which the market establishes the value of an item. No one can argue with a realized price when that price is determined in open bidding.
Yet, there still appears to be many misconceptions regarding military auctions, how they work and how to go about bidding effectively. There is really no deep secret to participating in an auction sale, other than knowing what to expect and using common sense.
Depending on the auction company and the merchandise being offered, there are several types of auctions. They may be formal in-person only sales, mail bid auctions, silent auctions, specialty auctions by invitation only, the internet auction, or any combination of the preceding. For the most part, excepting on-line sales, all are generally held on the premises of the auction company and are presided over by an auctioneer (either an employee of the auction house or a contracted individual). In almost all instances, there is a requirement that the prospective bidder register in advance in some fashion. This is to the advantage of all concerned as it speeds up administration and maintains momentum on the floor.
All auction houses publish catalogues or lists of lots well in advance of sale dates. These are usually sent to clients by mail or email through subscription or if the client is well known to the auction house, or are available on line. Once you receive the catalogue, you should carefully check the following information.
- The date and time of the sale. Nothing is more frustrating to a collector than reviewing the catalogue, choosing lots to bid on and actually placing your bids (in the case of mail auctions), only to be informed that the sale occurred the hour or day before.
- Carefully read the ‘conditions of sale’, including the small print. These are usually found inside the inside cover or on the first page of a catalogue or somewhere in the lot description. They set the rules of the sale and will be referred to in any dispute or disagreement. You, as the bidder, are solely responsible for understanding these conditions and how they apply to you. Because you are, in effect, entering into an agreement to purchase, it is in your best interests to know these conditions. For your protection, as well as the auction house and consignee.
- Review the glossary of terms, list of abbreviations and grades of condition. Each auction house has its peculiar idiosyncrasies of vocabulary and outlook on condition of items. The terminology used can be quite specific and equally mind-boggling to interpret. Likewise, in any description, you are relying on the opinion of the appraiser at the auction house to give a clear portrayal of the item, so it is once again in your best interest to understand where the auction house is coming from, so there will not be any undesirable surprises.
- Last, and as is true in most similar circumstances, it is always ‘buyer beware’.
After reviewing the item, you have now decided to participate in the auction. Assuming mail bids are accepted, you may now submit a mail bid, arrange for a private agent to bid on your behalf or you may attend the sale in person. Or as is the case with the internet, you place the bid yourself. In the case of a traditional auction, you contact the auction house and register your bid. All auction houses require that a submitted mail bid be in writing (either by post or email) and often signed by yourself. This is for the protection of both you, the bidder, and the auction house. A written record allows the auction house to record the exact time of receipt, which becomes important in the event two identical bids are submitted. In the case of traditional auctions, once the mailing deadline has passed the auction house staff will review the bids and determine the highest mail bids for each lot. A member of the auction house staff will then act as ‘agent for the client’ for each of the highest received mail bids. It is important to realize that the auction house will only act for one mail bid client per lot. Generally speaking, the auctioneer will open bidding at the second highest mail bid realized, thus offering an opportunity for the winning bid to purchase at a lower price than his/her maximum allowed bid, assuming input from the floor itself does not prevail. As with any auction, ultimately the highest bid, whether received by mail or from the floor, will be successful in purchasing the item. A few simple rules when bidding by mail or internet should be followed.
- Read the conditions of sale carefully.
- Sending in an early bid will set precedence although there is also value in internet bidding to wait until near the end of the auction, so as not to run up the price.
- Fill out the mail bid sheet completely and legibly, and accurately. If the auction house cannot read the form, or if there is any doubt, they will not record the bid, nor can you expect them to contact you for clarification. And only you are at fault should you inadvertently submit an incorrect bid.
- Be aware that there are usually additional charges associated with your actual bid – buyer’s fees, provincial sales tax, GST, shipping and handling charges, mail registration or courier charges, etc. It is well to be aware of these additional costs as they can add significantly to the overall purchase price.
- It is prudent to confirm your bid. Contact the auction house by telephone to make sure they have received and recorded it. The cost of the call is insignificant when you consider the consequences of the house not receiving your bid, and most houses will gladly furnish this information. As an aside, some auction houses will make mail bids public, upon specific request, up to the mail bid deadline. It is in your interest to determine whether this policy is in effect. If that is the case, then it is not necessarily prudent to place an early bid for all to see. Rather, it is better in this case to wait as long as possible to submit, checking first to see what bids have been submitted to that point. However the danger is that your written bid (usually faxed in this case) may not be received by the auction house before the deadline. In that case, you will lose out. If you choose to delay, make your bid submission by phone and then follow up in writing with a fax, but again, confirm the fax.
- Don’t be afraid to withdraw a bid. If you do not want the item, for whatever reason, telephone or fax the auction house and advise them. But, obviously, do so before the auction and then follow up with a confirmatory letter if you phoned.
- Don’t submit an unlimited bid. This is a dangerous practice and most, if not all, auction houses will not accept such bids. If you are that desperate for a particular item, it is suggested you attend the sale in person. In that way, you can personally control your bidding.
The second method of participation in an auction sale is to contract a private agent. You can certainly use a relative, spouse or friend to bid on your behalf, but remember these individuals are generally not that knowledgeable about military collecting. In their ignorance, or if they get carried away with ‘bidding fever’, you may end up making a much larger investment than anticipated. The other alternative in this case is to hire a professional to act on your behalf. Generally this would be a dealer, a professional appraiser or recognized military collector of experience. These people are knowledgeable and are contractually paid to represent your best interests. However, you do have to pay them for their services. The choice is yours.
Lastly, you can attend the sale in person. The advantages with this option are obvious. You can review the lots first-hand, you can gauge the mood of the other bidders, and most importantly, you control your own bidding at all times. A few suggestions if you plan on personally attending a sale.
- Go early. Register and find a good seat with a view (where the auctioneer can clearly see you).
- Check to ensure the lots of interest are still in the sale. Lots are sometimes withdrawn for various reasons.
- Check to ensure the lots are as described. These descriptions are based upon the opinion of the auction house or a professional appraiser. Errors can occasionally creep in either through lack of knowledge, experience or observation. Buyer beware!
- Be wary of what you overhear. Some bidders will try to dissuade the competition from aggressively bidding by expressing doubt to any who can overhear, regarding the quality or genuineness of articles prior to the sale.
- When bidding, indicate in a way that the auctioneer can see. There is nothing to gain by being overly subtle or secretive, but there is a lot to lose if the auctioneer either misses your signal or misunderstands it. If you feel the auctioneer has missed your bid, the most expedient thing to do is to wave your catalogue, raise your arm, or call out your registration number.
- If you feel an item has been sold without considering your bid, inform him immediately. If the rules of the house permit it, he has the option to re-open the bidding.
- Sometimes a flurry of bids will be placed simultaneously. In this instance, it is left to the auctioneer to recognize one bid. If this occurs and it is not your bid that is recognized, be patient and observe what happens. Overzealousness on your part by insisting on having your bid recognized could lead to you bidding against yourself. It is better to wait and observe the flow, and then to bid at the appropriate time.
At an auction, everyone has equal opportunity to purchase an item. Yet people sometimes feel the auctioneer is exercising preference for certain bidders. Nothing could be further from the truth. No auctioneer practicing this policy would last long in the marketplace. Besides, the auctioneer makes his living from commissions on prices realized. It is not to his advantage to minimize bids. The auctioneer can control the tempo of the bidding, but has no legitimate way of ignoring valid bids.
Likewise, individuals are sometimes intimidated if they perceive that they are bidding against a dealer. They often feel that the price will be run up by the dealer. Once again, this is highly unlikely because the dealer is in the business of making money. He/she is not going to pay inflated prices for items that they will be placing on sale in the future. At best, the dealer may have a clearer idea about the value of an item and will be bidding accordingly. If you play the game of trying to run the price up on a dealer, it will ultimately be you that suffers.
Once the sale has been completed, you are, of course, expected to pay for your purchase. Depending once again on the conditions of sale, this may be done immediately in person or by email using conveniences such as PayPal, by mail or at some later date, as agreed to by the auction house. Usually when the next sale catalogue is published, there will be a page included that lists the prices realized of the previous sale. This is a good thing to retain as it provides a history of the value of each of the offered items, which can be useful in future dealings.
Once an item has been appraised and is assigned a lot number, it is usually sealed in a plastic envelope (providing it is small enough). This is then sent to the successful bidder (if not attending the sale) in this condition. Should you find that the item is not as described, or if you are unhappy with it for any legitimate reason, make contact with the seller/auction house. Usually they will accept the item back if the concern is legitimate. In that case, simply return the item still within the package. In this way, there is some assurance that the item sent back is the same as shipped. Unfortunately there are those out there who will use an auction sale as an opportunity to fraudulently benefit. These individuals (also known to the author as ‘low-lifes’ or ‘scum’) will substitute a reproduction for the genuine and return it stating that the lot was a reproduction. In this way, they not only obtain a genuine article but at no cost to themselves. By leaving the item in the sealed envelope, it minimizes the chance of this occurring. At any rate, most auction houses will only accept goods if they are returned as shipped.
Auctions have proven to be good for military collecting. They allow recycling of premium material through the collecting community and they provide insight into the value of items, if not actually setting value. For the purchaser there is an insurance that should the object be found defective in some way, the auction house will refund or otherwise compensate. This is not always the case with other sources of artifacts. This also holds true for the specialized dealer. However, as with anything else, educate yourself before participating. In that way, the experience should be positive.
Throughout the preceding, one should by now be getting a vague inkling that experience and knowledge are most important. If you are to experience the most from this hobby, it is critical to know your subject area as well as your objectives — it is usually far more lucrative to research first and buy later. Therefore, before you commence collecting and always during it, continue to learn as much as you can about your hobby. It will help you to avoid making later mistakes which could prove expensive and frustrating.
The question is then, how to gain this knowledge? Surprisingly, as alluded to earlier, most learning comes about without you actively being aware of it. Individuals generally try to find something about their purchases at time of purchase and these little bits of information are assimilated. These efforts coupled with knowing the parallel experiences of collecting colleagues, will accumulate and start to fall together in a mutually supporting fashion. Before you realize it, you are somewhat of an authority. Why not help the learning process along through organized research and study? Why wait?
Where there is a need or desire for more formal research, it is simplest and quite accurate to say that collectors use the same sources as professional researchers. However their approach tends to deal more with the minutiae of the subject as opposed to broader issues. This comes about because of the detail needed in determining exactly the type of artifact you have as well as the history around the item. But don’t fall into a trap of focusing too much. Initially, one would think concentration on the purely military aspects of an area would suffice, however this author has found it more beneficial to broaden your scope to include an appreciation of the social and political aspects of the period you are researching. By keeping efforts broadly-based, an understanding of the evolution of specific artifacts and the causal factors that brought about the need for such an item can be gained. This in turn will give a greater appreciation of the item in question and could lead you in new but related interest. It also prevents boredom from setting in.
It is in the best interests of the individual collector to build up and maintain as complete a personal library as possible. Your library should include not only historical information pertaining to your particular interest, but also records of asking and selling prices, histories of related artifacts as well as a complete and up-to-date inventory of your collection (for insurance purposes, if nothing else). It also does not hurt to have some general histories of good quality. By having this information close at hand, it provides a ready reference to enable prudent purchasing, trading and selling. It also allows you to better chart the course of your collecting strategy. To what detail an individual wishes to research his hobby is a personal choice, but remember that those collectors with greater knowledge tend to have the best collections.
It seems too often we Canadians let others produce all the main information volumes on Canadian military artifacts. While this has been changing over the last few years with the recent explosion of published material on Canada’s military past, many of the most popular or 'standard' military collectibles sources have come to us from French, British and American authors. Other nationalities appear to be interested enough in Canadian military heritage to formally document it, yet the vast majority of collectors of Canadian military items are Canadian. Interesting!
Editorializing aside, for the collector of military artifacts there are several useful books that will answer most everyday queries (see appendix for a listing). There is at present no one text adequately dealing with the whole of the Canadian military collecting scene, nor will there likely ever be one. There is just too much to cover in a single work. There are those who have attempted this broad approach, but they are rare and generally leave too many gaps to be used with any confidence or convenience. The other unfortunate point is that many of the best sources are now out of print. But do not despair — copies can usually be found in used book stores or in the hands of more experienced collectors. Assuming you will only be using the information for your own personal use and that the book is out-of-print, there is always the photocopier.
For those who choose not to develop a library, several of the main institutions concerned with military history have extensive libraries and, within certain guide-lines and limitations of staff, usually allow serious students and collectors access to them. These institutions include museums — public and specialized (e.g. regimental museums), military historical societies, universities and, of course, national, provincial and civic archives. Usually an appointment will be necessary so that it is essential to write or telephone in advance to check the position. Written inquiries are also dealt with but in these days of limited staff and facilities there is likely to be some delay in receiving a reply. Regimental museums, in particular, are frequently staffed by part-time curators whose time is usually well-filled and replies to queries can be rather slow in coming, while, for basically the same reasons, you can expect a minimum of four to six months for response from the National Archives. In some cases these institutions will charge a nominal fee for a query. If information is being sought by letter the request should be as specific as possible. If identification of an object is sought, once again a photo or competent sketch is more or less essential; verbal descriptions can be very vague, confusing and time-consuming.
A word of caution, though, concerning museums. Unfortunately it is a fact that many museums harbour a basic distrust of the average collector, which can range from active hostility to passive apathy. There are several reasons, but most tend to centre around the security of their collections and the fear that a collector may present a threat. At the very least, they often see individual collectors as being conflicts of interest. It is also a fact that many military collectors harbour similar negative feelings towards museums, once again for a variety of reasons. These reasons can include a perception that artifacts preserved by museums are seldom displayed and therefore are, in essence, lost to the public, or that the museum represents a formidable competitor for artifacts. Whatever the reasons on either side, this negativism is present and can only be overcome with an appreciation of what each group can offer. In those cases where simple and honest communication is attempted, it is the experience of this author that mutual trust is developed leading to a mutually satisfying relationship. Both sides must recognize they are allies and not antagonists. Thankfully, this mutual animosity is steadily decreasing.
Addresses of these various museums and other organizations can be found in many publications available at most libraries (some of the main ones are listed in the appendix).
Lastly, there is once again, the internet. When this booklet was initially written, the internet was just beginning to gain its popularity and personal computers were the exception rather than the rule. Now, as anyone who uses the internet, can readily appreciate, it has become one of the major sources of information in our society. Collecting militaria is no different and the information available by this vehicle is only limited by the imagination of the user. However, it should be emphasized that a significant portion of that information comes from second, third and greater generations of investigation. What this author is trying to say is that the information presented may be flawed or inaccurate. Without the ability to confirm such, can lead one to the wrong conclusions.
Depending upon the individual, variations in a particular type of artifacts can be critically important or an interesting oddity. Generally, though, variations, even those that are subtle, can be significant to identifying and/or determining the uniqueness of a military artifact.
Throughout recorded history, military forces have always affected some means of identification to differentiate friend from foe. Generally, this has been through the adoption of some commonality of dress. Hence the term, “the uniform”. Starting very simply in early history, this form of identification quickly developed, in many cases, into quite elaborate costumes. Uniforms themselves have also invariably been adorned with various forms of additional markings or ‘insignia’ — either as embellishment of fashion, or to further identify the wearer’s specific unit, specialty and/or status (i.e. rank). Further, most insignia and uniforms tend to exhibit idiosyncrasies of design which relate to the specific history, function or traditions of that particular unit or corps. These traditions encompassed within the evolution of uniforms and insignia are now widely utilised in research, by historians and collectors alike.
Over the years, vocabulary surrounding the description of items has become, in many instances, very specific and unique in their meaning. For the purposes of this work, more common names will be used. While less precise, they should nevertheless suffice in any description here. However, a few points of clarification regarding insignia should be made. Insignia are generally categorized into a few broad categories. First, and probably most universal, are those insignia worn on uniform headdress. These are generally referred to as the ‘cap badge’ or in some special cases, the ‘helmet plate’. Of various construction, invariably both metal, cloth or combination of both, these are a revealing form of identification. Secondly, you see badges similar to the cap badge, but worn on the collar. These may be miniatures of the cap badge, or a completely unique design (in some rare cases, cap and collar badges are completely interchangeable). Depending on symmetry and direction of design, there may be distinct variations specific to the right or left collar. Thirdly, most uniforms display some sort of shoulder marking or ‘shoulder title’. Once again of either metal or cloth, they usually spell out in some fashion, the unit and nationality of the wearer. Also worn on the sleeve, but generally lower, or on the breast of the uniform jacket are various further identifying patches or badges, again of varied construction. It is also common to observe insignia devices incorporated into belts or webbing, and can include waist or cross belt buckles and plates. Lastly, there is a great variety of rank devices that can be found in various forms, depending on period of usage, which are usually found on either the top of shoulder straps, on the cuffs of the uniform jacket or attached to the collar lapels. These differences once again reflecting their age and then-prevailing military dress regulations. One other instance of unit or corps insignia are those seen stamped or printed on accoutrements and personal kit. While not part of the uniform itself, these obviously indicate unit affiliation or ownership. It will be seen that the majority of insignia described later fall into one of these categories.
Lastly, variations of military items, especially insignia, come about through differences in the manufacturing process, more of which will be discussed later. While on the surface, these may appear to be trivial, changes in construction often give clues to the provenance, and hence, history of an item.
Most any collectible item has three values – one intrinsic, the second sentimental or emotional and the third, historical. Intrinsic value is whatever the open marketplace will bear, and is based on the value of the compositional material in the item, as well as its relative rarity. This aspect of value can usually be estimated with a fair degree of confidence. The same can be said for historical value. However, sentimental value also affects the final cost of an item. This latter value is obviously harder to determine because emotions are involved which make each case uniquely individual. This is especially true of the auction environment.
Currently, there are more and more individuals getting into this hobby. This has had tremendous impact on available supplies, which, in turn, translates into higher prices. It is safe to say that in the past ten years alone there has been an inflationary spiral in the cost of many military artifacts of at least one thousand percent or more, and unfortunately this trend appears to be increasing ever more rapidly.
This has both positive and negative implications. The positive is that increasing values have resulted in more individuals buying and selling artifacts (more collectors have been getting into the selling or dealing game). Coupled with this is the fact that with the increased prices realized, collections are being broken up and sold for profit at ever-increasing frequency. This provides collectors with an increasing rotation of new material in the marketplace. While many items are still in short demand, this ever-changing rotation or resurrection is the life blood of many collectors.
Obviously, the more people collecting, the less there is to go around, and prices again rise. In the past one was often able to negotiate the price of an item with the seller. This is harder to do now because most retailers, 1) have not developed a relationship with the newer collectors, and 2) understand there is a strong buying market present which results in rapid sales at original asking prices. Once again, the value of collecting relationships based on friendship should be obvious here.
It is hard to give any appreciation regarding prices, due to the large number of factors affecting the price, and it is probably also dangerous. Apart from the normal supply and demand effects already mentioned, there are more intangible factors. You see regional differences in prices. Artifacts pertaining to units with long associations in particular communities will usually realize higher prices in those communities. Veterans may wish to rekindle memories years after their service and will buy up available stocks, thus depleting inventory. A collector may be prepared to pay a price well above the norm for a specimen he/she particularly wants in order to fill a gap in his collection. Something as trivial as two collectors harbouring mutual animosities will often allow stubbornness to rule bidding strategy. Some collectors just plain don’t like to be outbid. The result of all these is that prices are driven unreasonably skyward — at least in one instance — but then the precedent has been set. Once again, the rule of thumb is to research the purchase as much as possible, discover the trends and then reconcile this information with what you are prepared to spend to gain the piece. Then stick to that price!
There are a few reference catalogues now on the market which list price approximations for certain classes or periods of artifacts. While this author is not in favour of them because of the inaccuracies that must arise due to changing situations and environments, they can be useful as an approximate or relative indication. As a guideline, especially when there is close agreement between two or more, they can be helpful. If you feel you must use them, remember the factors that affect price. Even after warning of the danger of potential inaccuracies and therefore false perceptions in using these guides, it is has turned out in practice that, depending on the reputation of the author, dealers will often base their asking prices on these estimates. Therefore, look for trends and approach the subject with care.
The question is often raised — “When is the right time to buy?”. There is really no other answer than to say it depends on how badly you want the article, its sales history and your ability to meet the sales price. A particular item, unless one of a kind, should eventually turn up on the market if you are willing to wait. But you might have to wait a long time, and when the opportunity again presents itself you may not then have the resources to acquire it. To be sure, it will be more costly and if present trends continue, there will probably be more competition for it. But on the plus side, by waiting you appreciate the game better, know the realistic value of the item and therefore can discriminate with confidence, (thus utilizing your resources to the maximum) and the item will mean that much more to you when you finally have it in your possession.
While everyone can readily think of exceptions, much militaria tends to be materially insignificant. Value comes from the relative rarity of the item as determined by either the collecting community or individual collectors. In the case of individuals, the significance of an item to a personal collection means that the individual may be willing to pay far more than its intrinsic worth just to ensure it is captured. Apart from the economics of supply and demand already mentioned the other factors that are always taken into account by collectors when valuing an item are as below. These factors not only derive the price but are also very useful in determining the origins of the article.
Fortunately many military items have points of identification which facilitate the individual in determining age. These points of identification may be as simple as a government stamping indicating age and origin, or may have more subtle indications based on design. In the case of the former, it pays to look over the artifact very carefully — they are often hard to see. When dealing with these design differences, certain conventions need to be known.
Generally when discussing Canadian military artifacts, collectors divide them into periods of age:Victorian (1855-1900), Edwardian (1900-1914), World War I (1914-1920), the Militia years (1920-1936), World War II (1936-1945), post war King’s crown (1945-1953), Queen’s Crown or pre-unification (1953-1967 +/-) and post-unification (1967 +/- to present). These periods are somewhat arbitrarily defined and are based upon some significant event in Canadian military or political history. But in practice the boundaries are flexible depending on the exact history or circumstances of the units involved. Similar distinctions, with departures due to unique histories, are used in the United Kingdom and most other Commonwealth countries. In the case of other European countries, time conventions are usually closely tied to the then-reigning monarch.
As can be seen the above ages approximate significant wars or the reigns of British monarchs. In the former case, differences in design occurred because of a need to rapidly mobilize large armed forces to meet the threat of war. Many new units and equipment in these times are developed and as such provide an identifiable subset. In the latter case many British and Commonwealth (including Canada) military artifacts, and especially insignia, incorporated some emblem of the currently reigning monarch, most commonly unique crowns or royal cyphers (monarch’s stylized initials) in their design — features which are retained when other details are altered. These signify loyalty to the monarch. The shape of the crown and cypher changed whenever a new sovereign came to the throne and are useful in giving a rough date to an item. In the case of Victoria, she adopted a design now known among collectors simply as the Queen Victoria Crown (QVC). Succeeding male monarchs chose the Tudor crown or King’s crown (KC) while Elizabeth II has taken the St. Edward crown or Queen’s crown (QC) as her own. The Queen Victoria crown actually comes in several similar but slightly different patterns but is readily recognized by its flat-topped or square appearance. Of course, some designs do not have a crown or cypher present. In these cases, it becomes more problematic to determine age and one must look at other clues.
Also present in many designs is the personal cypher or monogram of the then-reigning monarch. While these show variations, most tend to revolve around a common theme. Regiments and units having connections with the monarchy through the Commonwealth of Nations, or earlier, the British Empire, often incorporated the Royal Cypher into the design of their insignia and equipment.
It is a general truism (but many exceptions) that the older the item, the better it was constructed. Early badges and other metal items tended to have extra care given to their manufacture. The finish is better, extra time was spent on the edge and the like. At the very least, older badges often have developed a very nice patina (due to oxidation) on their surfaces that only age can produce. Difficult to describe, but as a collector becomes more experienced, this patina is easily recognized.
Similarly the design of the fasteners on the reverse of the item show distinctions of period. In the case of early Canadian material, fasteners tended to be either bend-back tang (flexible wire ribbons) or machined lugs with squared or hexagonal edges. (A lug is a looped device that is soldered to the back of the badge and passed through the material of the headdress where either a brass or plastic split pin or thin wedge of leather was pushed through the loop to hold the badge in position. More recent designs tended to incorporate simply a bent wire lug format or a slider (a narrow flat bar running parallel with the badge but standing slightly away from the back which slips into a slit in the material of the uniform item) type of attachment. Fasteners can also be friction or screw backed pins. These, along with the slider type, are more common in custom made badges or more modern examples. Presently, many metal badges are seen mainly with the slider or a pin and holder arrangement. The last common variant of fastener seen is a screw pin arrangement. Also with changing times, uniform design altered, necessitating the design of certain unique fasteners to accommodate the changed patterns.
When confronted with an article of unknown design, one of the first things to do is to determine its nationality. The presence of a crown will indicate the item came from a monarchist country. This in itself will narrow the search somewhat but this can be taken further. In the case of British and Commonwealth countries, crown designs will be as described above. In the case of other European countries, crowns will be of different style but nonetheless usually unique to that monarchy. Also look once again for a cypher. It too will be distinctive. The third thing to look for is some sort of national emblem. It can be an official coat of arms or some more common talisman readily associated with a particular country. In the Canadian case, predominant in the design of many insignia is the inclusion of a maple leaf, a beaver or both. Other conventions, by way of example, are the United States, an eagle; British, a lion; Australians, a kangaroo; New Zealanders, fern leaves; Irish, Gaelic writing, and so forth. Another method that sometimes bears fruit is to look at the design of the badge itself. Certain basic designs are often favoured by particular countries. For example, the maltese cross can be commonly found in German or Maltese artifacts, however the Maltese version of the cross is usually distinctive from that of the German version by the narrowness of the cross’ arms as they come together at the centre of the cross. Regiments and the such (especially the British) often incorporate references to some significant event(s) into the design of their badge. This may be as simple as a listing of battle honours or some more obscure emblem representative of a particular campaign of which the unit is proud. For example, the various versions of the Royal Highland Regiment (The Black Watch) cap badge often have a sphinx illustrated, reflecting the time spent by the regiment in Egypt during the Napoleonic Wars. The design may be indicative of the origins of a unit or, in the case of specialty corps or branches, the unit’s purpose in life is somehow shown. Obviously, at this juncture some knowledge of history stands the collector in good stead. Lastly, many manufacturers stamp or indicate their name on the reverse of an item. In the case of Canadian manufacturers, the list is relatively short and has remained somewhat constant. So look for that. Of course, the situation is complicated somewhat by the fact that Canadian units serving overseas often had their insignia, etc. made by British manufacturers.
Some Manufacturers of Canadian Military Insignia — Past and Present
A. W. Gamage, London
Alexis David, Paris
Alfred Constantine, Birmingham
Army and Navy Co-operative Society, London
Botty and Lewis, Reading
C. A. Hodgkinson, London
Caron Brothers, Montreal
D. A. Reeson
D. E. Black, Montreal
D. R. Dingwall, Winnipeg
Eaton's Ltd, Toronto
Ellis Brothers, Toronto
F. W. Coates
G. Barron, Folkstone
George F. Hemsley Co. Ltd, Montreal
George H. Lees
George Jamieson and Sons, Aberdeen
Goldsmiths & Silversmiths Co. Ltd, London
H. Ford, London
Henry Jenkins and Sons, Birmingham
Hicks and Sons, London
Hobson and Sons, London
J. B. Bailey
J. R. Gaunt and Sons Ltd, Birmingham
J. R. Gaunt and Sons Ltd, London
J. R. Gaunt and Sons Ltd, Montreal
J. W. Tiptaff and Son, Ltd, Birmingham
Jackson Brothers, Edmonton
Jacoby Brothers, Vancouver
Kinnear & Desterre
Marsh Brothers, Birmingham
Miller Brothers, London
Moore, Taggard and Co, Glascow
O. B. Allen
Savoy Tailors Guild, London
Shirley Brooks, Woolwich
Sidney Barron, Folkstone
Smith and Wright, Birmingham
Stanley & Aylward
Strickland and Son, London
The Jewellers Co, Haslemere, Surrey
Thomas White, Aldershot
United Service Supply Co, Rochester
W. J. Dingley, Birmingham
Wheeler and Co, London
William Anderson and Sons, Edinburgh
R. J. Ingles, Montreal
The above has discussed methods to determine the nationality of a military artifact. It often happens, though, that a collector comes across an older item he/she feels may be military in origin. However, because of similarities in use and design (the military has always contracted out to civilian manufacturers), the article could just as easily be civilian in nature. To overcome this and establish ownership, the Canadian and British military adopted the convention of stamping or painting an identifying mark to signify government or military issue. This device is commonly called the ‘Broad Arrow’ (if British in origin), or the ‘C Broad Arrow’ (if Canadian). Simply described, the ‘Broad Arrow consists of a simple line arrow having widely spaced arrow points. Patterned after the British, the ‘C Broad Arrow has the arrow with a capital ‘C’ in serif pattern surrounding the arrow as a whole. The presence of this mark on an artifact definitively identifies it as government issue.
Fortunately, for beginners there are now available a number of reliable books with clear illustrations of the various articles and good descriptions. However the book which illustrates every possible example made will probably never be written. There have been, are, and always will be variations on a theme. This is most especially true of insignia, which will once again be concentrated on in this section (medals, which seen in variation at times, tend to be more consistent as they are generally struck at the order of a particular government with strict attention to detail — there are, of course, exceptions to this. The main variations seen in medals are the style of placing the recipient’s name on the medal; different script, depth of stamping, etc.). Regulations may define a badge, but the manufacturer may have deviated slightly, or the regiment or battalion may have claimed an exemption to the rules. Different manufacturers at different periods of time often will use slightly different stamping dies and different metal alloys. The usual item may be of brass but it is not impossible to find variants of bimetal form, that is, with parts of brass and white-metal or indeed, completely constructed of white metal. In some cases the badge may not even be recorded and it has been known for a regimental museum to deny the existence of a proved genuine badge of that unit. Thus the badge being offered may well be totally genuine but just slightly different; the spelling of the name may vary slightly; the position of one feature may be slightly different. Also personal preference or convention of a few may cause an unofficial piece of insignia to gain respectability through use, and therefore become ‘official. In the end it must be a matter of opinion until research from old photographs and other sources proves provenance one way or other. All this will affect the price of the item.
In the case of insignia, brass has always been the commonest material used but external pressures have sometimes forced changes. In 1942, during the Second World War, in order to conserve stocks of metal, several badges and other articles were manufactured from plastic. These plastic examples were basically copies of the original metal form and were produced in silver, bronze, black and dark-brown colours. In the early 1950’s another type of material, Staybrite, with a rather cheap and shiny look to it, was often substituted for reasons of economy. This trend towards economy has continued to this day, where you now see a prevalence of cheap machine-made embroidered examples.
Regular force units may have had their insignia in brass or gilt metal for officers, while the militia, a form of reserve force, often had theirs in white-metal or silver. In the case of other ranks the badges were normally die-stamped from a single piece of metal but those for officers were more elaborate with the central or regimental insignia made separately and held in place by wire or small rods passing though lugs on the back of the badge. Officers have generally been permitted to have better quality insignia made. These are simply gilded or bronzed, in some cases made of silver, or a portion of the badge silvered, or elaborately manufactured by jewelers. Hence the difference between officer’s and other ranks’ badges. 'Off-duty' wear or undress officers' badges also commonly show an embroidered variation.
Most badges and medals tend to be die struck or stamped. This means a piece of medal is laid over a die or mold of some sort upon which a reverse rendering of the design has been engraved. The piece of metal is then stamped with a weight of some sort, causing the pattern of the design to be imparted into the piece of medal. The stamping may be seen on only one side, utilizing only one die, but more commonly, a double die arrangement of some sort is used, causing the design to be seen on both sides (the reverse is usually much cruder and does not show the sharpness of the obverse). Artifacts are also sometimes cast, utilizing a mold and molten medal. In this case the product is often much cruder with the reverse being without any design. Care should be taken by a collector when he/she comes across a cast article because this was not the preferred method of manufacture. Copies of rarer badges have often been produced this way as it is cheaper and fairly simple to accomplish. Notwithstanding this, there are examples of authentic material that was cast. Once again, the acquaintance of a knowledgeable colleague can help here.
Apart from the badges and medals of the armed forces there are many other types, both official and unofficial, including those known as Sweetheart badges. These are essentially decorative civilian versions of the official badge and while often similar to the original article, have never been officially sanctioned. As a result their specific characteristics will never appear in catalogues. The copies are usually smaller than the actual service badge (occasionally they are the collar insignia that has been ‘improved’ in some manner). Some are enameled, some had gold, silver and even diamond fittings and most have pin back fasteners. It is safe to say all have some embellishment over the original article they portray. The sweetheart badges were those worn by wives and sweethearts as mementos of brothers, husbands and boyfriends serving in the forces and should not be confused with the original article. Paramilitary organizations will also affect military type designs in their insignia which further confuses the issue.
Condition is important and usually one of the most discriminating factors in determining value or desirability. Generally military artifacts are given some sort of condition description by dealers and auctioneers, but these tend not to be universally consistent. A trend of late, however, is the move toward the conventions utilized by coin collectors. If you find a seller does not use this type of convention, it would be beneficial to familiarize yourself with the criteria that he does use or buy a few small items and compare the condition with the descriptions he gives.
It is not unknown for articles to have been converted to some other use. For example a badge may be remounted as a brooch or napkin-ring. In such case the original construction is altered in some manner. A rare badge may have been rescued from such use and re-converted and as such can be considered less desirable than an unchanged example.
It is good policy to expect every piece to be wrong and then convince oneself that is right rather than the other way round. Don’t let the emotions of discovery override your logic and objectiveness. Look at the fastenings and fittings and see if they are likely to be replacements. Examine the piece for breaks and repairs. Check the backing of the item — this is often more revealing than the obverse. Pay close attention to the small details. A good magnifying-glass is well worth using when examining a specimen for there may be small defects or inconsistencies not visible to the unaided eye or inconsistent with the type of manufacture. Check for a patina in older examples or polishing wear that would be consistent with an article of that age. Carry detailed descriptions or catalogues with you to help in your appraisal — don’t necessarily trust to memory — after obtaining many examples, patterns of design tend to blend into each other and when your collection gets to the point where you are looking at variations, you can easily become confused at what you already own. Be careful and take your time. If you don’t know, ask a more experienced collecting colleague.
- Mint or Uncirculated: As issued, in pristine condition
- Extra or Extremely Fine Plus (XF+): Almost mint, some faint surface markings or hair line scratching
- Extra or Extremely Fine (EF): First class condition, with some slight scratches or abrasions, no sign of wear
- Very fine (VF): Surfaces clean and distinct, some scratching or contact marking, slight wear to highlights
- Fine (F): Surfaces clean and distinct, but showing signs or heavier wear, some “dints”, contact markings, abrasions, scratching, or a combination of all. Highlights a little worn
- Very Good (VG)
- Good (G)
- Worn: Surfaces worn, either by neglect or heavy polishing, heavily abrased, and or, contact marked, highlights deeply worn
- Edge Knocks (E/K): Abrasion or damage to edge or article , due to dropping or mishandling; most often used for medals
- Brooch Marked: Medal having been mounted for wear as a brooch, but later reconverted back to its original form, but the marks of the mounting are still visible
- Pitting: Damage caused to the surfaces due to contact, corrosion, or faulty metal, casting or striking
One can see from the above terms that there is great latitude present in assigning a condition to an artifact. To overcome this in part, it pays to familarize yourself with the biases of the appraiser making such calls. This can be done by attending sales and shows where artifacts are described as above. By comparing the actual item with its description, greater insights can be gained.
While very important to all military collectibles, provenance or origin (and the circumstances around that origin) becomes most important when dealing with medals, as many examples are individually-named in some fashion, thus allowing specific research on the origin of the medal. A medal can be considered valuable due to the individual it was awarded to, the campaign or action it was awarded for, the unit the recipient belonged to, as well as the total number issued. Also a slight variation to a medal can cause the price of that item to change significantly. Apart from these, the usual criteria around age, nationality, condition and manufacturing methods still hold true.
On the other hand, insignia and other categories of artifact are generally harder to value using provenance criteria as the original owners are usually unknown and in those cases where provenance is known, hard to substantiate. Value in this latter situation becomes strictly a case of rarity- how many are available on the market, how many were issued, where were they issued, what is their survivability (A plastic badge, for example, is usually more expensive than metal counterparts because plastic breaks easier and is not commonly found in good condition, if at all). The stationing of a regiment in a particular city tends to drive up the price of that regiment’s insignia in that community due to increased demand from its veterans and currently serving members. In other words, criteria already discussed are utilized as best as possible to determine rarity and hence, value.
One strategy often employed by the veteran collector is to obtain as many old catalogues as possible and to make note of the buying and selling history of a particular type of article, whether it be a medal or insignia. In the case of medals, particularly, the very same article can be seen, over time, to be bought and sold several times. This sets up a pattern for that article which can then be used as a template for other purchases. Not only is an approximate value arrived at, but also trends between dealers and prominent sellers of material can be worked out. It often becomes clear who consistently is over-priced or less expensive, who offers better quality and selection and the such. All this helps make you, the collector, more knowledgeable and discriminating in your pursuits.
You are a new collector or you have decided to branch out into a new specialty. You obtain a current catalogue or sales list of some sort and begin to go through it, discovering that the seller’s descriptions are rudimentary at best, other than offering a catalogue number as reference and an abbreviation of the quality. For example, you read “Cap badge, Canadian Chaplain Service, E39-10a, EF. To the uninitiated, this means very little. To a knowledgeable collector, this description tells you that the item is a cap badge to the Canadian Chaplain Service, 1914-1919 in age, probably blackened brass and a specific design of four possible in extra fine condition. This is turn should give you a good idea of its probable worth, if the item is offered for auction.
As with any other field of interest, there is an underground and shorthand language unique to that interest. Military collecting is no different in this respect. Apart from the language of the military which is developed as you gain knowledge in the area, a descriptive language has grown up around the identification and description of military artifacts. Certain catalogues or reference sources have also become accepted as the main descriptors for various classes of military artifacts.
Medals descriptions tend not to be quoted from specific sources, therefore any good medal catalogue or reference source should suffice. Insignia, on the other hand, are more complicated. Given the wide variety of design and variations, certain sources are generally quoted for different types. These references have become known throughout the collecting fraternity and have by convention become the standard reference catalogues used by most everyone. A listing of those references, a description of their value and a summary of their identification numbering system is given in the appendix as are the full titles of those references quoted.
Commonly Used Abbreviations
AL - Aluminum
AU - Gold
BI/MET, BIM - Bi-metal
BR - Brass
BUL - Bullion
BZE, BZ - Bronze
C/W - Complete with
CFM - Confirmed
CPR, CU, C - Copper
CR - Chromium
E - Enamel
EMBR - Embroidered
ENG - Engraved
G, GM - Gilt, gilded, gilding metal
HM - Hallmarked
HP - Helmet Plate
IMP - Impressed, Imperial
KC - King’s Crown
LM - Lug Missing
LR - Lug Replaced
MISC - Miscellaneous
NI - Nickel
OB - Obverse
OFFRS - Officers
OR - Other ranks
ORIG - Original
PKD - Pickled
PR - Pair
QC - Queen’s Crown
QVC - Queen Victoria Crown
REPRO - Reproduction
RES - Restored
REV - Reverse
S/G - Silver and gilt
S/O - Slip on
S/P, AG/P - Silver plated
S/T - Shoulder title
SBP - Sword belt plate
STER, S, AG - Sterling silver
SUSP - Suspender
VAR - Variety, variant
VIC - Victorian
VOL - Volunteer
W/O - Without
WBP - Waist belt plate
WM - White metal
WWI - World War I
WWII - World War II
XBP - Cross belt plate
Badges and to a lesser extent, medals, were traditionally the domain of young boys and poorer collectors, but with the spread of interest, demand began to outstrip supply and prices naturally rose until the most seasoned and wealthier collectors now constitute the bulk of this interest . As such the prices, continue to rise. The rise in recent years of re-enactment societies and historical groups, with their need for affordable period equipment and uniforms have placed further demands on available collecting stock. Such is the demand that certain individuals and organizations have felt the need to minimize this demand. This they have done by producing reproductions which have become the bane of the military collector, particularly the insignia and medal collector.
The collecting community has become increasingly concerned about this proliferation of ‘fakes’ and ‘reproductions’. The presence of large numbers of so-called ‘restrikes’ among British badges has been well known for some time, and lately, ‘authentic replica’ medals have appeared [sounds a lot like a ‘genuine antique reproductions’ or ‘almost pregnant’]. Nazi, elite force and wing collectors have been aware for some time of the large number of assorted fakes, counterfeits and completely spurious badges which infest those subject fields. Now Canadian collectors are becoming aware of a large variety of replicas of relatively scarce Canadian badges which have been reproduced in the past few years.
This following section incorporates part of a well-written discussion paper adopted by the Military Collectors’ Club of Canada some years back. Given that this organization has over the years insisted on proper standards in this area, and have taken steps to formalize a policy regarding military artifact reproductions, this author felt that no improvement on this discussion paper can be made.
Many terms are used by collectors to describe pieces which are not genuine original material. Just as 'beauty is in the eye of the beholder', some of these terms do not mean the same thing to everyone. Consequently, some brief discussion and definition of terms is required.
Original Material – This term refers to items which have been created in the first place to meet a specific functional requirement. In the field of military collecting, such material, whether arms, equipment, insignia, decorations or medals, has been procured by appropriate authority for use by members of military forces. These items may be described as "original" and genuine. Unlike other collectibles such as works of art, hockey cards and certain stamps and coins, virtually none of the material was meant to be collected by third parties. Moreover, because the material was procured for a specific purpose, generally it has been produced in accordance with some specification and in a finite quantity, which in some cases is extremely limited. Hence, the global stock of any given item or class of items is generally limited and some material is scarce or rare. This, as museologists would say, "Original material is irreplaceable. "However, some people attempt to do just that and therein lies the present problem.
Non-original Material – Everything that is not original is "non-original' by definition, or "bogus". Both terms are used in this paper to include all types of material which are not original and genuine. However, non-original material as a class can be sub-divided into specific categories, reflecting collectors' terms in common usage and/or the nature and purpose of the material.
Restrikes – This term, as usually used by collectors, refers to metal badges which are made from original dies. The dies have often passed from the original manufacturer to another who uses them to "restrike" new badges expressly for the collectors' market. Such badges may or may not be made to the same specifications as the originals in terms of type and thickness of metal, finish and fastening attachments. As a result, some may be indistinguishable from the originals, while others are quite spurious and bear only superficial resemblance to the originals, being struck in metals or with finishes completely unknown among the original material. Large numbers of such are found among British badges. The class of restrikes also includes additional production "overruns", which are badges produced by the original manufacturer from original dies to meet the demands of third parties in the collectors' market. An example of this is the modern Canadian Special Service Force pipe band badge, made by Scully [a long-time manufacturer of Canadian military insignia], of which the large number in circulation among collectors were made to order for a private individual. They are indistinguishable from the few which had been made for the band and are original for all intents and purposes. The difference is that the total number in existence has been greatly increased and the relative scarcity and value of the entire global quantity in existence has been correspondingly reduced.
Replicas, Copies, or Reproductions – These terms are generally used synonymously, but the term "replica" is preferred. In the case of metal badges, replicas are made cheaply and in any quantity from new dies or molds made from original badges. Even new dies can be made inexpensively using modern die-making processes. Some such replicas are close reproductions of the originals, while others are spurious and unlike any original. Well-known Canadian replicas from a British source include the World War II Armoured Carrier Regiment cap badge, the 51st Soo Rifles cap badge, and a brass Canadian Expeditionary Force 1st Tank Battalion left-facing collar badge mounted with a slider which thus purports to be a cap badge. All of these are described on the manufacturer's wholesale list simply and carefully as being in "new, mint condition", with no claim to being original material. Other replicas are cast from molds made from original badges. In some cases, these have been made expressly as fillers, and are quite unlike the original badges. An example is the cast metal WWII Garrison Battalion badge, made a number of years ago, which is a metal casting of the original plastic badge. As such, it is purposely spurious and unmistakable for an original [as an aside, this reproduction badge itself is now rare enough to command a high price in auctions]. In other cases new badges are being cast to resemble the originals as closely as possible, including the use of sterling silver overlays. These are made deliberately to represent the originals as closely as possible. In such cases, the possibility of misjudgement or fraud is apparent, particularly when the prices charged are high enough to create a sense of legitimacy. Still other badges are manufactured and sold openly as collector's replicas. Some have been struck by the original manufacturer for some other purpose, such as Gaunt's 1973 RCMP centennial set of replica badges. Other examples include many American and some Canadian insignia which have been manufactured by US firms expressly to cater to collectors, including the modern Canadian metal/enamel parachute wings. They are easily distinguishable from the Canadian issued originals, but who would wish to collect such rubbish, particularly at prices comparable to or greater than the originals, is hard to imagine.
Spurious Badges – This term is used to describe non-original badges of any kind which are neither true restrikes nor replicas or original items. They appear to be similar to original material, but are unlike any original item. They are new items which are in themselves unique and owe little to original material apart from a certain resemblance, but owe much to someone's imagination. One collector has described these as "badges that never were". This class of bogus badges particularly infests the airborne and elite sector. Examples abound and include many of the multicolored British cloth parachute wings, and the several types of purported Canadian Parachute Corps badges. The latter include a very nice metal casting of the plastic Canadian Parachute Corps badge, carefully plated in 'silver' and 'gilt' to resemble an officers' badge. No such badge ever existed as an original item. Similarly, the British-made large Canadian Parachute Corps badges, familiar to collectors and which resemble the officers’ badge in size, are found in at least six or seven combinations of metals, finishes and fasteners, all of which are spurious.
Fakes or Counterfeits – These terms are used here to refer to any non-original badge or other item which is misrepresented as original and genuine. Any non-original item, when purported to be an original, is fake or counterfeit, and the act of misrepresentation is fraud.
As an historical aside, the production of copies from original dies seems to have started at the beginning of the century when a British Southsea firm, Fox and Company, obtained the original dies of some British glengarry badges and, to make these appear more authentic, they 'weathered' them before sale. They were listed and offered to collectors at reasonable prices and because originals were comparatively scarce, some collectors accepted them as substitutes until such time as they could obtain the original. Today, they are still accepted — as substitutes — but there are dealers and collectors, either unscrupulous or ignorant of their subject, who persist in offering them as originals to unsuspecting beginners, and at prices one would expect to pay for the authentic item.
Into a somewhat different category fall the commercial restrikes made available through military accessory shops during the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. Usually these were of patterns currently in use by regiments and most were purchased as replacements or mementos by serving soldiers. To the collector they offered a useful source of supply at cheap cost with the additional bonus that, occasionally, he/she might even find an obsolete pattern if lucky.
Little happened during the 1960s except many of the world’s armed forces underwent significant change of organization. In Canada, for example, unification reared its ugly head, while in Britain much of the old regimental system gave way to amalgamations and large brigades. There was the occasional restriking being practiced but most of the material produced was of poor quality and only of passing interest to beginners.
During the early 1970s, a well known badge manufacturer in Britain issued a series of restrikes of obsolete badges. They were offered through the trade as new stock at very reasonable prices and there is no doubt the original intention in this case, was simply to meet a new known demand. There could be no question of an attempt to pass off these badges as originals:the prices asked were so low that no one could really believe them as authentic. It was only after some time that more unscrupulous parties artificially aged this type of restrike and offered them at high prices as authentic and original badges. This tradition unfortunately is continuing at an ever-increasing frequency even into the 90s, not only in Britain but also in Canada and the United States, and has moved beyond the area of insignia only into the domain of medals and other areas of artifacts.
Reproductions from the Middle and Far East have also become commonplace and very cheap. Inevitably cast and crudely finished, rather than die struck, with weak lugs or sliders, they are not likely to fool any but the most inexperienced. However, some collectors have no objections to filling difficult gaps with these and it is not unusual to find in older collections one of these reproductions that has been there for years.
However innocent may have been the past manufacture of restrikes, their acceptance opened up new fields of possibility. In the years that had passed since the Fox restrikes, the hobby has expanded and grown beyond recognition. What had been an obscure hobby practiced by a small and select group of collectors has now become a highly popular pastime, with the resulting pressure being made upon the available original supply.
Human nature being what it is, such a set of circumstances could lead to one conclusion only; inevitably some bright entrepreneur was going to produce the supply to meet the demand. Today the manufacture of restrikes and reproductions is a sizable industry with firms producing anything from cap badges to medals to uniforms and accessories. Supporting it is a network of large and small dealers who hawk this material as original and at very fancy prices. There is the sad story of one victim who had acquired at considerable expense what he believed to be an original specimen of a very rare item. He began to suspect its authenticity and took it to a so-called dealer who, without hesitation, confirmed his worst fears and offered him another which, he alleged, was the ‘real thing’. In fact, the new offering was simply a better class of restrike and the only conclusion one can draw from that story is that either the dealer was patently dishonest or he did not know his trade. In either case, he is not the type that is wanted in our hobby.
The situation that has arisen might have been contained from the very beginning if the main body of the hobby, backed by its formal societies, had made a firm stand against the people behind restrikes, but this has only recently starting to happen and as such, may be too late to have a real effect.
In detailing the types and general history of restrikes the intention has been to give the reader an insight into cause and effect:a background to the problems that beset the hobby. What it does not do is to help him in identifying the offending items. Unfortunately the sheer number of restrikes to date is so substantial that a completely separate detailed work would be necessary to fulfill such a need.
It is, unfortunately, impossible to give an infallible rule for distinguishing re-strikes.Quality has improved and in a few years' time with some genuine wear it is going to be impossible to know which is the original.
What hope for the collector then? Some tips:
- Experience is the key and if a collector lacks his own then he should use that of other people.
- Take every opportunity to handle genuine badges.
- Examine the example through a magnifying-glass and see if it has the small pits caused by inferior casting or stamping. Examine the detail; some restrikes lack fine finish. Check the reverse. The stamping should be clear there also.
- Compare the suspect item with any known genuine example although this is often not possible when confronted by the piece in the shop or market.
- Place an older cloth artifact, e.g. a uniform, under black light. If the stitching thread is supposedly older than, say, about 1950, it should not glow. Any fluorescence of stitching on an otherwise vintage item is a dead giveaway that at least part of that artifact has seen a modern hand at work on it.
- Because it is quite impossible to detect some reproductions from the original, if you are in any doubt as to the authenticity of any badge in your collection then possibly the best solution is to seek the advice of a more experienced collector, particularly if he has a long and accurate memory, and a comparison with a genuine specimen should solve the problem.
- Join a society.
- Enquire about dealers and try to find one who is trustworthy and let him help you. In this situation trust in the dealer is vital. A dealer who inadvertently sells a non-original item should be willing without hesitation to make restitution.
- Do not rush into buying badges. Study as many lists as you can obtain, see how prices compare.
- Beware of the dealer who consistently offers a large number of scarce and rare badges.
The above discussion and definitions are not intended to be exhaustive and it can be argued there are additional classes, such as “museum copies”, etc. or that certain items should be in one category or another. However it is clear that there are several classes of items which are not original material. They vary in nature, purpose and use, and therefore, it is difficult to generalize or even criticize in certain cases.
The ethics of restrikes is a constant topic of discussion among collectors and if there is a general consensus it is that, if offered and sold as restrikes, they might be acceptable, and the use of marked reproductions in re-enactments and museum displays might be acceptable under certain circumstances, but the degree and circumstances of acceptance become a matter of personal standards and decision. What is universally accepted as inexcusable, though, is the sale or display of restrikes as originals.
You now have a collection. How do you preserve it? It really depends on the type of article being preserved and what you wish to do with it.
From the start there are a few general truisms. Artifacts are often received in poor condition and could require some maintenance for preservation and/or display. This can range from polishing to actual restoration or repair. The most commonly professed philosophy is to alter it as little as possible but occasionally this may be necessary. Depending on whom you talk to, though, will get you a different answer. There are those who will not change anything, no matter what. Others will polish or clean their articles while still others will go to the extreme of bringing the item back to its original condition. There is probably no correct answer to this question so let your conscience and your own philosophy be the guide. And above all once again use common sense. If you must work on the artifact, at the very least fully understand what you are doing and how to do it and use the right tools and materials. Or use the services of a professional. There are patent compounds available for a variety of restoration and preservation purposes but it is well to test them on an unimportant article before chancing it on quality examples.
Especially be careful when dealing with articles of mixed media such as uniforms, webbing and the such. For example, an old leather belt needs reconditioning. Most conditioners on the market today will do an excellent job however they are also very hard on the cloth stitching that many belts were sewn with and ultimately will do more harm than if you had left well enough alone.
The deterioration of artifacts starts at the time such things are made and proceeds through their lives. Iron and metal objects rust or corrode, paintings develop cracks and the paint layer may flake off, wood warps, paper cockles and discolours, both textiles and paper rot, leather decays, etc. Such deterioration is natural in the sense that it is the response by which such artifacts attain a state of physical and chemical equilibrium with their immediate environment. Changes of environment, obviously, begin the deterioration process anew. The science of conservation is an entirely separate and detailed field of study and expertise, and usually takes several years of training to become proficient.
Moisture in the atmosphere plays a substantial role in the deterioration of artifacts. The relative humidity or RH is a measure of the moisture content of air. Even in dry climates, some moisture content is always present and often, in conjunction with atmospheric pollutants, can cause cracking and flaking of paint layers, shrinking of wood and organic objects, the deterioration of parchment and paper, the corrosion of metal, etc. Potentially harmful biological processes are also influenced by relative humidity. Apart from atmospheric moisture being present, humidity fluctuation can be especially damaging to composite objects, due to the different properties and hence the different responses to their environment. For example, the wooden portions of weapons alternately swell and contract as the relative humidity of the atmosphere increases and decreases, while the metal parts may remain untouched, or conversely a constant but moist environment can promote onset of rust in metal components while wooden fittings remain relatively unaffected.
Our modern industrial environment contains (including surprisingly, our own home furnace systems) substantial amounts of sulphur dioxide which is evolved in the production of many metals from their ores and in the burning of fuels such as coal and oil. In the presence of air and water the sulphur dioxide forms sulphuric acid. Where materials known as catalysts are present this formation of sulphuric acid is greatly sped up; iron salts and oxides function as catalysts for this reaction. The sulphuric acid formed will cause the deterioration of most materials. Paper will discolour and become brittle; the long fibrous materials such as papers and textiles are composed of are broken under the action of the acid and material loses its strength; leather will become weak and powdery; marble is transformed and may disintegrate in the process, even rubber disintegrates. Now saying this, it is also a fact that in some situations, depending upon the type of corrosion or oxidation that has already taken place, the layer of oxidized or corroded material in itself creates a barrier between the atmosphere and the artifact. In essence, therefore, it ultimately protects the artifact surface from further deterioration and to remove the corroded layer will only start the process over again. One has to be careful here, though, as not all types of corrosion will act in this manner. Informed advice should be sought when this situation arises.
Degradation can also come about through the chemical “activity” of metals towards each other. Certain combinations of metals or indeed, of materials in general, when placed in contact with each other, will initiate a chemical corrosion on the surface of one of the metals involved. This is usually manifested by a coloured stain or coating which is commonly called verdigris. In the case of brass particularly, by way of example, this corrosive product can be seen to be greenish in colour. If at all possible, it is best to store artifacts of different material construction separate from each other.
The presence of harsh light, notably sunlight and ultraviolet radiation, will very quickly fade articles and leave them brittle and dry. Also, certain degradation processes are initiated or enhanced by the energy of light.Keep artifacts in a setting where subdued light is the norm.
Living organisms can also wreak havoc to a collection, especially if the artifacts are organic in nature, as are uniforms, leather and wood. We have all seen the damage that moths and other insects can do to textiles, as well as mildew and other forms of rot. Care must be taken to ensure the artifacts are kept in an environment that is secure from these ravages.
Other types of artifacts obviously need special care but once again avail yourself of knowledgeable people. In cases where severe restoration or preservation is necessary, it is recommended that the collector approach a large museum which deals in similar artifacts for advice. Failing this, a call to the Canadian Conservation Institute in Ottawa should give some satisfaction. While the Canadian Conservation Institute has a mandate of providing conservation and restoration services and advice to public institutions only, and will not provide extensive services to the individual collector, the staff generally welcome the occasional query and are generous with their advice, providing no expense to the Institute is involved.
Glossary of Preservation Terms
Abrasion: the physical removal of material by cutting, grinding or scraping action; the primary method of polishing; abrasion always results in physical loss of metal.
Amalgam plating: depositon of a thin layer of metal onto a metal base by evaporation of mercury in which it is in solution; this was most commonly done with gold.
Artificial patina: intentional alteration of the surface of the metal by chemical means.
Base metal: the metal below plating which constitutes the body of an object.
Bimetallic corrosion: corrosion which occurs when dissimilar metals are in contact corrosion.
Brazing: the process of joining metals by heating and applying a melted brass alloy.
Bronze disease: a chloride corrosion specific to copper alloys, e.g. bronze, brass.
Burnishing: mechanical action smoothing a metal and thus rearranging its surface crystal structure.
Casting: forming of a metal or plastic object by pouring metal or plastic into a mold.
Chemical cleaning: when corrosion products are removed by dissolution, usually in an acid; results in physical loss of metal.
Chemical plating: deposition of a thin film of dissimilar metal from an electrolyte containing a metal salt onto a metal base by using an electric current.
Coating: an inert layer applied to a metal object to protect it from its environment.
Composite: an object made of more than one material; usually taken to mean metal and non-metal combined.
Conservation: all actions aimed at the safe-guarding of cultural property for the future; the purpose of conservation is to study, record, retain and restore the culturally significant qualities of the object with the least possible intervention.
Ductility: the ability of a metal to be formed by drawing, stretching or extrusion.
Electrochemical cleaning: when corrosion products are removed by creating an electrical cell between the object, an electrolyte and another metal; results in physical loss of metal.
Electrochemical series: a series of the metals, together with hydrogen, ranged in the order of their electrode series potentials; the position of a type of metal on the electrochemical series is an indication of its reactivity with other metals. Therefore this series can be useful in determining which artifacts should not be stored in close proximity with other specific types of metal.
Electroplating: process where an electric current is passed through two selected salts in water solution via electrodes of differing materials in such a manner that a metal from one one salt is deposited onto the electrode in the other salt. The metal being deposited depends on the composition of the salts in solution and the electrodes.
Fatigue: when excessive stress causes a metal to lose its cohesive strength.
Forging: forming a metal object by hammering when hot.
Lead disease: see Bronze disease; occurs with lead based items e.g. toy soldiers, pewter items.
Malleability: the ability of metal to be shaped by hammering.
Mechanical cleaning: when corrosion products are removed by impact e.g. vibration, scraping, grinding, etc.; also known as abrasion.
Mechanical plating: deposition of adhering a thin coat of metal onto a metal base by pressure, heat or adhesive.
Natural patina: naturally occurring oxidation which results in passivation of the reactive metal; the resulting surface can awsthetically enhance the appearance of the metal.
Passivation: the formation of a protective layer of oxide on metal which prevents, or retards, further corrosion.
pH: a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of an aquesous solution by its concentration of hydrogen ions; the lower the number, the more acidic it is reactivity.
Restoration: all actions taken to modify the existing materials and structure of a cultural property to represent a known earlier state; the aim of restoration is to preserve and reveal the aesthetic and historical value of a cultural property; restoration is based on respect for the remaining original material and clear evidence of the earlier state.
Soldering: the process of joining metals by the use of a dissimilar metal of lower melting point.
Strain: irreversible damage to metal due to applied force.
Tarnish: the loss of brightness of a metal as a result of oxidizing films.
Vacuum plating: evaporation of a metal usually onto a non-metal, most commonly aluminum, silver, or rhodium on glass.
Welding: joining two similar metals with a melted seam of the same material.
Once you have decided you wish to clean an artifact (remember, there is some discussion whether this is advisable at all), there are different methods in handling certain types of articles. No one method can necessarily be considered the ‘right one’, although there are very definitely ill-advised methods. As such, the suggestions following are merely that – suggestions. As previously warned, it is prudent to test the following, if unsure, on less important artifacts of similar composition to confirm no damage will occur.
Many collectors spoil their medals by over-polishing or buffing them up with metal polish. This may be quite satisfactory on the harder brass or cupro-nickel medals struck for World War II. Indeed, this is the only sensible course for, unlike their solid silver counterparts of World War I and earlier, these cupro-nickel medals cannot be treated in a silver cleanser. However, continual rubbing and polishing of the solid and softer silver medals will, in time, reduce them to lumps of polished silver with all their intricate details and high spots reduced to a faceless anonymity.
For the best results when using a silver cleanser, first carefully remove the ribbon and place it between the pages of a heavy book. This ensures the ribbon is out of harm's way as well as being pressed.(When one is handling a ribbon of say, 1860, it pays to be extra careful as, in some instances, the ribbon is harder to acquire than the actual medal!The firms of Hayward or Spinks can usually be relied upon to supply many replacement ribbons, but it kills a little of the romance to see an antique piece dolled-up with a brand new shiny ribbon).
Now, having stored your ribbon away, thread a thin loop of nylon fishing line through the bar or suspender fitting and thoroughly immerse the medal in a liquid silver cleaning solution (dip). Rinse with water and dry with a soft cloth. Minimize rubbing. As the silver content of medals is usually extremely high, the silver dip works in almost all cases. Medals of other materials can be cleaned with various results using the same methods and appropriate cleaners. The point is to clean the medal without dulling the sharp edges or lettering on the edges. Both of these tend to be diagnostic features of the medal and should be preserved as best as possible.
If two or more medals are to be treated put them all in at once, leaving the loops of nylon cord hooked over the side of the jar. Try not to let them touch each other. A word of warning — if the medals are heavily tarnished be sure to carry out the work in a well-ventilated room, workshop or garage. The toxic fumes can play havoc with your health. Once the dipped medal takes on a nice brilliant shine, rinse it well in warm, soapy water and, after drying on a soft piece of toweling or cloth, lightly polish it with a 'Long Term' or similar silver cloth.
Medal ribbons can pose problems, especially if they are of any great age. If the ribbons are torn or dirty, they can either be replaced in some cases or, assuming they still maintain their competency, you can clean them yourself. Many of those issued at or later than the turn of the century should prove no trouble to replace, but those of, say, Germany or Italy or any pre-1860 examples are rather more difficult to find. To clean, carefully wash the ribbon in a cold mild detergent to which a bit of salt has been added.(The salt will minimize the chance of the dye running). Rinse gently but well and air dry on a flat surface, then iron with a soft cloth or brown paper cover to prevent an unnatural sheen from occurring. With very old ribbons in suspect condition, the only recourse is to lightly press them with a warm (not hot) iron, once again using a cloth or plain brown paper as a barrier. Preserve them at all costs — a frayed, battered piece of antique ribbon is better than no ribbon at all.
Some collectors treat their medals or badges with a clear shellac, after cleaning. This is ideal for those who live where air containing salt from the sea plays havoc with metal. However, central heating and pollution causes noticeable changes on this protective coating of shellac because it is often the case that the protective coating is not continuous over the entire artifact. The metal beneath thus becomes discoloured with tarnish after a few years. The new acetate coatings like Varathane are somewhat better but this same problem does occur and besides this product can be seen to coat the badge somewhat thicker than with the shellac and may give an appearance not wanted by the collector. Regardless of the material used, either can be simply removed by a simple immersion in boiling water. For articles with a duller finish, such as some insignia, a coating of Varathane will often impart a sheen inconsistent with the original surface of the article and as such should be used advisedly.
Be very careful indeed in your approach to cleaning badges. Many specimens have been ruined irretrievably by enthusiastic collectors who have removed the original finish of bronze or black. The main criterion is to obtain a specimen in, as near as possible, its original condition when issued. When you obtain a new item for your collection, first of all examine it carefully and determine what the original finish was, remembering that a very high polish is not what you require. The reverse side of the badge will help a great deal in deciding its original form.
As mentioned, the patina retained by the badge over the years is often attractive, as well as being a diagnostic feature of authenticity (it is hard to fake). Notwithstanding this, many collectors polish their badges. This is a personal choice and once again, let your conscience prevail. Indeed, cleaning should only be carried out if the badges are suffering badly from verdigris (corrosion) or heavy staining. In chronic cases of verdigris, it is advisable to leave the affected badge soaking in a neat solution of lemon juice. Brushing well with an old toothbrush will soon remove the offensive green deposit and a wash in warm, soapy water will quickly neutralize the acid. Staining can also be removed in the same way, but it may be enough to give the metal a brush with a brass-bristled brush. What works particularly well in removing staining, and polishes at the same time, with little apparent ill-effects is Worcestershire Sauce.
Steer clear of abrasives — metal polishes such as Brasso or Duraglit may be good enough for brass-hilted bayonets and swords, or brass and copper powder flasks (for collectors of those items, please forgive me), but these cleaners tend to leave a deposit of filth in the fine relief work of badges and the polishing effects of the latter cleaner in particular is quite short-lived, leaving the badge eventually in a much worse appearance than before. Of course back in the days of army 'bull-shine', it was the done thing to burnish badges and brass-work to a fine old state. The results of this zealousness are now little more than highly polished pieces of metal showing little of the original detail of design. All one can do with these now is to polish them lightly with a wadding cleaner, and brush out any residue from the crevices. In general, take the same care as with medals to ensure minimal wear on the item.
Take care in cleaning these types of artifacts as the material has often weakened with age and will readily tear or disintegrate under vigorous cleaning. Generally restrict cleaning to a light brushing with a soft clothing brush. In the case of heavy staining, wet and blot the affected area repeatedly (first test the effect of water on an unseen portion of the article to see if water staining will occur). If total cleaning is required, it is advised to dry clean rather than using water, however check with a local museum to see which dry cleaning store does their work. There should be an appreciation on the part of the dry cleaning staff to do their work gently and minimize the use of harsh chemicals.
With canvas items, a strong brushing is usually sufficient to remove most dirt and residue. Careful use of water may also be in order, but water can have a tendency to stain so use it with care. Never use a hard brush as it will affect the surface of the canvas.
An oft-used method, used especially in the navy, for cleaning uniforms and other articles was to rub stains with fresh bread. While results are achieved in the near term, it is recommended that this method not be used as the fats in the bread can cause longer lasting damage to the fabric.
In cleaning the various metals and finishes the following hints may be of assistance, should the more benign methods already mentioned fail to work.
Bronze or bronzed artifacts: Bronze or bronzed insignia, and old copper or coated copper items should not be cleaned at all. If the badge or button seems to be clogged or coated with a layer of dirt or is stained, a light application of machine oil should be rubbed gently over it and then removed with a soft cloth. When much of the finish has been removed it is very difficult to replace it. You can perhaps touch up the surface with paint, but a semi-matte brown paint of the right shade would be hard to find. Where much of the original finish has been retained a dark brown boot polish will add some colour.
Gilt: If very dirty use a small amount of a mixture of liquid detergent and strong ammonia. Apply this with a small silver brush and wash it off carefully with a gentle brushing in warm water. Dry and polish with a clean cloth. Do this in a well-ventilated area.
Silver: Use a silver dip wherever possible, but if necessary to remove heavy staining, use a silver brush and apply plate powder dissolved in a small amount of methylated spirit (alcohol), or rub with pure lemon juice on cotton wool. For stubborn corners play out the end of a match stick and use to apply mixture.
Brass or gilding metal: Prepare a weak solution of one part sulphuric acid (H2SO4) to twenty parts of water. Add the acid to the water to avoid unpleasant results. Soak the item in this solution for thirty minutes to one hour. Then gently scrub in warm water using a brass wire brush to remove the deposit which will have formed. Always wear rubber gloves whilst handling the object to protect your hands against the effect of the acid solution. Finish with a soft brush using liquid detergent and warm water. Dry well.
White metal: White metal is the generic name given to any metal alloy that has a silver-like appearance. The same instructions as for gilding metal apply, but do not use the same solution you have already used for gilding metal or brass for it may cause deposits of copper to stain the white metal. Use a fresh batch. When faced with the problem of an artifact which consists of both white and gilding metal or brass, treat it with the solution which has been used for whichever metal forms the major part of the specimen.
Blackened brass: If much of the original finish is removed, use patience and skill in replacing it. On a badge where the finish has been completely removed, spray carefully with a matte-finish paint. Blackstove or boot polish can also be used to refurbish such badges. Remember that some blackened badges have had the high points polished purposely to bring into relief the design or battle honours. This should be preserved, so any cleaning will require great care and skill.
Bullion thread: Bullion thread, usually being made out of silver or gold, will tarnish with age. This tarnish may eventually leave the badge or artifact totally black in colour. There is no method of removing this tarnish that will not harm the artifact irreparably. To conserve these types of items, it is best to store them in archival standard plastic bags (i.e. they have not chlorine in their construction).
Enamel: Using tweezers or long nosed pliers hold the badge in the steam of a gently boiling kettle. Then, with great care, clean with a mild soap or detergent in warm water. Any vigorous action is to be avoided. Make sure when doing this that the small discs or rings which carry the enamel backing are not distorted to ensure that the enamel is not cracked or loosened.
Varnishes and coatings - Old copal varnishes are apt to turn yellow brown and are most difficult to remove. It is preferable to leave the specimen without a coating of any kind and to frame them behind glass. Sealing the frames as much as possible is the best preservative. They should be kept in a warm and smoke free atmosphere and will then last for many years. Alcohol or acetone will remove the coating if desired, as will usually boiling water.
If you are not experienced, let a qualified person with a jewelry background or specific experience in this do repairs for you, even if this means sending the item out of province or country to a qualified practitioner. A good repair job will usually not affect the price unduly but a poor job will very definitely have a major negative impact. Also don't try to overdo it and return the item to an "as new" condition. There is a lot to be said for leaving untouched a patina that has developed over the life of the article.
In the case of medals, the most common repairs are to the shanks. With insignia, about the only repair job that need ever be considered is the repair or replacement of missing fasteners on the reverse. Once again, let someone who knows their job do the work. Should repairs to the fasteners thought to be necessary remember any heat treatment will weaken, damage or destroy the badge, especially if more than one type of material is present. So try to avoid this if possible.
Considerations of storage will vary from collector to collector depending on the available space and resources of each individual. Often when a collector starts into this hobby, the artifacts are either placed in drawers or mounted on cardboard or some other similar material which best shows off the collection. Regardless of type, make certain the supporting base is stout enough to bear the weight of the specimens it will contain eventually, and leave gaps for those that you fully expect to obtain.
If using a card mount system, the cards can be placed in drawers, but pieces of similar material or corrugated cardboard cut to a slightly smaller size should be placed between them to protect the articles underneath from protrusions of those on the card above. Do not have too much weight on them (i.e. do not stack too many cards in one drawer). If the holes made in the card are not too large the items will be held firmly in place but, to make certain, you can use split wire pins or a strip of transparent adhesive tape to hold firm. Generally this is not usually considered necessary until actual framing is carried out.
In dealing with textiles and leathers, especially those of some age, the natural aging and drying processes will leave the fibres weakened and susceptible to undue pressure. Care should be taken to ensure that no new creases or folds develop as a result of the storing process. If at all possible, such items should be laid flat and enclosed top and bottom with unbleached cotton sheeting or cloth or paper. But ensure the chemical nature of these materials are benign. All too often these materials involve an acid or chlorine in their manufacture – substances that can cause significant damage over time. If in doubt, it is best to check with a qualified conservationist or a local large museum (usually small museums do not have the necessary conservation expertise in residence). If it is not possible to lay the items down, they can be hung separately ensuring the hanger is suitably padded to minimize the creasing, and hence weakening of the artifact.
For larger artifacts, especially those of mixed media that are stored in uncontrolled surroundings, it is best to discuss the matter with the staff of a large museum. They generally have information available if not first-hand experience.
As a collection is built up there comes the time to display it and this can be a problem since the display will often be changing as new or better examples are acquired. Therefore it is advisable not to frame your badges until you have sufficient to make a reasonable display, otherwise you will create extra work through dismantling and rearranging, thus wasting the time, trouble and resources already spent on it. Also, in the past many good badges have been ruined by continual bending, removal, drilling and nailing of the sliders and lugs and this should be avoided as much as possible. Cloth items such as insignia or medal ribbons will also suffer wear and damage if they are repeatedly stitched to a material backing.
Most collectors generally do not follow formal rules of display. Rather, collections are mounted as resources, which sense of taste and experience dictate. The amount of space available also influences the final product. For example, mounting artifacts in glazed picture frames is all very fine if the room is large enough, but it can be a little imposing to be constantly under the gaze of what would be a hobby and not a chore.
Given that most collectors have spent their limit in acquiring artifacts, they are often limited in the quality of display materials. With a little ingenuity, however very effective presentations can be made using scrounged and unusual materials. Watch how other people and organizations display materials — not only military artifacts but other things. Use your imagination. If you like it, what does it matter about others?
In terms of medals, there are a variety of methods of display — only a couple of which are mentioned here. Probably the first choice the collector must make is to display medals singly or in groups. This would be followed by the method of hanging the medals. Currently, and assuming you have ribbons for the medals, there are two methods — the swing mount and court mount. The former method is the traditional way of suspending medals. With this, a group of medals are suspended from a specifically-designed metal bracket (which can be purchased from medal dealers) over and through which the medal ribbon is sewn. Approximately two to three inches of ribbon are allowed to show and the metal part of the medal is allowed to hang freely from the upper fastened edge. Court mounted medals, on the other hand, are securely fastened to a rigid backing so that no movement is possible. With this method also the length of the ribbon showing is somewhat longer — up to four inches and is continued not only above the metal portion of the medal but also over and down behind the medal itself. This method of suspension first showed itself about twenty years ago but has since become very popular. In displaying older medals, the collector must decide which method to utilize because prior to World War II, medals were never court mounted. If authenticity in all regards is important, then the swing mount method should be adopted. Also in the case of medals with hard to find ribbons, court mounted medals use much more ribbon than the original swing mount.
The last thing to be aware of when displaying medals is that there is an order of priority or precedence to medals, which is reflected in relative position of medals in a group. Those of higher precedence are situated to the left of lower order decorations. To a veteran collector, nothing stands out clearer than an improperly situated medal within a group.
Many collectors display medals in a ready-made cabinet comprised of thin drawers lined with baize. Although this is handy for the collector faced with a space shortage, some collectors prefer to display medals in glazed frames. This rather effective and picturesque way of showing war medals is most rewarding for, with the many and various combinations of ribbon colours, the whole display can be a beautiful adornment to a room. Cloth-covered peg-board has been a favourite frame backing material as it can be purchased in small sizes and the ready-punched holes make it easier to sew (safer, neater and more professional-looking than most other alternatives) the ribbons to a cloth backing and then through into the holes behind.
Tacks can also be used to mount medals, but unless you purchase the all-brass variety, a certain amount of rust or corrosion could be picked up on the ribbon. Also you may have to contend with pin holes in the medal ribbon. If the ribbon is rare, in poorer condition or if you don’t wish to mar it in this way, use your imagination in hanging the medal. If you decide to use tacks take care to mount the medal carefully. Failure to do so makes for an unsightly pin-head on all the ribbons displayed. Take each medal to be displayed and lay it in position. Gently flip it on its back, stretching the medal out to its full length of ribbon. Press in the pin about one half inch from the ribbon end and then return the medal to its proper position by bringing the ribbon right over the pin-head, thus concealing it from view. A word of warning — ensure the tack can be pushed into the backing easily and that the backing will hold the weight of the medal. Having to force the tack into the backing or having it fall out could result in the ribbon being torn or the medal damaged. Once the medals are correctly in position and the small identification labels installed, finish the display off by pasting a piece of thick brown paper over the back of the frame. This effectively combats the ever-present danger of dust filtering in through the back, and damaging both ribbons and medals.
To display insignia or other related items, most collectors tend to use frames, with or without glass. You can cover a suitably-sized piece of cardboard, ‘foamcore’, matting board, or other similar material (of sufficient thickness and rigidity to carry the weight) with an appropriate material ranging from velvet to hessian (broadcloth). Or you an use coloured board. After making a small cut in the material (use a sharp razor knife to prevent runs), the insignia fasteners can be gently pressed into the backing, or if the badge is fitted with a slider this can be slipped into and behind the backing (be very careful that you do not bend the slider outwards from the badge too much or it will easily snap off). The whole with attached badges can then be slipped into the frame. This system should cause no damage to the badges and can be very easily changed if new badges are acquired or the theme is changed. Ensure the material covering does not wrinkle by affixing the material evenly to the back and make the holes large enough for the shanks to penetrate without damage. Under no circumstances, though, should the original lugs or slider be removed. It has been known for these to be removed laboriously and short screw lugs soldered in their place. Also small holes are often drilled in the badge to allow thin wire to be looped through. It is quite unnecessary to take such drastic measures for not only does it spoil the original nature of the badge, it can greatly reduce its value. Double-sided adhesive tape is another great possibility and one that this author uses extensively. As well, small blobs of hot melt glue can be used, however the potential of physical or chemical damage, not to mention burns to your fingers, is greatly increased. If the hot glue is to be used, it is wise to check that there is no potential chemical reaction between the artifact material (especially if textile) and the adhesive, and most importantly, determine whether the hardened glue can be easily removed from the artifact at some point in the future, without adverse effect.
Once in the frame, the choice is yours whether you cover it with glass. Generally this is not necessary as the insignia are generally metal. The exceptions, of course, are cloth shoulder flashes, patches and embroidered badges which may be adversely affected by dust. Something to watch for with cloth artifacts under glass is trapped moisture (in a humid climate). In this case, it is often more advisable to leave the artifacts uncovered so that air circulation is maintained. Having said all that, a glassed frame can give a more finished look to the display.
Another method is to place insignia on velvet or cloth-covered cardboard trays which are cut to fit a drawer, cupboard or filing cabinet. The cards can then be easily stored away, discreetly awaiting the discerning and admiring eye of the enthusiast — even if it is only that of the collection’s proud owner.
Below are a few suggestions for consideration:
- Be flexible in your design as most private collectors are notorious for continually changing displays — you probably will be also.
- Pay attention to the colour scheme so that, when hung, the frames harmonize with the general decor of the room or setting.
- A visit to other collectors or to military museums and a study of how their displays are mounted, and how the appearance strikes you, will help you to make the most of your collection.
- Framing is a matter of personal choice governed by many factors — not the least being cost. Suitable frames can be obtained or made cheaply and adapted to your own requirements. Search your basement and visit shops and sale rooms as necessary. Garage sales and flea markets will often sell old pictures with frames at low prices. Throw the picture away; save the frame. If possible, focus on one type of suitable frame construction.
- It is an advantage to have a 'dummy run' by laying out the specimens you intend to frame. This way you can try different strategies of organization before securing the artifacts.
- Make certain that all articles are positioned flat against the surface and secured. This can be done by using split wire pins and packing the space between them and the back of the board with small pieces of card or cork. Prongs or tangs can be held by strips of adhesive tape and packing where needed. Sew the items on if necessary.
- Leave sufficient room between the mounting board and any glass covering to take the deepest of the artifacts and, when fixed to the backing, there is equally sufficient room at the back to cover protrusions with another piece of card (if you want a ‘finished’ backing to your frame). When completed, seal with adhesive tape and brown paper to render the display dust proof (if that is important).
- Ensure beforehand that the frame brackets, both in the wall and on the frame, are strong enough to carry the weight, which can be surprisingly great, and that the cord or wire is also safe.
- Colour schemes for the backing material are a matter of personal choice. White or light khaki will reflect the light and show off medals and badges well, but red and blue are also very popular. For Scottish badges a tartan background is suitable with the Royal Stewart much preferred.
Formal Display of Your Collection
Generally, in every collector’s life there comes a time when he or she wishes to publicly display part of the collection. While displaying at home is entirely a matter of personal taste and inclination, it becomes more involved when you know that others will be viewing the display. Certain extra steps should be taken to ensure the display is as effective as possible and a credit to your collecting. There are several basic rules and procedures in displaying that most professionals, regardless of focus, tend to use in creating exhibits.
If any display is to function properly, the entire exhibit needs to be thought out on paper before its actual construction. All aspects of its design must be taken into account in a logical sequence – the story to be told, the manner in which it is to be handled, the objects used to enlighten the story, the space available and the display infrastructure are all part of the making of an exhibit.
While overall aesthetics of design are important to create a pleasing effect, the burden of responsibility for developing any effective display ultimately rests on the exhibit labels. Not only do labels fit the artifacts to the display theme, they also serve to attract and hold the viewers’ attention, impart information about the objects on display, and inspire the viewer to want to learn more. As such, the contents of those labels deserve careful consideration. So important are labels to the end results, they should be integral part of exhibit design from the very outset.
There are four identifiable types of labels to consider, though all four need not be included in every exhibit. Firstly, each exhibit should have a main label. This label clearly states the theme of the overall display by giving a brief, general announcement of the subject It’s purpose is to arouse the interest of the viewers. Next is what is often referred to as the secondary topic label. This serves the same function as a newspaper headline. It attracts interest to a sub-theme or a particular segment of the total display. Like a headline, this label should be brief and to the point, but should express a complete enough thought that if viewers read nothing but the secondary labels, they will still come away with some insight into what the display is trying to say. A third type, the explanatory label, ties each sub-topic into the main theme of the display. This is usually somewhat longer than the other forms of labels in that each contains more specific information on the nature of the artifacts as they relate to the overall theme of the exhibit. Finally, it is often desirable to use captions which provide basic descriptive information for a specific artifact. The captions continue, with as much specific detail as needed, the main idea that has already been introduced.
Any preparation of exhibit labeling follows the same basic principles as good writing. Text and labels should be written with an ear to clarity, tone, rhythm, and overall effectiveness and simplicity of language. Begin with a stated theme or purpose (main label), outline the theme with a logical sequence of ideas (secondary labels), develop those ideas with unified paragraphs (explanatory labels), and use specific sentences to fill in the appropriate details (captions). As with good writing, it is better to keep the labels precise, simple and as short as possible. Reduce them to the base skeleton of essential information. Avoid cliches or too-technical language, but never talk down to your audience. The use of quotations can often be effective, if appropriate to the context. Labels should be provocative and aggressive, rather than passive. In this way, the viewers will be drawn into the exhibit and its message. Because of this all labels deserve thoughtful preparation because few are born out of sudden inspiration. Ask yourself what the viewers would want to know about this exhibit, what would provoke interest, what is to be accomplished by the display and how much they can handle at any one time.
Regardless of the type of display, there are some types of labels that are almost certain not to be effective and therefore will not be read by the viewers. For this reason they should be avoided. The first of these is the overly complete label. Nothing is gained by belabouring a point by providing too much detail. Another type is that which is repetitious and uninteresting. These are typified by either stating the obvious or the nonessential.
The readability of labels also depends as much on presentation as context. Remember that the viewers are usually standing and often already weary from walking. They are not likely to have the patience to read long, obscure or awkwardly placed labels. The choice of type size and font, eye level of display, and placement relative to the artifacts should be chosen with the comfort of the viewer in mind. The following recommendations are guidelines, in no particular order of precedence, concerning the presentation of written material, but it should be noted that quality and correctness of language should not be sacrificed to any absolute display standard.
- It is generally advisable not to mix several different kinds of lettering. Novelty art types may be suitable for main or secondary labels, but be wary of using unusual lettering in longer texts.
- Do not use all capitals. People are not used to reading all “caps” and will not make the effort to do so. This also applies to headings.
- Caption lengths should not be longer than 75 words.
- Explanatory labels should not exceed one hundred twenty words. A general rule of thumb is that no label should take longer to read than ten seconds. More than that and the average viewer quickly loses interest or glazes over.
- The maximum length of any line of text should be no more than one-and-one half times the length of the lower case alphabet in the font being used.
- Whenever possible copy should be typecast. This is the ideal but not always possible for reasons of economy and logistics. As a reasonable alternative, labels should be produced on the computer, using a laser or inkjet printer. Double-sided tape can then be used to fasten the labels to a suitable backing. Care should be taken, though, to ensure that the labels are trimmed square and affixed level.
- A minimum of 18 point typeface or font should be used for labels being viewed at two feet or less.
- For labels being viewed from two to four feet, use 24 to 36 point font.
- For labels being viewed farther away than four feet, or for main labels, use from 48 to 90 point font.
- If donor credits are required, these are generally one half the typeface used in the labels to a minimum of 12 point font. Convention is that these are placed at the bottom right hand corner of the appropriate label.
- Serif or Sans Serif font in a medium weight should be used.‘Times New Roman’, and ‘Arial’ scripts are the most popular. Avoid boldface as much as possible – use italics or colour instead.
- Labels should be justified to the. If more than one paragraph is present, subsequent paragraphs should be indented minimally or separated by a line space.
- Dark type on a light background should be used, except where the typeface is 36 point or larger. Take especial care when using tone on tone.
- In general, labels should complement, not overpower the artifacts being displayed. If placed in front of the artifacts, labels should not interrupt the line of vision to the artifacts. On the other hand, the labels themselves should not be obscured, either because of size or arrangement.
- If silkscreening is used for labeling (as it should be for exterior displays), it should be done in reverse on the back of a plexiglass cover which is then placed over the display.
- If the display is placed in front of a ‘busy’ background, it is prudent to place a neutral or contrasting simple backdrop behind the labels and artifacts. In this way, the background does not compete with the display for the viewers’ attention.
Security of Your Collection
One last consideration is the question of security — both for public display and home. The individual collector usually does not have resources to install sophisticated security devices, so strategies must be developed to minimize risk.
With public displaying, sufficient security for most circumstances can be maintained with a few simple precautions such as placing a rope barrier in front of the display or putting the artifacts under glass. Try to design your presentation in such a way that any attempt to remove an item will bring the entire works crashing down on the individual. And always ensure adequate security is in place should you have to leave your display overnight in a public area.
The home environment is a different proposition because this is where your collection spends most of its life and is handled most often. Most collectors have either purchased a basic security system (in extreme cases it has been known for collectors to install a completely vaulted room with alarm system, climatic control and heavy locking devices) or put their collections away from view under lock and key. If the collection is out on display, the normal precautions that you use for the rest of your property are usually sufficient.
Although the individual costs of your artifacts may be small, the value of a collection soon builds up and as such they should be insured in some manner. A full description of the badges should be kept, preferably with photographs. In defining the artifacts, a catalogue number from one of the standard reference books is valuable as a good identifier. If a photograph is contemplated it should be remembered that a reasonable close-up picture is preferable to a general view of a number of artifacts. All this will aid in the ultimate recovery of lost or stolen artifacts in that event and makes dealings with insurance companies much easier. When dealing with insurance agents, determine up front what criteria they use to value your collection, what value they will allow if lost, damaged or stolen and what steps you should take to ensure any settlement would be handled with the least amount of hassle.
In closing, probably the most important security measure is not to unduly advertise the whereabouts or value of your collection to people you do not know. The trick is to separate the collection from the collector.
Note: most if not all the organizations listed have internet websites. Addresses to each can be found there. Also many have a nominal annual membership fee, mostly to cover publishing and mailing of their respective journals.
Military Collectors’ Club of Canada (MCC of C) - Primarily Western Canada-based but has good representation across Canada — no particular focus
Canadian Society of Military Medals and Insignia (CSMMI) - Primarily centred in Ontario and Quebec but has good representation across Canada — no particular focus
Orders and Medals Research Society (OMRS) - The predominant medal and orders collecting society in Britain and the Commonwealth
American Society of Military Insignia Collectors (ASMIC) - The predominant US military collectors’ sociey (in conjunction with the OMSA) — no particular focus
Orders and Medals Society of America (OMSA) - The predominant US medal and orders collecting society – no particular focus other than medals
There are also many local and focused military history and collectors’ associations throughout Canada, the United States and Britain — too numerous to mention here.
Personnel Records Unit, Researcher Services Division, National Archives of Canada - This department will supply service records and metal entitlements of Canadian armed forces personnel, providing certain rules of privacy and disclosure are met — in general you can request copies of your own service records, those of an immediate relative if he/she is dead, or the records of anyone else if you can provide proof that they have been dead for at least twenty years. In making request for such information, be sure to include proof of the circumstances as explained above, and as much service details of the person as you can. Information particularly helpful are service number, unit, dates of enlistment and discharge.
There are approximately a further 130 focused military museums across Canada, usually focused on specific the history of specific regiments, Corps or Branches of the Canadian military. These often have significant military collections. Many also have accompanying archives. A complete listing is available from the Department of National Defence under the authority of the office of the Director of Ceremonial in Ottawa.
Significant Military Museums, Archives and Libraries with General Focus — United Kingdom
Public Record Office National Archives), Kew - Rustin Avenue, Kew, Richmond TW9 4DU, England. This is the British equivalent to the National Archives of Canada.
National Army Museum - Royal Hospital Road, Chelsea, London, England SW3 4HT
Imperial War Museum - Lambeth Road, London, England SE1 6HZ
Royal Air Force Museum - Graham Park Way, Hendon, London NW9 5LL
Royal Navy Museum - HM Naval Base, Portsmouth, Hampshire P01 3LR
As with Canada, there are literally hundreds of military focused museums and archives,large and small, across Britain. There is now a published listing of these places, updated annually, which book sellers should be able to order.
It is safe to say there are references for most every military subject a collector would wish for — especially in the fields of medals and insignia. For collectors of other areas the search for information may be more indirect as volumes have not been written in as great a frequency, but there is still a very wide assortment to choose from.
This listing is not meant to be exhaustive but is reasonably representative of the most popular sources of artifact information for the average collector of Canadian military items. Some references dealing with British military are also included as there have always been strong parallels between the British situation and Canada. Books on military subjects are being published at an ever-increasing rate and it is certain that as these new volumes come onto the market, they will take an equal place among those listed below. However, many of these are often harder to find as they are as often as not privately published. The advice is to pick up these volumes when you see them, because you may not get another chance for some time. It is also this author’s experience that it is best to stick to focussed references other than some of the more general works. While generally fairly well done, these general cater to the general public and usually do not go into enough detail nor are they comprehensive enough in any one area to be a good specific source. Authors that come to mind in these cases are Rossignoli and Mollo.
Canadian Focus (also British and Commonwealth in some cases)
Abbot & Tamplin. British Gallantry Awards, privately published: These British authors are two of the most knowledgeable experts on medals in the world.
Army Historical Section. The Regiments and Corps of the Canadian Army, Vol. 1. Ottawa: Queen's Printer, 1964: Out of print but the “official” summary of each unit’s lineage is very good. Can usually be found in the larger libraries or for sale at military shows.
Babin, L.L. Cap Badges of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, 1914-1920, Illustrated, privately published: The standard and most popular World War I Canadian cap badge reference. Can be purchased from most military dealers. Not totally complete but close – well organized but hand-drawn illustrations are not always as clear as they might be – U. S. author.
Blatherwick, F.J. Canadian Orders, Decorations and Medals: Recently revised and published, as good a source of its type — well researched and organized – Canadian author.
Bouchery, J. The Canadian Soldier in North-West Europe, 1944-1945, Paris: Histoire & Collections: Comprehensive and well illustrated source of World War 2 Canadian uniforms and equipment – Canadian author.
Bragg, R.J. & Turner, R. Para Badges and Insignia of the Canadian Airborne Forces, Blandford, 1980.
Brooker, C. Canadian Cap Badges of World War I, privately published: Out of print but can often be found at military shows, hand-drawn but very clear illustrations of cap badges only, gives market value estimation which is accurate in most cases but conservative — well organized, uses Babin classification – Canadian author residing in the United States.
Brooker, C. Canadian Cap Badges of World War II, privately published: As above — also gives information on reproductions & history of Canadian cloth insigina – Canadian author.
Brooker, C. This author is also currently publishing a series of booklets that focus on insignia of individual Canadian regiments and corps — very good detail, but limited to a unit(s) – Canadian author.
Brown, G.A. Canadian Welcome Home Medals 1899-1945, privately published: A clear, well organized accounting of these types of artifacts – Canadian author.
Buckland, C. Medal Yearbook - A to Z Medals, London annual: Good complete source, updated annually with current market value estimations — British author.
Cox, R. Military Badges of the British Empire 1914-18, London, 1982: Comprehensive summary with many of the badges shown, very expensive, hard to find but still being published in England, especially good for WWI Canadian artillery cap badges — British author
Cross, W.K. The Carlton Price Guide to First World War Canadian Corps Badges, Toronto, 1995: Out of print; largely complete source of cap, collar and shoulder title badges, hand drawn but clear illustrations, gives current market value estimation, well organized — Canadian author.
Cross, W.K. The Charlton Price Guide to First World War Canadian Infantry Badges, Toronto, 1991: Out of print; largely complete source of cap, collar and shoulder title badges, hand drawn but clear illustrations, gives current market value estimation, well organized — Canadian author.
Dornbusch,The Canadian Army, 1855-1965, Hope Farm Press - out of print, hard to find but occasionally present in larger libraries, organization is chaotic and illogical, hard to follow but contains a lot of lineage information on Canadian military units, no illustrations — US author
Dorosh, M.A. Canuck: Clothing and Equipment of the Canadian Soldier 1939 – 1945, Missoula, Montana, 1995 - a reasonable summary of World War 2 Canadian equipment and variations – well illustrated – Canadian author.
Edwards, A.C. Canadian Army Formation Signs, privately published.- hard to find but very good source of cloth insignia and its history, quite complete, hand drawn but very clear illustrations and well organized — US author
Hampson, W. Canadian Flying Services, Emblems and Insignia 1914-1984, privately published: HJard to find and out of print; quite complete summary of Canadian Air Force insignia, photo illustrations for the most part, organization sometimes hard to follow but a very good source — Canadian author.
Harper, J.H. A Source of Pride: Badges of the Canadian Expeditionary Force 1914-1919. Signal Publications, 1999.- probably the definitive source on the development and evolution of CEF cap badges
Hughes, G.W. A March Past of the Canadian Army Past and Present, 3 vol, privately published, 1993: Out of print; very large compilation of Canadian unit histories including insignia, battle honours, lineages, orders of battle and other pertinent details, well organized and for the most part clearly and simply stated; errors are present but given the size of the work, these are fairly minor, extremely expensive — Canadian author.
Latham, R.J. Wilkinson British Military Swords from 1800 to the Present Day, London, 1966: British author
Law, C.M. Distinguishing Patches: Formation Patches of the Canadian Army, Nepean, 1996: A reasonable summary of the subject mostly drawn from the National Archives of Canada – has a large foldout poster of the flashes that gives an approximation of the colouring scheme; this author is probably the most prolific reliable Canadian source; over the yars he has published a large number of books on various aspects of Canadian military – Canadian author.
Law, C.M. Khaki: Uniforms of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, Nepean, 1997: A good summary – well illustrated – information is drawn mainly from the National Archives of Canada – Canadian author.
Lucy, R.V. Tin Lids: Combat Headgear of the Canadian Army, Nepean, 1996: Well researched and illustrated – Canadian author.
Mancrey, R.B. The Canadian Bayonet, Edmonton 1971: Canadian author.
Mazeas, D. Canadian Militia Badges Pre-1914, privately published: Very complete source with life-sized hand drawn illustrations that are generally clear — shows cap, collar and shoulder badges plus helmet plates and occasional belt badges, very expensive to buy, well organized — French author.
Mazeas, D. Canadian Badges 1900-1914 with 1920 - 1950 Supplement, privately published: As above except much less expensive and illustrations are usually smaller than life-size (dimensions sometimes given).
Mazeas, D. Canadian Badges 1920-1950, privately published: As above.
Meek, J F. Over the Top, privately published: Limited edition publication now out of print and hard to find but usually in larger libraries, very good, well organized and complete summary of unit histories and cap badges of the infantry battalions of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, World War 1, extremely well crafted photo illustrations throughout — Canadian author.
Museum Restoration Service. Historical Arms Series, Various: A good series of pamphlet publications dealing with a series of topics, mostly weapons, each has great detail but narrow focus — various authors.
Rosen, A & Martin, P. CEF Military Cap Badges of the World War I, privately published: Out of print; price guide and catalogue of WWI badges, hand drawn illustrations, well organized, current market value estimations (appear more accurate for the central Canadian collector than those in the west) – has been around for a few years and prices are now dated but gives a relative appreciation — Canadian authors.
Ross, D & Chartrand, R. Cataloguing Military Uniforms, A Publication of the New Brunswick Museum: Good summary discussion of uniforms, their care and display, gives a good glossary of uniform terms, probably availablefrom the museum directly — Canadian authors.
Service Publications. Any volume published by this organization. The publisher is Clive Law (mentioned above).
Sexton, J.A. A Guide to Canadian Shoulder Titles 1939-1985, privately published: As per Edwards — US author?
Smylie, E. Buttons of the Canadian Militia 1900 – 1990, Vanwell Press, 1995: A good summary of the subject with excellent photographs – some errors but comprehensive – Canadian author.
Soltess, D. A Collector's Guide to Canadian Army Cap Badges: 1920-1952. Self-published, 2012: A comprehensive summary of Canadian cap badges from 1920 – 1952; very well illustrated and well-organized.
Spinks. Catalogue of British Orders, Decorations and Medals, Annual London, annual: Good standard source of medals, etc, well organized with current market value estimations – British company.
Stewart, C.H. Concise Lineage of the Canadian Army, 1855 to Date, privately published: Out of print, getting harder to find, two versions (a summary edition and a more complete one), essentially no illustrations but good information gathered from a number of sources, quite well organized — Canadian author
Stewart, C.H. Overseas - The Lineages and Insignia of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, 1914-1919, privately published: Out of print, hard to find, gives photo illustrations of most Canadian WWI badges (although photos tend to be somewhat small for clear study), a good source for the badge collector — Canadian author.
Summers, J.L. Tangled Web: Canadian Infantry Accouterments 1855 – 1985, Museum Restoration Service, 1992: Out of print; has quickly become the standard reference source for this material – still believed to be in print but quite expensive — well organized and clearly illustrated with line drawings and photos — a very detailed discussion of the history and development of Canadian webbing — Canadian author.
Taboika, J.V. Military Antiques and Collectables of the Great War: A Canadian Collection. Service Publications, 2007: Comprehensive review of World War I badges, uniforms and equipment taken from the author’s personal and very extensive collection.
Thompson, R. Cap Badges of the CAF, RCAF, RCN, Volume 1, privately published: A standard source of this type of material, well organized with photo illustrations — Canadian author residing in the United States.
Thompson, R. Cap Badges of the Canadian Officers' Training Corps, Volume 2, privately published: As above.
Thompson, R. Cap Badges & Insignia of the Canadian Army, 1953-1973, Volume 3, privately published: As above, the main source and almost the only source for badges of this period.
Tripp, F. Canadian Army Overseas, privately published: A summary of Canadian WWII cap badges and the overall organization of the Canadian Army Overseas, a good secondary source, photo illustrations throughout — Canadian author.
Tyler, G. Drab Serge and Khaki Drill, published by Parks Canada: Limited edition, hard to find – very detailed review of Canadian Army uniforms from 1899-2003 – Canadian author.
Any text by Purves on medals, or W. Y. Carman and Wilkinson on anything military
Audax, C.E. Badge Backings and Special Embellishments of the British Army
Bailey, D.W. British Military Longarms 1715 – 1815, London, 1971
Blackmore, H. British Military Firearms, London, 1961
Blank, S.C. Researching British Military History on the Internet, Paignton, Devon: Alwyn Enterprises, 2007
Carter, J.A. Allied Bayonets of World War II, London, 1969
Chambers, S.J. Uniforms & Equipment of the British Army in World War I: A Study in Period Photographs. Schiffer, 2005
Churchill, C. & Westlake, R. British Army Collar Badges, 1881 to the Present
Cox, R. Military Badges of the British Empire 1914-18, London, 1982
Davies, H.P. British Parachute Forces 1940 – 45, London, 1974
Davis, L.D. British Army Cloth Insignia, 1940 to the Present
Dress Regulations for the Officers of the British Army. 1846; 1857; 1900. Reprints
Edwards, T. Regimental Badges, London, 1968
Fortescue, J. History of the British Army, London, 1899-1930
Fowler, S. & W. Spencer. Army Records for Family Historians. Kew:Public Record Office, 1998
Frederick, J. Lineage Book of the British Army, Mounted Corps and Infantry, 1660-1968, London, 1969
Heironymussen, P. Orders, Medals and Decorations of Britain and Europe in Colour, London, 1967
Jarrett, D. British Naval Dress, London, 1960
Joslin, E. Standard Catalogue of British Orders, Decorations and Medals, London 1976
Kipling, A & King, H. Headdress Badges of the British Army. 2 vols, London, 1973: The standard text of British cap badges, very complete and very expensive, reprints are now available.
Lawson, H. A History of the Uniforms of the British Army, 5 Vol, London, 1962 – 67
May, W. & Carman, W.Y. Badges and Insignia of the British Armed Services, London, 1974
Parkyn, H.G. Shoulder Belt Plates and Buttons, London, 1956
Payne, A.A. British and Foreign Orders, War Medals and Decorations
Rankin, R. H. The Illustrated History of Military Headdresses 1660 – 1918, London, 1976
Ripley, H. Buttons of the British Army, London, 1971
Roads, C.H. The British Soldiers’ Firearm 1850 – 64, London, 1964
Robson, B. Swords of the British Army, London, 1975
Schick, I.T. Battledress: The Uniforms of the World’s Great Armies 1700 to the Present
Skennerton, ID & R. Richardson. British and Commonwealth Bayonets
Smith, J.E. Small Arms of the World, London, 1974
Spencer, W. Army Service Records of the First World War. Kew: Public Record Office, 2001
Spinks. Catalogue of British Orders, Decorations and Medals, annual
Taprell Dorling, T. Ribbons and Medals, London, 1974
Vernon, S.B. Vernon’s Collector’s Guide to Orders, Medals and Decorations
Westlake, R.A. Collecting Metal Shoulder Titles, London, 1980
Wheeler-Holohan. Divisional and Other Signs
Wilkinson, F. Badges of the British Army 1820 to the Present, London, 1971
Wright, R.J. Collecting Volunteer Militaria, Newton Abbot, 1974
Military Collecting – General
Denny, Rev. A.H. Militaria – Collecting Print and Manuscript, St. Ives, 1973
Gaylor, J. Military Badge Collecting, London, 1971
Johnson, E. J. Collecting Militaria
Lyndhurst, J. Military Collectibles, London, 1974
Mollo, L. Military Fashion, London, 1972
Purves, A.A. Collecting Medals and Decorations, London, 1968
Riker, H. & Heistad, R. World War 2 Collectibles, Philadelphia, 1993
Various, 'Men-at-Arms Series’ of booklets, published by Osprey Publishing Company, London, cover an enormous range of military topics – there are more than 250 titles. Each volume is devoted to some aspect of military history, regiments, campaigns or equipment. They comprise a brief history and details of the particular topic, black and white photographs and some colour plates. In general, their standards are high although, since no researcher is infallible, there are occasional errors.
Wilkinson, F. Collecting Military Antiques, London, 1984
Wilkinson, F. Militaria, London, 1969
Windrow, M. World War 2 Combat Uniforms and Insignia, Cambridge, 1971
Magazines Dealing with Military Collectibles, etc.
Guns and Weapons
Military Hobbies Illustrated
The Bulletin of the Military Historical Society
There can also be found many other specialized sources for specific and finite areas of military collecting. These tend to be quickly discovered by the interested individual. Most of the major gallantry and service awards have at least one focused source — look for the name of the decoration in the title of the book (can use computer keywords in today’s electronic library world) — once again, too numerous to outline here. Likewise, there is an abundance of references dealing with military collectibles other than British and Canadian. The sources listed above tend to be those that are most widely used and useful to many collectors.
In auction and sale catalogues, certain abbreviation conventions are often used by dealers when describing various insignia. These refer to specific references that show an illustration and description of a particular insignia example. Given that subtle differences reflect a different age of badge and therefore can make a lot of difference to the value of an article, it is important that everyone involved is speaking the same language and understanding the same thing. Below are some of the more common sources used in this regard, organized by era of focus. For additional information concerning these references, refer to the appendix.
Victorian to 1914
- Mazeas - this author has published several reference sources over the years including two editions of texts dealing with the period prior to 1914. Both editions are valuable with the second being much more elaborate (and expensive) than the first. This is the most commonly quoted text in sales catalogues. Mazeas prefixes badge descriptors from this period with an “MM” and a number for infantry units and an “MC and a number for cavalry units and an MS and number for branches and Corps (e.g. MM161, MC20, MS4). Also seen is the prefix “HS” and number for helmet plates and “B” and number for belt buckles and badges. Cap badges, collar badges and shoulder titles (actual size) are included by illustration. Cadet Corps badges are also included utilizing the prefix “CD”
World War I
- Babin - This source has been the mainstay of the World War I insignia collector for many many years and while it has been shown to be missing several of the Canadian Expeditionary Force badges and while it shows only cap badges, it nonetheless is still the most quoted reference source for Canadian WWI badge identification. He identifies these badges using an “E” prefix. For example, “E-66” refers to the 66th Overseas Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force. If the abbreviation descriptor is an “E” followed by a single number, this refers to infantry battalion numbers. If the descriptor is an “E” followed by two numbers, each separated by a hyphen (e.g. E39-10 - Canadian Chaplain Service), this refers to a corps, branch or unit other than a line battalion. Descriptors labeled in some number combination followed by a letter (e.g. E39-10a) refers to a variant of the main or most commonly seen badge. Most of descriptors correspond to actual illustrations in Babin’s catalogue, however more recent researchers have added variant numbers on badges that do not appear in Babin’s catalogue, and these have, with use and time, become accepted.
- Charlton (author, Cross) - Consisting of two volumes (one for infantry battalions, the other for corps badges), these have been out for a few years now. Being more complete than Babin they include several World War 1 Canadian badges missing from Babin as well as collars and shoulder descriptions. As well, the author has included an estimation of current market value. Recently, some dealers’ catalogues are quoting Charlton numbers as their descriptor source and this may in time supplant Babin’s as a main source. The numbering convention used by this author consists merely of a number. Variants are listed by a following number and letter (e.g. Charlton 253-A1). At the point of writing, Charlton has not yet published a similar text for the corps and branches of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, but this has been promised sometime in 1995. At this point, the numbering convention to be utilized is not known.
- Taboika - recently published and sure to be a major source of CEF uniforms and equipment.
- Harper - a comprehensive examination, with examples, of the evolution and history of CEF capbadges. Well researched, practical and clearly described.
1920 - 1950
- Mazeas - once again Mazeas’ text on the badges of this period is the most commonly quoted source. Badge descriptors here are numbers prefixed by an “S” for corps and branches, a “C” for cavalry regiments and an “M” for infantry units. Included in this text are also badges from the Canadian Officers’ Training Corps, prefixed, “COTC”, and variants not included elsewhere, prefixed, “VAR”. Once again cap, collar and shoulder badges are included by illustration (not actual size in many cases).
- Thompson - this author has published several texts dealing with Canadian Badges and is often quoted in sales catalogues. Usually the descriptor is indicated as “Thompson numbers” at some place in the catalogue, then his numbering system is quoted by letter and number only. As with other authors, he has chosen a letter followed by a number format. His works include references dealing with the Canadian Officers’ Training Corps and the (Royal) Canadian Air Force and Royal Canadian Navy insignia.
- Brooker - once again this author’s work is occasionally quoted and his information is widely used and considered valuable but his numbering system does not appear to be accepted by collectors as yet.
- Soltess - recently published CD dealing with Canadian badges from 1920-1950; well illustrated and very comprehensive
1950 - 1973
- Thompson - generally the only reference source quoted in catalogues for badges of this period is this author. From the start of the reign of Queen Victoria to present there have been very few sources written (this is especially true of the post-unification era). Thompson, in his text describing badges of this period, including cap, collar and shoulder badges as well as buttons and “combat” badges, has continued the convention of a letter followed by a number. He has utilized the prefix “Q” (e.g. Q-74).
At present, no numbering convention is used when describing cloth insignia. Rather a fairly detailed description is given of the article. This can be said to be generally true about most other types of Canadian military artifacts, whether it be buttons or vehicles. In each case, an understanding of the basic design categories, sizes, methods of manufacture all help in the identification of the article being presented.
British badges are generally identified using the numbering system from Kipling and King, which utilizes the prefix “KK” followed by a number.
Probably the best source is the Canadian Forces website. Listed with illustrations are all currently used insignia.
As is always the case and with apologies to the various unacknowledged, the above list is, by necessity, and by limitations of the author’s knowledge, not completely comprehensive.