Getting started

Why do people collect trade union badges? As Bill Patterson, a member of the Trade Union Badge Collectors Society told the labour historian Paul Martin for his book The Trade Union Badge: Material Culture in Action:

Badge of the Post Office Engineering Union

Badge of the Post Office Engineering Union

It’s a hobby, it’s interesting, it’s history, it’s research, it’s fun. It keeps me sane and helps me unwind. On high moral ground it’s saving working class history, which in most instances gets thrown in the dustbin and lost to future generations. It’s not about completing the set, as that’s impossible. It’s about a sense of pride in my movement.

Starting a trade union badge collection can be easy – and an impressive selection of badges can quickly be built up for very little cost.

Many people begin when they encounter other trade unionists – friends met through work or maybe through some involvement in the trade union or labour movement – and swap the badges of their own union for those of their friends.

Such a collection can swiftly escalate to include national union badges, those produced by union branches and sometimes badges issued to mark anniversaries or industrial disputes. During the miners’ strike of 1984-85, for example, many support groups sold badges to raise much needed strike funds.

In days gone by, finds could sometimes be made in jumble sales and junk shops. Today when the collecting bug bites, many new collectors gravitate towards eBay, which at any one time usually has 100 or more union badges of one sort or another up for sale, often at no more than a few pounds.

Not all badges advertised on eBay and in similar forums are actually what they seem to be. This is largely because the people selling them are unsure of the items they have listed.

Badge marking 125 years of the boilermakers' union

Badge marking 125 years of the boilermakers

In particular, people often offer badges carrying the initials NUTGW, which they think means the badge was produced by the Transport and General Workers Union (or some variation of the name). In fact, it is the badge of the National Union of Townswomen’s Guilds.

Similarly, badges issued by the Clay Pigeon Shooting Association can be confused with those of the Civil and Public Services Association.

This problem of identification can work both ways, and badges issued by the Technical, Administrative and Supervisory Staffs union with the initials TASS have also been claimed to belong to the old Soviet news agency.

There are other sources of badges beyond eBay. Today’s trade unions will also often sell their current badge to non-members at little cost. So union websites are a good place to start looking. This also holds true for the TUC, which sells the badges issued each year to Congress delegates going back a decade or more.

Eventually, however, many collectors want to be able to see what others have in their collections, and to exchange both badges and information about their finds with other enthusiasts. And that is where the Trade Union Badge Collectors Society comes in.

Set up in the mid-1980s, the TUBCS issues regular newsletters and magazines to its members, and provides opportunities for them to network. This website is one way the TUBCS aims to share its members’ enthusiasm and knowledge about their collections with others.

TGWU membership cards

Transport and General Workers Union membership cards from the 1950s and 1960s

Although the focus of interest for most members of the TUBCS is union badges, the organisation’s interests also extend to include other trade union ephemera.

This might include trade union membership cards, some of which could be highly decorative in years gone by, leaflets, posters, trade union journals – and more permanent items such as commemorative plates and mugs.

In fact, almost anything produced by or about trade unions.

Find out more about the TUBCS.

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