"Our Apollo XII emblem had several variations made in patch form. These variations consisted of different colors and shades of thread, the patterns of the background stars, and thickness of the dust trail behind the clipper ship above the Moon. One production run even had a hidden number '12' in the dust trail." Charles 'Pete' Conrad, from a letter of authenticity accompanying flown patches from his personal collection in the 1991 and 2001 Christies Space Exploration auctions. As you'll see below, Pete Conrad was not exaggerating when he mentions several variations of the Apollo 12 patch.
When they stepped out of the recovery helicopter onto the deck of the U.S.S. Hornet the crew of Apollo 12 were wearing blue jumpsuits with an embroidered mission patch attached. The clarity of the color photos showing the patches on these jumpsuits was previously not sufficient to identify which patch the crew were wearing.
This was not considered a problem as later the same day in the mobile quarantine facility the patches on their jumpsuits are clearly visible in several black and white press release photos. Images 69-H-1884 and 69-H-1886 show the patch on Gordon's suit quite distinctly as shown in the detail on the right.
The distictive pattern of stars on this patch mark it out as the design generally acknowledged to-date as the Apollo 12 'Crew Patch'.
Easily-recognisable by its distinctive pattern of stars, this patch - thought to have been made by Dallas Cap & Emblem - is the one clearly visible on the jump suits of the crew in many photos taken whilst they were in quarantine. Examples of this patch were flown on the mission as souvenirs and flown and unflown examples are often seen mounted on flown flag presentations produced by the crew after the flight.
There is a further complication with this patch, however, since as many as three variant versions appear to have been produced at the time of the mission, with examples of all three having been carried as souvenirs on the flight. The only difference between the variants appears to be the three different color threads used on the surface of the moon as shown below, with the areas described starting at the lower left of the lunar surface.
Variant 1 has very dark gray, dark gray thread, and beige thread.
Variant 2 has pale gray, mid-gray thread, and beige thread.
Variant 3 has distinctive dark blue-gray, mid-gray , and beige thread.
The obvious question to ask is which of the variants the crew wore in the MQF. It's important to bear in mind that the relative brightness of the threads in a photo or scan depend a great deal on lighting conditions so it's difficult to judge with certainty from these photos and scans. In any case details from the clearest images are shown below in an attempt to answer this question.
Gordon's patch (on the left in both images) seems to match the shades of the blue variant 3 pretty well, with great contrast between the darkest area and the area above it. Even so, the middle areas do appear quite dark in both images. We can certainly rule out variant 2 as a match.
Bean's patch (on the right in both images) shows much less contrast between the two darker shades of thread, looking much more like variant 1 in these images, but it's not possible to rule out variant 3 as a match.
Finally, here's some detail from the best color image I could find of the crew in the MQF (from the LIFE archives), with the color saturation boosted as much as possible.
On the left, Gordon's patch looks like a perfect match for the 'blue' variant 3.
Although not as clear, I still think Bean's patch on the right is a better match for variant 1.
In conclusion, I'd say that Gordon was almost certainly wearing the blue variant 3 at this point and Bean was probably wearing variant 1. As for Conrad we simply cannot say based on the available evidence. Maybe he was even wearing variant 2.
A further complication to the story of the Apollo 12 crew patches came with the appearance of a version of the 'blue' variant 3 patch - which I'll refer to as variant 3b - that has distinctive brown rigging lines embroidered across the sails of the Yankee Clipper.
In all other respects this patch appears to be a standard variant 3 patch but, as can be seen in the detail on the right, these rigging lines are clearly a part of the design and not the result of an embroidery error or of exposed threads on an incomplete patch. In fact these rigging lines are faintly visible on the original Apollo 12 insignia artwork.
Only one example of this variant 3b patch has surfaced to date, and my impression is that it may have been a prototype. Although these rigging lines are part of the original insignia artwork, when executed in heavy brown thread on a patch the result doesn't look quite right. It would certainly make sense that this was a prototype and that the these lines were then left out of the final production run.
When examining the color photos showing the crew walking from the recovery helicopter to the mobile quarantine facility in order to see if it was possible to tell which variant of the crew patch they were wearing I made a surprising discovery.
The image quality isn't great but you can just about make out the pattern of stars and it does not match the classic crew patch. More obviously, the shape of the dark areas on the lunar surface reveal that the embroidered patches on these jumpsuits are not the 'classic' crew patch at all.
The fact is that as with other Apollo flights each crew member actually had at least two different blue jumpsuits to wear after the flight. One was passed in to the command module by the recovery crew to be worn through the egress, on the helicopter, and on into the quarantine facility. After having a chance to clean up they likely changed into a fresh suit before making their appearance at the MQF window.
In the case of Apollo 12 these two different sets of jump suits had different patch versions sewn on them. The first set they wore had the mystery crew patch and the second set the 'classic' crew patch.
A close look at photos from other appearances by the Apollo 12 crew in the MQF shows that they were wearing the original set of jump suits again - complete with the mystery crew patch - on their arrival at Ellington AFB on November 29.
The closeup photo on the right is clear enough to show an identifying feature of this patch - the lower right star which is touching the broad ship's wake. Only the patch previously identified as AS12UNK2 has this feature. Since this patch was worn by the crew at recovery time it is fully qualified as a Crew Patch, and I now refer to it as the Apollo 12 "Recovery" Crew Patch.
UPDATE: Six years after close examination of the blurry details in extreme closeups photos of the Apollo 12 recovery revealed the crew to be wearing a distinct version of the mission patch on their recovery suits Conrad's actual recovery suit has appeared at auction.
As shown on the right, the suit still has the original patch attached and it is indeed the 'Recovery' crew patch which was recently discovered to have been produced by Texas Art Embroidery.
The Crew Patches
Other Embroidered Mission Patches
3" Embroidered Mission Patches
Examples of standard crew patch Variant 1 (dark gray) sales:
Examples of standard crew patch Variant 2 (pale gray) sales:
Examples of standard crew patch Variant 3 (blue) sales:
Examples of standard crew patch sales (variant uknown):
Examples of 'Recovery' [AS12UNK2] (Texas Art Embroidery) crew patch sales:
Examples of the Dallas Cap & Emblem Crew Souvenir 'sparky' version [AS12UNK3] sales:
Examples of Universal Commemorative [AS12UC] patch sales:
Examples of AS12UNK6 patch sales:
 Examples of Space Spinoff patch sales:
Examples of flown regular AB Emblem patches: