Collecting Patches

Overview

An excellent resource for collectors of space patches is Russ Still’s book Relics of the Space Race. Only a single chapter is devoted to patches, but that chapter is worth the price of the book. It’s been out-of-print for a while, but you can probably find it used, if you are persistent. Anyone who intends to seriously engage in the pursuit of vintage patches simply cannot do better than to bookmark Chris Spain’s Crew Patches site. It is an essential reference for collectors of pre-STS patches.

“Serious” collectors generally eschew the 3″ souvenir patches, preferring the 4″ patches. Some collectors like Beta cloth patches, though you need to be careful about the quality of these, as many on the market tend to be quality rejects due to misaligned colors. As for “flown” patches, I personally don’t consider them as “collectibles” — first, because collecting these would quickly bankrupt most collectors; and second, because it’s a fairly tricky proposition to verify the authenticity of the claim “flown”. If you’re considering starting a collection, it’s a good idea to pick a theme and stick to it — at least initially; otherwise, there’s simply no end to the patches you could acquire.

It’s also a good idea to keep a record of your purchases: when you bought a patch, who you bought it from, how much you paid for it, and a description of the patch, including any distinguishing characteristics.

Finally, many years back I wrote an essay on collecting for Robert Pearlman’s outstanding collectSPACE site, and it is still available there. Despite it’s age, it remains relevent.

Acquiring Patches

Sources are numerous and varied.

Current Production

This is a simple way to start a collection:

 

Vintage Patches

Lion Brothers patches, beta-cloth patches, flown patches: these are usually only available at auction, or from private collectors:

 

  • Farthest Reaches
  • Donnis Willis’ Lunar Legacies
  • For Soviet and Russian space patches Alex Panchenko is probably the best source for a variety of vintages.
  • eBay always has lots of patches — everything from the worst 3″ souvenirs you’ve ever seen to amazing vintage patches that go for hundreds of dollars. Study up and know what you’re doing before investing any significant capital here.

Re-creations

  • Chris Spain offers excellent reproductions of many interesting 60s and 70s-era patches.

My Collection

As for my own collection, you’ve been looking at it. With only a handful of exceptions, nearly every image of an embroidered patch on this site, and every image of a beta cloth patch is a scan or photograph of a patch in my collection. I started with the patches I had collected contemporaneously for Apollo 11 through ASTP. I just kept them stashed away for many years, until my wife suggested that I display them somehow. I decided to fill in the missing Apollo missions (1, and 7 through 10) and frame them.

In late 1999 I started taking classes in web design, and I had to come up with a project. I had never been able to find a site about space patches, so I decided to make that the subject of my class project. I knew about the stories behind the patches from Dick Lattimer’s book; and I knew about the various different patches from Russ Still’s book. I put together a site, and in the course of doing so, I did more research to fill it out. In the process I discovered that there were people selling all kinds of patches, expecially on eBay. I decided to pick up a few of these patches ... and it quickly snowballed.

I decided I liked my little web site, and it evolved over time; and then I found that there were other space patch sites “out there” on the web. Whether they were there before I started, and I just hadn’t been able to find them; or whether they started up in the same time period pretty much by coincidence, I don’t know. But here we all are. And this web site is now an integral part of my collection.

My particular twist on patch collecting is that I like to frame patches with associated artwork. So far I have seven framed patches, which I share with you here:

 


Apollo 11, with artwork by Walter Weber. This is a page from the July 1950 issue of the National Geographic Magazine. This painting was later reproduced in the 1965 National Geographic book,“Water, Prey, and Game Birds of North America,” where Mike Collins found it.


Apollo 12, with artwork by Jack Spurling. At the time he designed the patch, Victor Craft was employed by the RCA Services Company, and they released several photos to the press of Mr. Craft, one of them showing him at his drafting table with some books on clipper ships. It was pretty clear that this particular painting was Craft’s main inspiration for the design of the ship on the patch.


Apollo 13, with artwork by Lumen Winter. This is a print of a painting Winter executed in 1981, not the original “Steeds” painting.


Apollo 17, with a splendid photograph of the Apollo Belvedere by Joe Letteri.


Skylab Expedition 1, with a poster of the painting by Kelly Freas that appeared on the cover of Analog magazine.


Skylab Expedition 2, with “Vitruvian Man” drawing from the notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci.


Apollo/Soyuz Test Project, with a lithograph of artwork by Robert McCall. I had this print signed by ASTP technical director Glynn Lunney at the time of the mission.