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Crew Patch?
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What is a "crew patch"?

For collectors of vintage embroidered space mission patches there tends to be one patch in particular for each mission that is considered the definitive "Crew Patch". The main criteria for this patch are that it should have been used by the crew themselves at some stage around the time of the mission itself, and that it should be rare, and thus challenging to collect. For some missions the identity of the "crew patch" is obvious, but for others it's more difficult to say which patch can really meet the criteria mentioned above.

What are these "Crew Souvenir patches"?

On most missions a number of embroidered patches were carried by the crews as souvenirs, and others placed on the flight by NASA to be used in official presentations.

In many cases these patches were examples of the "Crew Patch" as described above. In other cases these may have been regular AB Emblem or Lion Brothers versions of the mission patch.

I categorize as "Crew Souvenir patches" any designs of which examples were carried on the flight or used by NASA at the time of the flight but which don't fall into the above categories - i.e. they are not the crew patch, or a commonly-available and widely-distributed design.

Another group of patches that could be classified in this way are those designs used by members of the crew not at the time of the mission itself but at some later stage.

These terms are fairly arbitrary, so should not be taken as a definitive classification of a particular patch. Many patches that can't be classified as Crew Patches or Crew Souvenir Patches are both extremely rare and highly collectible and in many cases worth as much as, or more than, the so-called 'Crew Patches'.

Where can I find these crew patches?

Many of the early crew patches were produced in limited runs especially for NASA or their contractors and were never made available to the general public. Some were carried by the astronauts as souvenirs, others used in official presentations, and some given to those working on the projects. Eventually some of these patches will have found their way to market but they will always remain exceptionally rare.

If you're looking for a particular Gemini crew patch, you might have to wait several years to see a single example sold. Other crew and crew souvenir patches are more common, with examples turning up for sale every few months.

The most obvious place to look for these patches is eBay but you will need to be prepared to spend some time trawling through listings in order to spot a crew version of a particular patch. Most rare versions are not listed as such by the seller so you'll have to do the identification yourself. This does offer the possibility that you'll find yourself a bargain but you should be aware that there are a lot of very knowledgable patch collectors searching eBay very thoroughly every day so you're unlikely to be the only one to have spotted a rare patch. You also need to be very wary of replicas or fakes.

Beyond eBay, there are number of auction houses that hold specialist space collectible auctions once or twice a year. These auctions sometimes include crew patches, although more often than not these will be flown examples (and thus significantly more expensive than unflown examples).

How much are crew patches worth?

As with most things, the value of these crew patches is based on supply and demand. There are quite a number of determined space patch collectors out there with deep pockets who are intent on collecting an example of every crew patch so when a rare patch appears for sale the result is often going to be a bidding war.

The most readily-available of the crew patches, such as those of Apollo 12 and 13, used to sell for around $50 but today they tend to fetch anywhere from $100 to $600. However, bargains can still be found from time to time. The rarer crew patches will usually sell for hundreds of dollars as a minumum. For example, a Grumman Apollo 10 patch will typically sell for upwards of $200, an Apollo 11 crew patch for maybe $300 to $500, and an Apollo 1 crew patch in the $500 to $1000 range. The rarest crew patches include the Apollo 7 crew patch and those of the Gemini missions. At open auction one of these patches will probably sell in the $500 to $1500 range.

On the page for each mission I've tried to give an estimate of value where possible and example of recent prices fetched where available.

Collecting Other Vintage Space Patches

Modern embroidered versions of all the NASA manned space mission patches are readily available on the internet but most collectors prefer to focus on vintage patches from around the time of the missions.

No mission patches were produced at the time of the Mercury missions themselves, so any patches you see today for these missions are generally regarded as modern souvenirs of little real interest.

Embroidered patches were used from Gemini V onwards, but no company seems to have produced convincing souvenir versions of the Gemini mission patches at the time.

Luckily for patch collectors, when it came to the Apollo project a number of companies produced high quality versions of the mission patches at the time. The two most famous such companies are AB Emblem (the official supplier to NASA) and Lion Brothers, and it is the patches from these two companies that most space patch collectors focus on.

Lion Brothers Space Patches

The Apollo mission patches produced by Lion Brothers are reknowned for their detailed designs and high production quality, making them very popular with collectors. Lion Brothers patches were also carried as souvenirs on several Apollo missions. Their use of hidden hallmarks in the designs of many of their patches is another appealing factor for the collector.

Although it is often said that Lion Brothers Apollo-era patches were only made at the time of the missions themselves in fact it seems they continued to produce these patches through until around 1982 or 1983. Still, any genuine example can certainly be considered to be vintage and their high quality alone makes them well worth collecting.

I have a mini-site which attempts to identify all known Lion Brothers Space Patches.

Vintage AB Emblem Space Patches

In the rush to acquire Lion Brothers patches many collectors overlook those patches produced by the official supplier to NASA, AB Emblem. Whilst it's true that the quality of their patches was not quite as high as that of the Lion Brothers versions, their vintage patches are nicely-executed and have the added bonus that at least some of their designs were used by the crews themselves at the time of the Apollo missions.

AB Emblem produced patches without coatings on the reverse until around the late 70s (when they introduced a thin wax or plastic coating), which means that 'bare back' examples of their patches are truly vintage. Early coated examples also have the same stitching on the fronts as the originals and are certainly worthy place-holders until a true vintage example can be tracked-down.

Vintage Space Patches For Sale

You can find a selection of genuine vintage patches in my eBay Store:

Link to my eBay store