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Rare Bird – Outside of Uniform Regulations


In an article that I wrote last year, I touched on an aspect of rating badge collecting that focuses on those constructed with bullion-metallic thread. The post was primarily covering the design and aesthetic aspects rather than regulatory or uniform issue standards. However, in order for collectors to make sound purchases or additions for their collections, they need to be well informed.

This crow dates from the 1970s and is entirely embroidered. This was a short-lived experimental rating badge.

Let me be very up front by stating that I am, by no means, an expert in rating badge collecting. As I am acquiring pieces for my collection, I am researching and back-filling the details. In some cases, I have the order reversed – researching a piece after acquiring it – hoping that I didn’t make a bad purchase. While reviewing some online auction listings of rating badges (for my former rating), something that I have never seen before caught my attention and without hesitation, I pulled the trigger on the “buy it now” button. Rather than spend time ahead of purchasing the crow, I decided that the best course of action would be to research it after I had it securely in my hands. I had no idea of it’s date of manufacture, whether it was genuine, experimental/prototype or a fantasy piece.

My rating badge collection consists primarily of variations of the rate that I wore when I served. Four years ago, I set out to purchase a new, unused rating badge to mount in my shadow box display. All of the examples I had in my collection were affixed to my old uniforms so they weren’t’ quite up to par with what I’d want to be shown beside my medals and decorations. I ended up with a variety we (in the fleet) referred to as a “peacoat” crow. As it turns out, the fully embroidered rating badge (with merrowed edging) was a test crow that never really caught on. While they are somewhat uncommon, they aren’t necessarily rare or highly desired among collectors.

The latest addition to my collection is a silver bird – a bullion eagle and specialty mark hovering over red, embroidered chevrons. The reason this is an odd combination is that (according to Navy Uniform Regulations) the silver/red configuration is only available for E-7 through E-9. Ratings fo E-4 through E-6 may use the silver (bullion) eagle and specialty mark in conjunction with gold chevrons (indicating 12 consecutive years of good conduct service). One could deduce that perhaps this predates the current uniform regulations, however, this would be an incorrect assumption.

A rare bird – an Operations Specialist/Radarman badge with a bullion eagle with red chevron stripes.

1913 Uniform Regulations

  1. “For petty officers holding three consecutive good-conduct badges, the chevrons for blue clothing (dress/undress blues) shall be made of gold lace instead of scarlet cloth, and the eagle and specialty mark shall be embroidered in silver.”

The reverse of the OS2 bullion rating badge showing the construction and the Gemsco label.

Why then does this E-5, Operations Specialist/Radarman 2nd class crow exist? More than likely, the manufacturer (Gemsco) made this variation either errantly or in anticipation of a uniform regulation change that ultimately never occurred. Not to be stuck with inventory, manufacturers most likely divested these crows  and shipped them to uniform shops or uniform tailors to be disseminated to sailors. Seeking to have a measure of individuality with their uniforms, sailors who might be able to “pass,” in wearing the unauthorized embroidery at a command that might not have strict adherence to regulations, would stitch on these subtle “custom” enhancements.

Now that I have this rare bird, I decided that it would display nicely and swapped it into my shadow box (supplanting the standard OS rating badge) as these bullion crows are just too beautiful to sit in a storage box.

Silver Eagles: Navy Bullion Rates


This chief Pharmacist’s Mate’s Geneva Cross is accented with a bullion thread outline.

This chief Pharmacist’s Mate’s Geneva Cross is accented with a bullion thread outline.

Beautifully stitched with metallic thread or wound-metal elements overlaid onto crows, bullion navy rates have been in existence for more than a century. By 1913, the U.S. Navy’s uniform regulations established that rate badges with gold stripes (for dress blues) be accompanied with the eagle and specialty mark to be made of silver bullion. Uniform regulations regarding bullion were further expanded providing that all dress blue chief petty officer rates (regardless of the chevron color) would be constructed with silver bullion. These regulations, in my opinion, facilitated the establishment of one of the best aspects of enlisted uniform adornments.

These fantastically embellished crows historically incorporate multiple shades or tones of silver, and at times, gold bullion threads in their designs making for highly detailed and textured rate badges. Along with aesthetics, the bullion crow designs take on a three-dimensional feel and are really quite stunning.

Crow designs are substantially varied in their appearance based upon the time period in which they were made and the manufacturers’ interpretation of the design specification. One can examine two bullion rates from the same period and note that they will have different embroidery patterns. Thread direction will differ as well as the pattern used for the specific elements.

Because they were traditionally hand-embroidered, two crows from the same supplier can differ. You might see various embellishments to the bird’s feathers or the beak. Some will have different colored bullion that can really make the bird stand out from the rest of the rate badge.

A rare bird. This Radarman/Operations Specialist 2/c badge is not collectors can easily find. Bullion rates were for E-6 and above and this one is clearly not a cut-down E-6 rating badge.

A rare bird. This Radarman/Operations Specialist 2/c badge is not collectors can easily find. Bullion rates were for E-6 and above and this one is clearly not a cut-down E-6 rating badge.

Other embellishments may include custom applications to the specialty mark. Variations to these embellishments pose challenges to collectors. Considering the Pharmacist’s Mate chevron (as seen at the top of this article), for example, one pattern could simply surround the red Geneva Cross with a single outline of thread while another could apply a crisscrossing pattern in addition to the outline. One example of a unique enhancement that I have seen was to a Machinist’s Mate crow that had a precious stone sewn to the center of the propeller insignia. The aquamarine tone of the stone really stood out against the silvery-blue bullion.

This early Machinist's Mate crow (right-arm rate) is embellished with a stone in the center of the propeller specialty mark (eBay photo).

This early Machinist’s Mate crow (right-arm rate) is embellished with a stone in the center of the propeller specialty mark (eBay photo).

With the modern standardization of uniforms and insignia, the highly detailed and character-filled bullion crows are relegated to history (and to collectors). The current designs are sanitized, sterile and merely one-dimensional caricatures of the old patterns causing many navy rate collectors to shy away from them.

Selected References:

Chiefly Limited: Space for Uniforms is at a Premium


Chief Machinist Mate bullion

Always an attention-grabber, vintage silver-bullion chief petty officer rating badges are highly collectible due to their intricate designs and usage of silver thread.

There are many challenges and hurdles for collectors of militaria. Not unlike the difficulties other collectors face, militaria requires research, authentication and a healthy bank account in order to enable the afflicted with the tools to be successful in such endeavors. One of the most significant universal hurdles collectors face is the ever-increasing deficit of square footage needed for storing and displaying collections.

I am no different from any other collector in that space is at a premium when it comes to safely storing my militaria. Without the proper controls being set in place, I could easily displace my closet space needed for hanging my wardrobe in favor of a growing assortment of vintage military uniforms. What sort of proper control could bring to bear the appropriate amount of pause before pulling the trigger on a deal to acquire the next amazing uniform?

My collection, almost from my entry into militaria, has grown slowly due to my tempered approach, focusing on specific areas of interest. Within those areas, I incorporate a finer set of specificity that helps me to keep things under control. Like many U.S. naval collectors, I enjoy uniforms, rates, shoulder insignia, collar and cap devices and other assorted pieces. However, I tend to direct my attention to specific rates when it comes to uniforms and badges. Mostly, my naval uniform collecting focuses on rates that were held by members of my family.

Only one member of member of my family ever advanced through the enlisted ranks to don the rocker-topped chevron of a chief petty officer, so my collection of CPO uniforms is very limited.

On occasion, I might be tempted to acquire an item that falls outside of my parameters if it possesses other aspects that make it too good to pass up as was the case of my most recent acquisition.

WWII CPO machinist's mate jacket

This CPO jacket has it all…well almost. It is an 8-button, tailor-made dress blue, World War II-era jacket complete with a silver bullion chief machinist’s mate rating badge and custom sewn-on ribbons.

A few weeks ago, a chief’s uniform jacket and cap became available that was just too good to pass up. The dress blue coat was an older, tailored eight-button version indicating that it was made during (or prior to) World War II. Affixed above the left breast pocket were 2-⅓ rows of custom (sewn-on) ribbons which clearly showed the chief as having served during and after World War I up to (and probably through) World War II. On the left sleeve were six hash marks showing that the chief served for at least 24 years. I have an affinity for bullion rates or insignia and the chief machinist’s mate insignia on this coat was the icing on the cake that put me over the top to make the decision to pick it up.

WWII CPO combination cap with white cover

Included with the CPO jacket was this WWII-era (wicker-framed) combination cap. The condition of the frame, visor and white cover are outstanding.

For many of us, researching veterans is a challenge and when we learn about the original owners (of military uniforms) were, there is a compulsion that pushes us to discover where the served and what they did during their time in uniform. When a uniform (that we acquire) is inscribed with a name, we are invariably driven to pursue the history in order to retain it with the item. Sadly, this jacket was unmarked which only meant that I wouldn’t have any further work once I had my hands on it.

Navy custom, sewn-on ribbon rack

The custom ribbon rack, though a little deformed from years of use and storage is complete with a Navy Good Conduct, WWI Victory, China Service, American Defense, American Campaign, Asiatic Pacific Campaign (with three campaign stars) and WWII Victory.

After it arrived, I was even more impressed by the condition of the jacket and the silver bullion of the rate badge. One glance at the Good Conduct ribbon (sans devices) and the six red hash marks, it is very apparent that the chief had some challenges with Navy regulations, staying out of trouble (when on liberty) or simply clashed with his superiors. I am sure his disciplinary record would make for an entertaining read. It is unfortunate that the jacket is forever decoupled from the sailor’s service. Regardless, the uniform is a great addition to my collection.

Now…where to put it?