Vintage Military Pins: Identification & Value (Expert Guide)

Do you love collecting old defense souvenirs? If yes, you might already know the popular military pins like the American flag or Uncle Sam, which are really precious! But sellers just price them however they like, from $7 to $500, without knowing their actual worth!

So, it’s high time you learned to value those vintage pins yourself. But how?

Well, it’s simple! All you need is a pen and a little help from Antiques Know-How! Today, we’ll list all the features of vintage military pins and learn to appraise them. This way, you can trace their history on your own for free. So, let’s dig in together!

Key Takeaways

  • Military pins with simple wire loopbacks, crude, hand-beaten flags, and star or oval motifs are old and precious. You can also check the stamps or hallmarks for the dates.
  • Get vintage military pins with brass, copper, silver, or gold faces for more returns.
  • Old military pins have various brands, but those like Blackinton or N.S Meyer still fetch the best returns. Also, see if they have jewels or gold borders to hike costs.
  • You won’t get good returns if your pin’s damaged or heavily restored. So, remove the rust and maintain its original finish and color.

Key Features of Vintage Military Pins

Vintage Military pins with Brass and Silver Medallions

Well, I know that most antique and modern-day military pins have a similar design. But you know what? The old pins didn’t have gold or silver-plated walls like today! Plus, they had a simple die make, some sect marks, and stamps. So they were thicker and uneven.

But is this all? Well no! Here are some more features to verify:

  • Stamped military divisions or words like ‘Army,’ ‘Navy,’ ‘Air Force,’ or ‘Coast Guards.’
  • Solid and hand-beaten brass, copper, and silver walls with metal or enamel colors.
  • Region-specific medallion motifs like animals, stars, birds, and wreaths.
  • Simple, manual joinery with pins, screw posts, or clutches at the back.
  • A greenish or brownish patina on the pin’s face or medallion.

Brief History of Old Military Pins

We all know military pins from the American Civil War era in the 1860s. But archaeologists have a different story! I mean, they have some proof of similar soldier brooches from the Roman period. And they believe these were the knights’ first unit or rank pins!

Things changed in the 1860s when America standardized this process. For example, they added two medals – Medal of Honors and Corps badges, to ensure everything was clear. And these had simple star designs with the American flag in between.

The next 1900s decade was all about World Wars. During this time, officers added many other unit ranks and duty pins. But they had thin brass, copper, or silver walls with a pin-back body. So, these caught a greenish patina due to oxidation.

And then, during WW2, more military pins were added. Like now, there were different ones for the army, navy, military and cyber warfare. Plus, these had a superior make with modern enamel or printing. But these are also very common and cheaper, too!

7 Factors to Identify & Value Vintage Military Pins

The average value of vintage military pins is $5 to $50, with rarer, branded, and higher-achievement lapel pins and badges made of valuable materials fetching a higher price of up to $1,000 or more! Naturally, the actual final worth of an old military pin depends on its age, material, rarity, colors, and a few other factors as listed below!

1. Antique Military Pin’s Age & Hallmarks

Vintage Handcut Military pins from the 1860s

We all know that crude, hand-beaten antiques win the bid at any auction! But sadly, not all military pins are handmade! In fact, it’s only the 1860s models that are handmade. The next, 1900s or 1950s models are either composite or machine-made. So, choose wisely!

But how will you know which pin is from which year? One certified way to do this is to trace the hallmark from the pin’s back. And if you are stuck, here’s a list for help:

YearAgeHallmarksEstimated Valuation
1940s83 yearsSnowflake Hallmark from American Metal Crafts Co.$10 – 120
1892131 yearsAE / AECo mark from American Emblem Company$40 – 150
1940s83 years8A Hallmark from Amico$6 – 80

Other than that, you can also look for some identifying clues as follows:

The 1860s Military Pins

As we discussed, the 1860s military pins were handmade and beaten. So, they had simple flat or raised designs like stars, ovals, and stripes. Other than that, you’ll also see defense stamps like crossed cannons or swords. And roughly, you can price them from $20 – 200.

Examples: Union Army Corps Badges, Confederate States Seal Pins, and Grand Army Republic Pins.

The 1900s Military Pins

The 1900s pins are composite! So, on the one hand, they have crude pins or screws, chain or ribbon links, and raised borders. But on the other hand, they also feature some machine-cut motifs like anchors, propellers, and cannons on the top. So, you can price them for $20 – 120.

Examples: U.S Army Victory Medal, Navy Enlisted Pin, Air Force Space, and Missile Defense Pin.

The 1950s Military Pins

The 1950s pins are from the post-world-war era. That’s why they are smaller, thinner, and labeled than others. Plus, these also have intricate designs like regional symbols, eagles, letters, and department names. But these are pretty common and cost about $6 – 80.

Examples: Army Combat Badge Pin, Submarine Warfare Pin, Rifleman Badge Pin.

Try to get officer-level or air-borne division pins for an old make; the rest of the positions were added after the World Wars.

2. Types of Military Pins

The final value of vintage military pins and badges also depends on their type. Here are the most popular military pin types and their estimated values:

Military Insignia Pins

Different Types of Military Insignia Pins

Ever seen the small brass, silver, or copper badge that shows the officer’s rank and unit? Well, it’s nothing but a military insignia pin costing $7 – 80. But back then, these pins had stars, chevrons, and eagle stamps. And they used simple pins or clutch backs.

Famous Examples: Army Captain, Air Force Senior, and Navy Ensign military pin.

Unit Insignia Pins

Unit insignia pins are small sleeve pins worth $9 – 40 that show the officer’s position and duty. In fact, they also use separate colors, letters, and symbols, as per the regiment and division. Plus, you’ll also see aged gold or silver plated walls, tie pins, and flags with them.

Key Badges: Military Police Brigade, Infantry Regiment, and Paratrooper unit pins.

Service Military Pins

Old US Army Service Pins worth $30

Just as the name says, service pins indicate all about the soldier’s service – wars, locations, and tenure. Most of them have simple green or blue enamel walls, gold star symbols, and simple, sterling silver designs. Overall, they cost about $9 – 30.

Popular Collectibles: U.S Army Years Service, Missile Defense Pins, and the Infrared tactical patch pins.

Sweetheart Pins

Vintage sweetheart pins are like mementos for the soldier’s family back home. You see, back then, soldiers had no way to communicate. So, they created enamel or celluloid replicas of their insignia pins and sent them back home. And these usually cost about $20 – 160.

Famous Examples: Red Scottie Pin, Giraffe Pin, World War 2 Heart Brooch Pin.

Old Lapel Pins

Old Lapel Service Pins worth $16 - 300

If your military pin measures 1-2 inches and has small, single-motif forms like flags and wings, it’s a lapel pin. Such small pins often have yellow brass or gold sides with hallmarks at the back. But these cost about $16 – 300 per gold content.

Famous Examples: McClelland Barclay Wing Pin, Discharge Vets Pin, Aviator Wing Pin.

3. Pin’s Material

Different Types of Vintage Military Pin Materials

Need a high-value military pin for investment? Then try and get the gold or silver ones! But for that, you must unscrew the pin’s back and check the material. Here, the old ones might be brass, copper, gold, and silver, while the new ones might have steel or enamel faces.

Here is price chart to value old military pins based on their materials:

Old Military Pin MaterialsTop FeaturesAverage Cost
Brass, Bronze, or Copper Yellow or Reddish faces, Detailed eagle, cannon, or artillery carvings, and brushed finishes$14 – 100
Silver & Sterling SilverHighly polished and shiny appearance with a 92 – 93% Silver percentage, glossy finish, used for mid-level to higher ranks$70 – 500
GoldUsed for the highest ranks or military honors, might have tiny, clear crystals and gems too.$500 – 1800
Cast Iron, Alloyed Iron, or NickelSlightly Blackish finish, uneven thickness$9 – 120
Steel and AluminumThin sections, Intricate forms, Flat or Raised edges, and a shiny appearance$4 – 50
Enamel or Powered GlassThin, Durable, and Resin-like finish on metal disc, colored, slightly translucent surfaces$9 – 40, but the gold enamel ones might cost $500

Look for military pins with crude sandblast, hammered, or enameled finishes for more returns.

4. Pin’s Colors

You’ll get vintage military pins in two types—metals and enamels. The older pins have pure metal colors like gray, brown, yellow, and chrome. So, they are more costly, around $14 – 500. But yes, the real ones will have blue or green ribbons or chains.

The newer pins, in contrast, have translucent enamel colors. Plus, they will be more segregated. The green ones will be for the army, blue for the navy, red for the Marine Corps, and light blue for the Air Force. These typically cost from $9 to $40.

Aged military pins often look greenish or blackish due to oxidation. So clean off the rust with vinegar, and rinse it properly to note the color.

5. Brands

Vintage Military Pin Brands from the 1900s

Now, let’s see if your military pin is branded! For this, just rotate the pin and look for any etched logos or marks at the back. If yes, note their shape and compare them to the table for the resale cost:

Old Military Pin BrandsKey FeaturesEstimated Price (for UNRESTORED Pieces)
Blackinton (1852)Military and Law enforcement designs, intricate cannon motifs, and enamel details$20 – 180
N.S Meyer (1900s)Shield-shaped maker marks at the back$30 – 120
Gemsco (1900s)Etched ‘G’ or ‘GE’ mark at the back$7 – 80
Firmin & SonsThick walls, signed logo or brand initials on the rear end$7 – 60
J.R GauntSigned logo or an embossed ‘JRG’ mark$16 – 50

Look for branded military pins with turquoise, garnet, pearl, or topaz fittings to hike the cost by 10 – 25%.

6. Attachment Methods

What type of attachment does your military pin have? Wire loops, screw-backs, or clutches? Well, it’s so that the old military pins always had cast iron or bent wire loopbacks. So, these will obviously be more costly, between $8 – 100.

On the other hand, military pins with grooved screw back, clutches, or clasps are pretty new and mechanized. So, they don’t cost more than $60, except gold ones that might cost $500!

7. Condition

Materials and brands are okay! But do you know your pin will lose much of its value if worn out or damaged? For example, a faded, scratched, or discolored pin might lose 10 – 12% of its value. And a broken, chipped, or deformed pin might lose up to 50% value!

What’s the Size of Vintage Military Pins?

Vintage military pins are usually 7-8 inches long, with multiple stars and bands. However, there’s an exception of the single-motif lapel pin, which is just 1-2 inches in height.

How Do You Clean Old & Tarnished Military Pins?

Just dip the medal in acetone or vinegar, and degrease it properly with a scouring brush. If you want, you can also apply a normal dip solution for more shine.

Vintage military pins have had different front & back designs and materials throughout the years. And actually, that’s what makes them rare and precious today! So, now that you have our guide, I am sure you’ll be able to pinpoint and appraise the features.

And if you want help with more defense-related antiques like old swords or powder flasks, we are just a click away!

Judith Miller
Judith Miller

Judith is an antique expert with nearly 20 years of experience in the field of antique identification and valuation. She has reviewed over 30 thousand vintage items and has worked with numerous antique shops. She enjoys seeing new places, attending antique shows and events, and sharing her knowledge with people! Know more about me

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