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U.S. Navy Rating Badges - Relative Rarity Grade (RRG) (Draft)


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Here's something to take our minds off politics...

                                                                    

  For USN and USCG “rate collectors” finding specific specialty marks can be a challenge.

 

  For beginning collectors knowing which specialty marks are the rarest to obtain is often difficult to ascertain. If the collector is not ex-Navy, the subtleties of the USN rating badge system can be quite confusing. Understanding the USN enlisted rating system is much more difficult than understanding the U.S. Army’s enlisted rank system.

 

  The late John Helvey, widely known as “The Storekeeper,” compiled a sales list of USN rating badge specialty marks back in the 1990s, and updated his list in 2002. He found it difficult to rank each specialty from most difficult to obtain to least difficult to obtain.  John decided to start slowly in this large endeavor. Applying his “Relative Rarity Grade” system to only the mainly WWII era “Specialist Ratings.” The “letter within a diamond” rating badges.

 

  He settled on giving each USN rating badge specialty mark a one-to-four grading scale. Helvey’s Grade-4 denoted fairly easy to find, or “common specialties”, Grade-3 denoted “less common, but not scarce” specialty marks, Grade-2 denoted “scarce” specialties and Grade-1 denoted “almost impossible to find specialty marks.”

 

  A few examples from Helvey’s 2002 list are Grade-4:  Specialist G (gunnery instructor); Grade-3: Specialist F (firefighter); Grade-2: Specialist P (photographer) and Grade-1: Specialist H (harbor defense sonarman). In the Specialist Ratings, since the job titles changed multiple times over the years, Helvey used the job title from the specialty’s first known usage. Sadly, John Helvey passed away in 2009.

 

  Having discussed John Helvey’s “difficulty to obtain” rating system with John Stacey, neither of us could improve upon Helvey’s “difficulty in obtaining” rating system. I had previously attempted to apply Helvey’s system to the entire rating badge range. I felt it might not be that difficult to identify the Grade-5 (almost impossible to find) specialty marks. The system became unwieldy when I got to the Specialty Mark/Petty Officer level combinations. A number of specialty marks are Grade-1 or Grade-2 at the petty officer third class through petty officer first class level, but are Relative Rarity Grade-4 at the chief petty officer level. That being made clear, I narrowed my grading attempt to chief petty officer specialty mark/rating badges. My initial attempt does not include senior chief and master chief rating badges.

 

  I've listed material preferences as most commonly being: Blue; White; Khaki; Av. Green; Halsey Gray. I do not attempt to differentiate between rating badge materials. For example I have not stated a CPO Specialist-S is an RRG-4 in blue or white and an RRG-3 in khaki or gray. I feel that that level of detail would likely prove to be much too complicated to start off an initial discussion of specialty mark relative rarity.

 

  In my version of Helvey’s Relative Rarity Grade (RRG) system, I did change the sequence of Helvey’s system to be Grade-1 (most common) and added Grade-5 (most difficult) to obtain. For instance, my first pass at this system resulted in these examples (all except Sailmaker’s Mate 1st class, and 1886 Master at Arms 1st class, are at the chief petty officer (CPO) grade level); RRG-1 (most common) Aviation Machinist’s Mate; RRG-2 (less common, but not scarce) Hospital Corpsman; RRG-3 (scarce) Photographer’s Mate (camera); RRG-4 (difficult) Nuclear Weaponsman; RRG-5 (most difficult) Gun Captain.

 

  One of the determining factors in making a particular rating specialty mark difficult to obtain is the size of that specialties’ community. For example, I read somewhere the Airship Rigger community had only eight to eleven chief petty officers on active duty. Conversely, the Aviation Machinist’s Mate community was in the thousands of chief petty officers over the years.

 

  Secondly, Left-arm-Rate and Right-arm-Rate changes the RRG. More so in the “non-Seaman Branch Groups.” The Seaman Branch, since 1941, most often included these ratings (Boatswain’s Mate; Gunner’s Mate; Signalman; Quartermaster; Torpedoman; Fire Controlman; Mineman; and Turret Captain).

 

  In addition, pre-1894 rating badges are in a whole different rarity class at all petty officer levels. I kept my first attempt to cover chief petty officer rating badges from 1894 through 2008. For collectors who use John Stacey’s rating badge reference book it was last updated in 2008.

 

  Opening this thread on the forum is one way of getting more input in discussing the rarest USN rating badges to collect. Unlike the usual consideration of rating badge quality being the paramount consideration for a piece in your collection, the rarest rating badges are likely to be a prime addition to your collection, regardless of overall condition of the rating badge. For example, I’d love to have a Gun Captain example, any material, any condition, any petty officer grade. I consider Gun Captain one of the top-3 rarest rating badges, rarest at CPO level. Another top-3, in my opinion, is the Airship Rigger chief petty officer in non-bullion. Even in bullion, Airship Rigger CPO is a very rare badge to obtain, an RRG-4 in the system I’ve suggested.  

 

  For USCG rating badges I’d be tickled to run across a 1915 Number One Surfman rating badge, or a 1908-15, First Class Master at Arms rating badge (PO1 MAA during this period wore a chief’s uniform and rating badge). Both of these rating badges are graded RRG-5.

 

  My first draft of this work is based on my twenty-six years of association with the U.S. Navy’s enlisted community, my twenty-five years of collecting USN collectibles, my twenty year friendship with John Stacey, and through John Stacey, a few questions I had presented to Les Tucker before his passing. I have also corresponded with H.H. “Sarge” Booker for many years.

 

  My “grading evaluations” included the asking price histories of individual rating badges offered by sellers such as John Helvey, “The Storekeeper,” and a handful of major eBay sellers and my few trips to the Show of Shows. I also factored in which rating badges I’ve had difficulty obtaining and all rating badges in my USMilitariaForum.com friend’s collections, as well as discussing my “rarity” thoughts with John Stacey and the late Garth Thompson over the years.

 

  This endeavor is obviously somewhat subjective, so, what are some of the most difficult USN and USCG rating badges in your opinion? Do you feel the Relative Rating Grade (RRG) choices are plausible?  Or, are they way off the mark?

 

Summary:

Relative Rarity Grade (RRG) Scale:

1=Most Common

2=Less Common

3=Scarce

4=Difficult

5=Very Difficult

                                                                                  image.png.ae3e3ea544465622219be1052bb14e95.png

                     

                                                                                       John Helvey “The Storekeeper”  R.I.P. 2009

 

Download the initial draft document for USN Rating Badges - Relative Rarity Grade (RRG) below:

 

http://navycollector.com/Navy Images/RelativeRarityGradeCPOs.pdf

 

Book Link: U.S. Navy Tailor-Made Dress Blues, Liberty Cuffs, and Sailor Folk Art

Wanted: USN Liberty Cuffs, vintage bullion rating badges, pre-1914 rating badges and vintage USN Police style Badges.
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I would like feedback from all USN rating badge collectors, and any other interested parties on this project.

Thank you.

Book Link: U.S. Navy Tailor-Made Dress Blues, Liberty Cuffs, and Sailor Folk Art

Wanted: USN Liberty Cuffs, vintage bullion rating badges, pre-1914 rating badges and vintage USN Police style Badges.
.

 

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Let me preface by saying while many don't know me, I have been collecting Navy rates for around ten years, and have a collection in the hundreds if not thousands (around 50 large riker mounts). I own and have read both editions of John Stacey's United States Navy Rating Badges and Marks from cover to cover, and believe to have a sufficient level of knowledge and experience collecting to provide feedback.

 

TL/DR: I think this is a great start. I think it has some problems, however. If you would let me, I would be glad to help you improve it.

It is a great start. I understand you are trying limit the scope for the first run, and assuming only Chief, and ignoring color. This is ok, with the understanding below Chief colors other than white or blue are way more scarce, to nonexistent. Further, you seem to have also limited to US Navy, and with the exception of Specialist U, ignored WAVES ratings, which I believe to always be more scarce than their full-sized equivalents. Also overlooked are collectable variants, such as the four Aviation Pilots (gold vs. non-gold, straight vs. floppy wing), as well as unofficial, yet collected variants such as PT, OB, etc. Again, I understand the effort to limit the scope of the first attempt.
 

Problems

My greatest issue is the list is built around the name of the rating, rather than the patches themselves. I collect the patches, and want examples of the different patterns, and don't collect a duplicate just because the name changed. I think also combining the different patterns greatly distorts the scarcity scale for ratings that didn't change names often.

 

As an example, let's look at Boatswain's Mate. You list:

  • Boatswain Mate (1894-1948) RRG-2
  • Boatswain Mate (1894-1948) RRG-1

This suggests that an 1894 pattern Boatswain mate is just as easy to find as a 1941 pattern, which is simply not the case. A 1941 pattern is fairly common, while 1913 pattern are less common, 1905 even less common, and I've never seen a 1894 in person, let alone own one. Yet, it is only a RRG-2 (and I own a number of RRG-5 from the proposed scale). 

Personally, my collection ends at 1948 because I don't like embroidered chevrons, and wanted to set a limit when i began collecting. Also, the interest in rates after WWII era seems to drop off among the general collector community, as the supply of rates expands, so few seem to have much value, or difficulty in collecting. However, this chart doesn't reflect the low post WWII scarcity/demand.

To this end, for Boatswain's Mate, I would collect, and want to know the scarcity of:

  • 1894 pattern
  • 1905 pattern
  • 1913 pattern
  • 1941 pattern
  • 1948 pattern

An example of the opposite case is Aviation Storekeeper. You have two rows, for what as a collector I would see as the same patch

  • Storekeeper "V" (1945-48) RRG-3
  • Aviation Storekeeper (1948-2003) [Storekeeper (V) 1945-48 RRG-4] RRG-2

As a collector, I don't know of a way to tell (short of a contract dated example) the difference between a Storekeeper "V" from 1945 and an Aviation Storekeeper from 1948. Why is there a difference in scarcity because the name changed, and why as a collector do I need two copies of the same patch?

 

Lastly, some of the RRG scores must be typos. You list Religious Program Specialist as a RRG-3. This is a rating introduced in 1979 that is still in use. I can buy a new one from Vanguard for $6, or from the $1 bin at a show. This has to really be a RRG-1, as should any current rating, since they are still being produced.

 

Possible Improvements
The chart could be organized by patterns (i.e. date ranges/eras), or continue to be alphabetical, but add more rows per rating. You did do this for many at 1941 or 1948 (to distinguish right facing from left facing), but I don't believe this was enough. Personally I collect by era, currently 1905–1940, 1941–1945 and 1947–1948, so I am more interested in checking by era than by name.

Also, because I collect by era, some fall through the cracks if you organize by name. For example, for  my WWII set, I see the right arm Torpedoman's Mate, but don't see the left arm Torpedoman's Mate "V." The name difference seems trivial on paper, but they are two different patches to look for, particularly a WWII contracted dated right arm version.

Finally, I believe a 5 point scale really isn't enough to differentiate the rates we as advanced collectors really care about. As a collector, I connect scarcity with cost, though recognize this is not always the case. As you mention, the rates that have crossover appeal with other communities (such as Aviation Piot with aviation and PhM. with USMC) sort of distort compeition.

When I look at rates, particularly when bidding on eBay, I generally identify patches as:

  • $1
  • $5
  • $10
  • $25
  • $50
  • $75
  • $100
  • $250
  • $500
  • $1,000+

Looking at your list, and have a number of RRG-4 I typically pay $10–$20 for, while RRG-5 I can buy for sometimes $25–$50, but recognize many of the RRG-5 sell for the hundreds of dollars, and a few into the thousands.. I recognize this may be where scarcity and demand don't coincide. But as a collector, if something is rare, and I can buy it inexpensively because few people want them, the concept of scarcity doesn't seem to matter much to me.

So, I hope you made it to the end. Let me restate I appreciate the start you made. I see value in what you are doing, and would be glad to help you.

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Thank you, David. I will digest your appreciated comments.

 

Is your Boatswain's Mate comment -- a typo? I don't see the same years twice on my copy.    

"As an example, let's look at Boatswain's Mate. You list:

Boatswain Mate (1894-1948) RRG-2

Boatswain Mate (1894-1948) RRG-1"

 

You did help me realize I left out one comment in my draft copy, except for the rating specialties introduced around 2006, none of the badges on this list are the "parrot" style eagle included on rating badges produced after around 1990.

 

 

-dan

Book Link: U.S. Navy Tailor-Made Dress Blues, Liberty Cuffs, and Sailor Folk Art

Wanted: USN Liberty Cuffs, vintage bullion rating badges, pre-1914 rating badges and vintage USN Police style Badges.
.

 

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I’m glad I’ve decided to keep my collection to “Family” rates, those rates that family members wore. CS, (SC), EM, SM, CT, AD, AS. 

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58 minutes ago, sigsaye said:

I’m glad I’ve decided to keep my collection to “Family” rates, those rates that family members wore. CS, (SC), EM, SM, CT, AD, AS. 

Simplifies the research...good luck with your collecting goals, Steve.

Book Link: U.S. Navy Tailor-Made Dress Blues, Liberty Cuffs, and Sailor Folk Art

Wanted: USN Liberty Cuffs, vintage bullion rating badges, pre-1914 rating badges and vintage USN Police style Badges.
.

 

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Thank you, David. I will digest your appreciated comments.
 
Is your Boatswain's Mate comment -- a typo? I don't see the same years twice on my copy.    
"As an example, let's look at Boatswain's Mate. You list:
Boatswain Mate (1894-1948) RRG-2
Boatswain Mate (1894-1948) RRG-1"
 
You did help me realize I left out one comment in my draft copy, except for the rating specialties introduced around 2006, none of the badges on this list are the "parrot" style eagle included on rating badges produced after around 1990.
 
 
-dan

Sorry, yes that was a copy-paste error by me. The second Boatswain’s Mate row should have been 1948-

I appreciate your review. I also recognize and appreciate the work you put into this, and it could be a great resource, but I just felt it fell short in a few areas. Would be happy to take this to private message or phone if it would be appropriate.


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Thank you for the effort on this RRG draft Dan. After reviewing your draft and digesting David's comments, I will offer any additional comments I may come up with.

Always looking for USN WW2 era Bullion Chief Petty Officer Rates, any Chief Petty Officer Airship Rigger Rates, Liberty Cuffs, WW2 USMC Insignia and Distinguishing Marks, and WW2 Civil Defense and Civil Air Patrol Insignia


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This is a fantastic idea! Thank you for putting this together and for establishing a basis for such a study.

My concern surrounds quantifying rarity due to its subjectivity. I don't know that I have any sort precision measurement to offer. The best approach, in my estimation is to attempt to apply numbers of sailors within each of the ratings and rates throughout their existence. However, one would also need to understand specific eras (WW, interwar, WWII, etc.) to get a better understanding of manning levels which would drive the manufacturing numbers and allow some sort of factoring as to survival into present-day. 
I don't know that I have an answer and at the same time, I don't think that your approach is at all wrong. It has to be something that folks can agree upon and as well as document future discoveries. 

 

I do not profess to be a militaria expert, but I conduct as much research as I am capable of and then write about my findings.
Check out my blogs, The Veteran's Collection (general militaria) and Chevrons and Diamonds (military baseball)

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In this initial draft of the Relative Rarity Grade (RRG) listing, I believe my top consideration for "rarity" consideration was degree of difficulty of obtaining a particular chief petty officer rating badge for one's collection.

Book Link: U.S. Navy Tailor-Made Dress Blues, Liberty Cuffs, and Sailor Folk Art

Wanted: USN Liberty Cuffs, vintage bullion rating badges, pre-1914 rating badges and vintage USN Police style Badges.
.

 

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Hi Dan. I collect a few non-bullion CPO ratings but the major focus of my collection is bullion CPO ratings up to 1948. However, your RRG system is still of value to my collection. While it would be extremely valuable to know the numbers of sailors within each of the ratings throughout their existence, to the best of my knowledge that data is not available. As a result, I have always considered the degree of difficulty of obtaining a particular chief petty officer rating badge for my collection as the guide to determining rarity, as you mentioned above. I do not associate rarity with cost because of numerous exceptions to that sort of measurement. I think your 5-point grading scale is adequate. We are not grading sports cards or coins here for auction, etc. As I understand it, this RRG system is to help the collector manage and understand his/her collecting efforts. It is just my opinion, but I think expanding your 5-point grading scale would be unnecessary and probably difficult to administer and understand.

 

In my personal collection, I look for each color that a rating existed in. I would not expect your RRG system to include the color variations, but I can slightly modify your guide to meet my specific needs for color. I do agree that including WAVE ratings would be beneficial. I have used your USN Enlisted Rating Specialty Titles and Marks (1893-2008) sheets for several years to help manage my collection, and I will definitely include the RRG system guide in my future efforts.

 

 

 

Always looking for USN WW2 era Bullion Chief Petty Officer Rates, any Chief Petty Officer Airship Rigger Rates, Liberty Cuffs, WW2 USMC Insignia and Distinguishing Marks, and WW2 Civil Defense and Civil Air Patrol Insignia


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Thanks for the comments, Fritz. I'm glad my old "check off" sheets were of use.

I would expect anyone could modify this starting draft to meet their own definitions and collecting needs.

 

Book Link: U.S. Navy Tailor-Made Dress Blues, Liberty Cuffs, and Sailor Folk Art

Wanted: USN Liberty Cuffs, vintage bullion rating badges, pre-1914 rating badges and vintage USN Police style Badges.
.

 

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  • 2 weeks later...

Perhaps my following questions are more due to observations rather than statistical analysis, but I wanted to inject some variables into your fantastic work. I know that these can get crazy to track but I do think that it is worth doing as a rating badge collector.

Delinations:

  1. Blues/Whites/Greens/Grays
  2. Gender/badge size
  3. Material: Cotton, Wool, Gaberdine, etc.
  4. Back Markings: Manufacturers, Datea
  5. As mentioned above, the pattern

These are all factors for collectors in some manner of discipline. I am with Sigs in that I focus on "My" family of ratings and those of my relatives (uncles, grandfather) rather than to pursue one of everything.  As I look through your document, I see that I have many examples of "4s" on your scale and wonder if I should consider moving them? I digress.

I appreciate the hard work you put into this, Dan. This is a great companion to John Stacey's work!!

I do not profess to be a militaria expert, but I conduct as much research as I am capable of and then write about my findings.
Check out my blogs, The Veteran's Collection (general militaria) and Chevrons and Diamonds (military baseball)

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I was curious if anyone differentiated between base material beyond color. I don’t differentiate between say, blue wool and blue gaberdine.


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2 hours ago, David Minton said:

I was curious if anyone differentiated between base material beyond color. I don’t differentiate between say, blue wool and blue gaberdine.


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I do. It’s my experience that the wool backed rates were Navy contract. The gaberdine rates were commercial, for the private purchase (so called “Tailor Mades”). 

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I do. It’s my experience that the wool backed rates were Navy contract. The gaberdine rates were commercial, for the private purchase (so called “Tailor Mades”). 

Sorry, meant to ask if people collect multiple sets based on base material? Do you have a wool collection, and the same rates from the era also as gaberdine?


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58 minutes ago, David Minton said:


Sorry, meant to ask if people collect multiple sets based on base material? Do you have a wool collection, and the same rates from the era also as gaberdine?


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Ah!  Not so much. I have 1 gaberdine SM2/c the rest are wool (exception being CPO crows). Interestingly, the Gaberdine SM2/c was my first Right Arm rate (I retired as SMCS). 

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9 hours ago, David Minton said:


Sorry, meant to ask if people collect multiple sets based on base material? Do you have a wool collection, and the same rates from the era also as gaberdine?


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I do not pursue with such discipline regarding material, but I have encountered a few who do, at least for specific ratings.

I do not profess to be a militaria expert, but I conduct as much research as I am capable of and then write about my findings.
Check out my blogs, The Veteran's Collection (general militaria) and Chevrons and Diamonds (military baseball)

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I differentiate between patterns (as defined by John Stacey) and self prioritize those by color of materials available. Starting in the 1930s, 1940s and after, the range of materials you find in USN rating badges almost requires you become somewhat of a cloth materials expert. I know Steve is somewhat of a materials expert.

Book Link: U.S. Navy Tailor-Made Dress Blues, Liberty Cuffs, and Sailor Folk Art

Wanted: USN Liberty Cuffs, vintage bullion rating badges, pre-1914 rating badges and vintage USN Police style Badges.
.

 

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20 minutes ago, dpcsdan said:

I differentiate between patterns (as defined by John Stacey) and self prioritize those by color of materials available. Starting in the 1930s, 1940s and after, the range of materials you find in USN rating badges almost requires you become somewhat of a cloth materials expert. I know Steve is somewhat of a materials expert.

One thing I find interesting when discussing various fabrics of rating badges, up into the 1970s is that there were crowd for the Melton wool “Issue Blues” and crows for the Commercially purchased Blues. This includes all the other embroidered, sew in insignia. But nothing special for the Private Purchase “Shark Skin” whites. They just hat the heavy white cotton drill backed patches.   In the 1960s and ‘70s, we used the same crowd on the white cotton drill jumpers and the light weight cotton Tropical shirts. Starting in the 1970s, my beloved Navy, somewhat lost its mind as far as uniforms go. Inventing new stuff(resurrecting old stuff), and had sew on patches for all the different fabrics. I some times think that is why so many of our cool Qualification patches went away and others were turned into pin on badges or ribbons. Just easier than providing them in a bunch of different fabric backings. 
 

steve. 

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Quick add on, yes, during WW2, there were also khaki, gray and Aviation Green, plus all the Navy stuff produced for Marines. But there was also a huge textile industry to support it. 
 

steve. 

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5 hours ago, sigsaye said:

Quick add on, yes, during WW2, there were also khaki, gray and Aviation Green, plus all the Navy stuff produced for Marines. But there was also a huge textile industry to support it. 
 

steve. 


I wonder how many badge variations of the same rating for WWII one could find?

What a great topic of discussion!

 

I do not profess to be a militaria expert, but I conduct as much research as I am capable of and then write about my findings.
Check out my blogs, The Veteran's Collection (general militaria) and Chevrons and Diamonds (military baseball)

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