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The differences between real or hard enamel and new or synthetic enamel.

A badge that was made during the 1980s or before will almost certainly be made of hard or real enamel. Many badges made during the 1990s will also be made of real enamel and even today, some badges are still made in real enamel although they're becoming scarce. Synthetic or new enamel was invented in 1985 and, during the 1990s, slowly began to replace real enamel as the material most commonly used for badge manufacture. It seems obvious to me that this was done for speed and economy as nothing is ever replaced by a method that is slower and more expensive.
However, speed and economy are, in my opinion, poor substitutes for quality. I'm not saying synthetic enamel badges are bad or that it's wrong to make, sell or collect them. I'm just saying that I prefer the older, real enamel badges.
It's true that new or synthetic enamel badges are neater in appearance and can be produced with much finer detail than real or hard enamel badges. It's also true that real enamel badges can look cruder and have manufacturing flaws in them such as the colour missing from inside the loop of a letter P or the triangle of a letter A for example. I've seen many real enamel badges that, while in mint condition, are far from perfect due to how they were made.

Personally speaking though, I much prefer - and only collect - real enamel badges as they are the badges that were around at the time I enjoyed football the most.
Bygone badges from a bygone age of football.

My real pet hate when it comes to badges, even if made of real enamel, is the push spike or push pin with the butterfly clip fixing. Again, obviously a quicker and cheaper method of producing a badge fastening than applying a proper folding pin. In the past I've lost badges that I've worn with this type of fixing due to the fact that it isn't a very secure method and the butterfly clip can easily just pull right off. Badges with this type of fixing also tend to rotate while being worn like a wheel turning on it's axle. Horrendous!

Below are two pictures of the same badge in both real and synthetic enamels (real enamel on the left) with the synthetic enamel badge being a modern repro. Even if a badge says 1971, it doesn't necessarily mean that this was when it was made. You should see that the badge on the right looks neater and sharper than the other, while the badge on the left has heavier looking letters, figures and borders. Hard enamel badges are usually a bit thicker as well.

Hard enamel is very similar in appearance to glass and is just as hard. Unfortunately, it can also crack and chip like glass. Some hard enamel is actually transparent or translucent enabling the dotted or speckled surface of the metal beneath to be seen such as in the blue enamel on the left hand badge.
The colours of some synthetic enamel badges can often look a bit lurid.
Now I know what to look for I find the differences are obvious, even in a photograph.

Cup & League Old.jpg (68546 bytes)  New Enamel.jpg (78309 bytes)

Coffer Badges

One of the most attractive makes of vintage football badge, as far as I'm concerned, is the Coffer badge. They are a good quality badge made from real enamel and, to me, sum up what football badges are all about. With a Coffer badge you know that you have a truly vintage badge that dates, at the latest, to the early 1980s and not a remake. There are, or were, other makers of good quality football badges such as Miller, Squire and Reeves but Coffers are probably the best known and easiest to obtain. They usually come with the distinctive 'safety pin' type fastening on the back although I've also seen them with the sprung pin and hook usually found on other badges.
No push pin and butterfly clip here!
There are a few Coffer badges whose designs border slightly on the absurd - such as Superman flying through the air with the caption Arsenal (or any team) Supermen, but on the whole they usually consist of good sensible designs and shapes celebrating cup wins, shaped like flags and Union Jacks, football boots or simply the team's crest in various shapes and forms.
Another thing I like about Coffer badges is their use of translucent red enamel - for teams with red in their strip obviously. Red enamel can come in opaque or translucent varieties. I don't mind the opaque variety but I much prefer the translucent which allows the speckled texture of the metal beneath to be seen through the enamel.
Coffer badges are usually stamped Coffer London or Coffer Northampton on the reverse. I say usually because I have seen, and do own, a small number of badges that, while having all the characteristics of a Coffer badge - the 'safety pin' type fastening for example - aren't stamped on the reverse. There is some debate as to whether these are indeed Coffer badges that simply haven't been stamped or whether they are equally good quality copies from the same period.
Two downsides I've noticed about Coffer badges are that the gold coloured plating can sometimes come off in places to reveal the dull metal beneath and that the transluscent red enamel can darken with age to an almost black colour in certain areas of the badge.

Collecting Advice

I realise that most people don't need help or advice on how to collect things but I have been asked by one or two people for any collecting tips I might have.
I can't think why as I'm no 'expert'. These are only my opinions. Others, of course, will have different opinions. Anyway, here goes.

Try to aim for a moderately sized collection of vintage and scarcer badges as opposed to a vast collection of modern new enamel badges. Quality beats quantity every time. A smaller collection of 100 to 200 good quality vintage badges probably won't cost any more - or even as much - as a collection of, say, 1500 modern badges in the long run and, if you ever change your mind or lose interest in collecting football badges, a smaller collection of vintage badges will be far easier to sell than a vast collection of modern stuff.

If you have the opportunity to buy a badge that you're after then take it. Don't let it pass by while telling yourself that another one will turn up eventually. It may do in time but if it's a rare badge you might have to wait ages - years even - before the chance to buy another one comes along and by then it will probably be even more expensive.

Be prepared to pay over the odds if you have to. Some of the rarer Coffer badges may go as high as 30.00 on eBay. This can be a silly price to pay for an enamel badge but if that's what it takes to beat the competion then that's what it takes.
I would argue that it's better to spend 30.00 on one rare vintage badge than 30.00 on, say, ten modern badges. Of course, that's a question of choice for the individual.

Try to make as many contacts as you can. Get to know people with the same interest as they will almost certainly, at some point in time, have a badge that you're after and will happily sell it or swap it with you. This is also a good way to swap or sell on any unwanted badges that you may have.

In a nutshell, you have to be patient, ruthless, lucky, shrewd, have deep pockets and keep your eyes open.