What makes historical Trade Union badges so collectible?
Can there be anything more symbolic of the struggle of the working man and woman than the Trade Union badge?
Often visually striking and always emblematic of a collective identity, Trade Union badges have long been praised for their iconic designs.
Millions have been made over the past 180 years or so – from embroidered badges on ribbons to enamel and metal lapel pins. They may be small, but they are potent symbols of pride and belonging to a common cause.
It’s no surprise to learn that some of these special items of memorabilia are now highly prized and very collectible, especially if they tell a story at a particular time of history. Some of the rarer badges have even been known to fetch up to £200 on auction sites.
The first such badges were recorded in the 1830s, when the Grand National Consolidated Trades Union distributed ribbons for members to wear at funerals. But it was another 40 years before the first metal badge, designed to be suspended from a white ribbon, was produced by the Amalgamated Association of Miners.
After that time, a plethora of copper alloy and later, colourful enamelled Trade Union badges, were designed. Some of the earliest designs were sew-on badges and acted as a kind of subscription token, so they had special pride of place on the lapels of the ordinary worker.
Some were inscribed with rallying legends. The Amalgamated Society of Engineers, Machinists, Smiths, Millwrights and Patternmakers (ASE), which was created in 1851, produced badges bearing the words: “Unity is Strength – Defence not Defiance”.
When it merged with other engineering trade unions in 1920 to become the Amalgamated Engineering Union, its badge declared “Educate, Organise, Control” along the three sides of a triangle.
Union members have a strong sense of camaraderie and this collective sense of identity can be easily demonstrated by wearing a badge. This is played out particularly at times of conflict or strike. At these times, unions bring out specially-made badges so that members can demonstrate their solidarity for the cause.
During the miners’ strike in the 1980s, thousands of badges were made to help raise money for the strikers. But manufacturing badges to mark special victories won by the unions is not a new phenomenon. From the 1850s onwards, when successive unions won concessions for a shorter working day – the eight-hour day – badges were commissioned to mark this triumph.
It’s no wonder such badges hold a special place in the hearts of many union members. Collecting these badges is a passion for many individuals. Some people have thousands of rare and collectible buttons, enamel badges, cloth and embroidered badges from all over the world. Ruskin College, Oxford, has a large collection of Trade Union badges.
Badges Plus has more than 30 years’ experience in producing eye catching Trade Union badges that promote organisational pride. Come to us for expert design and artisan craftsmanship. For more information about the way we work, please download our eGuide Buying British - Why it’s important now more than ever.