Pre 1918 Boy Scout Merit Badges
Pre 1918 Boy Scout Merit Badges
Pre 1918 Boy Scout Merit Badges
Pre 1918 Boy Scout Merit Badges
Pre 1918 Boy Scout Merit Badges
Pre 1918 Boy Scout Merit Badges
Craftmanship Boy Scout Merit Badge

Craftsmanship was one of the original merit badges. Collectors may find a sash with multiple Craftsmanship badges. Craftsmanship was available for Basketry, Bookbinding, Cement, Leather, Metal, Pottery, Wood and Wood Carving. A Scout could earn eight Craftsmanship badges. It was discontinued in 1927, and separate badges were introduced for the subjects. This is a way of dating a sash, if a uniform or sash has Craftsmanship it’pre-1927.
Reverse Colors Merit Badges  There are several merit badges where the colors are reversed. The reverse color design is usually scarcer. These differences were mistakes in the manufacturing process. Civics, Painting and Signaling had the colors reversed in the embroidery machine. Seamanship had a red anchor in 1912 but a black anchor was made sometime before 1914. It is not believed that the white circle Safety is Type 1, again possibly a mistake in manufacturing. Art merit badge has the colors in the artists palette in different positions, again caused by the machine operator switching threads. The gold tips on Firemanship are a simple error of using gold instead of black.

About early Varieties It’s believed that merit badges were produced in small quantities in the earliest years. No one can identify how many were in a batch 10, 20 or 50. National BSA probably made an estimate of which badges would be popular and made more than others. Chris Jensen compiled numbers earned from Annual Reports to Congress. Duersch recaps these numbers in his book. 2988 badges for Pathfinding were earned between 1911 and 1918. 7483 for Public Health, 2470 for Scholarship. Compare those numbers to Angling-41, Blacksmithing-273 or 531-Business, yet there are two varieties of Angling. During this era, merit badges were shipped from National Headquarters. There were few BSA Councils stocking merit badges in 1918. By about 1925 councils were stocking a quantity of each badge, how many or which ones, is unknown. Merit badges that weren’t commonly earned might remain in a council inventory for years. In a small Council an uncommon merit badge could be issued well past the time the design variety was discontinued.

Scarcity and Values Value is such a variable topic that I generally do not speculate about it. You can often find rare merit badges on eBay with incredible variations in asking prices. Scarcity give an indication of rarity and a conclusion can be drawn of scarcity that helps determine value. The following merit badges are the fewest earned before 1918, (the earliest types).
Agrculture - 252
Astromony - 455
Horsemanship - 345
Printing - 268
Seamanship - 214
Angling (Fishing) - 41
Aviation - 119
Invention - 9
Poultry -179-1918
Stalking (leaf) - 4
Blacksmithing - 273
Bee Keeping - 428
Mining - 264
Plumbing - 168
Stalking - 41 (??)
Business - 531
Dairying - 121
Painting - 520
Sculpture - 77
Surveying - 390
Taxidermy - 38  with the exception of Business & Painting I did not list merit badges which had more than 500 awarded.
Invention and Stalking with a leaf are impossible. Only two Seamanship-black anchor are known. A handful of Safety-white circle exist. Varieties of small issue badges like Angling, Taxidermy, etc. are scarce. You’ll frequently find early merit badges cut to round. The value of cut-down badges is less, often 50+%. Collectors usually accept cut-down badges to fill a space until a better condition specimen comes along. Advanced collections have been upgraded cut-around to square and some even seek a seal on the back of every badge.

Dating early Merit Badges Most knowledge of dates is “antidotal”. Early merit badges are found with a rank badge or other insignia and conclusions are drawn based on knowledge of the other badges. When the 1918 cloth was discovered, it allowed a window into what merit badges were used in 1918. It’s assumed that the cloth was assembled, as a display, probably from stock at the National Headquarters. The conclusion is that these are the badges that National BSA was distributing about 1918. When Dave Eby discovered what I’ve named the “1912/13 cloth”, we get a glimpse into what varieties were used in the earliest years. Another guide is the 1913 BSA calendar. It was originally believed the merit badges on the calendar were artist conceptions. No one believed Invention, Stalking with a leaf or a black anchor Seamanship existed. After careful scrutiny it’s obvious the images are actual merit badges. By comparing design styles of the 1912/13 and 1918 cloth conclusions on dating can be made.
The 1912/13 Cloth Part 1
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The 1912/13 Cloth Part 1
Click image to Enlarge
The 1918 Cloth
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Size is of Interest The earliest merit badges on full square can be difficult to find. It was a common to cut them out of the square background cloth or to trim some of the cloth away. It seems that they were issued in a 3” x 3” size. Larger ones are usually close to the edge of the cloth and just not cut down. (see image and arrow on the right)
collecting boy scout merit badges 3x4 cloth with boy scout merit badge Boy Scout Merit Badge Collecting 
3" X 3" Size  3" x 4+" if the design was on the
edge of the cloth 
Collectors pay a premium for mint condition and a seal on the back is desirable. Notice the back lines on the back of the cloth. On rare occasion the deign will be embroidered on the “wrong” side of the cloth and you’ll see lines on what should be the front of the badge.
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Paul Myers Goshen, Indiana