News & Events


May 21


Real, Non-issued and Custom Police Badges through History

Real, Non-issued and Custom Police Badges through History

Most people believe that the first police badges were issued in 1845 in the London since that was one of the earliest organizations that most of us would recognize as a police department. There wasn’t a lot to them. They were punched out of simple copper (which many believe is what led to the use of “copper” and “cops” to refer to police officers), and were marked with a simple statement of their authority.

Of course, we could draw historical connections further back than London and make a lot of metaphorical connections to ancient Roman peacekeeper shields and breastplates, but that’s a road that never ends. For now, it’s enough to say that a lot of traditions, designs, and manufacturing processes have evolved since 1845, and now “copper” really only refers to the person behind the badge and not the actual material.

A Call For A Back-up Badge

Police officers quickly learn to protect and value their badges, but there’s always a risk of losing it while on the job or even at home. When that happens, they could be penalized at work and have to deal with surprisingly large amounts of paperwork. Rather than risk it, some police officers have, for years, been investing in non-issued badges.

Even a police commissioner in New York was known to participate in this… well, “tradition” would be the wrong word, so let’s just call it a “not-uncommon situation.” William J. Bratton was the police commissioner from 1994 – 96 and he kept the official commissioner badge stored safely in a shadow box in his office. Since it was first issued in 1901 and made of gold and platinum, he felt it was too valuable to risk losing. Most commissioners since then simply carry an ID card rather than the badge.

Designs of Authority

The first badges really only needed to represent the authority behind the person who held the badge. They were often 5, 6, or 7 point stars with the occasional shield design. Most modern designs lean toward those shields, but there are still sheriff badges for sale around the country that feature the star design.

Modern badges can have a design that is much more complex than earlier models, and they display a lot more personal information. While there are usually some rules and guidelines in different precincts, many officers can get custom badges that include information like name, rank, city, and serial number. These manufacturing processes also make special event badges possible, and some precincts will issues a badge specifically for those occasions.

More than the Material

Even collectors know that it isn’t just about the material and designs of a badge that makes it so important. It isn’t just because it says “Police” on it that it carries real authority. It’s about the person who wears it.

Even the oldest badges circling through the collectors are more valuable when you know the real details behind it. Who wore it? When did they use it? Did anything significant happen while it was in service? Even the best custom police badges are just a start, and the real value comes from the history and how it was used.

Images provided by the Police Heritage Museum:

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