Why Collectors Treasure Vintage Photo ID Badges

Collection of Barbara Levine/

Vintage employee identification badges are simultaneously a memory object, advertisement, photograph and artifact of business history. They have become of great interest to collectors (especially ones that feature women) since they exemplify two important cultural traditions: the use of photographs as jewelry (mourning pins, rings and novelty pin-back buttons) and as an instrument of authority or identification (mug shots, passports and licenses).

The photo badge above, c.1945, was issued by New Departure, a Connecticut-based division of General Motors that manufactured ball bearings.

Above is a c.1955 photo id badge. The Formfit Company was established in 1917 with headquarters in Chicago as a maker of women’s “foundation garments” – mainly corsets and girdles. It was one of the largest, if not the largest manufacturers of lingerie in the world and later in the 1970s became owned by Jockey International.

Dating from long before the era of digital security cards and fingerprint readers, photo badges are both a personal keepsake and an object of cultural history, looking to us now like wearable time capsules.

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