Space News
space history and artifacts articles

space history discussion forums

worldwide astronaut appearances

selected space history documents

related space history websites

  collectSPACE: Messages
  Patches & Pins
  Beta Cloth Patches

Post New Topic  Post A Reply
profile | register | preferences | faq | search

next newest topic | next oldest topic
Author Topic:   Beta Cloth Patches
The Dish
New Member


posted 09-18-2002 08:23 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for The Dish   Click Here to Email The Dish     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I notice quite a few Beta cloth patches on eBay. Does someone still print these today or are they from the time of the missions? I see it mentioned that Owens Corning are the producers of some. How rare are they? What sort of price would one expect to pay? Any information would be greatly appreciated.

Peter Kemp

Posts: 89
From: Chelmsford, Essex, United Kingdom
Registered: Jul 2002

posted 10-24-2002 04:45 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Peter Kemp   Click Here to Email Peter Kemp     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I bought a number of these Beta Cloth Patches last May when quite a few were auctioned on eBay including a 4" NASA Vector, Apollo 13, Skylab(s) 2 and 3, ASTP Crew Patch and a very small American Flag.

Two of the patches were printed on quite large pieces of beta cloth and were still marked with the characteristic "cutting lines."

I got into a bit of a bidding war and paid about $125 for a couple of them and if I remember correctly something like $80 for the others. I think the total was the best part of $700 with shipping to my home in the UK. On reflection I paid silly prices but being relatively new to the process I made the classic mistake of not sticking to my budget.

Similar patches sold more recently have gone for considerably less. I didn't expect my patches to be "original era" but I began to hear stories from more knowledgeable collectors of a "cottage industry" producing silk screen copies.

I was going to use mine to put together a display item for our new National Space Museum here in the UK so I asked for got with no trouble, a COA from the seller.

The COA (for what its worth) states: "This is to certify that the Beta Cloth Patches sold to Peter Kemp by myself on eBay are printed on authentic beta cloth spacesuit material manufactured for NASA on fabric produced by Owens Corning Corporation for the Apollo Space Program in the 1960's and 1970's. They are original Patches and not copies."

As I still had a few doubts about the origin of my patches, in particular as the same seller has offered similar ones for sale on at least two more occasions since I purchased mine, I decided I should not use them in the exhibit I was planning.

If the beta cloth material is genuine then I suppose these patches are an interesting artefact in a collection, especially if like me you can't afford the sought after signed examples but there is no way I would again pay anything like I did for the ones I bought.

Currently on offer on eBay is a framed set of Beta Cloth Apollo Mission Patches which appears to be a promotional item produced by Owens Corning in the 1970's. The latest high bid in only slightly higher than the price I paid for one of mine!

Hope this information is of some help.

Peter Kemp

Posts: 89
From: Chelmsford, Essex, United Kingdom
Registered: Jul 2002

posted 10-24-2002 05:20 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Peter Kemp   Click Here to Email Peter Kemp     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I've done a little research since sending you my reply and I found the following further information in the form of a post to from a collector who asked a similar question to you in May 2001.

It certainly goes a long way to reassure me that the patches I bought although expensive do appear to have some "originality" associated with them.

These patches are all originals, they were made in the 1960s and 1970s by the Screen Print Corp. of Coventry Rhode Island using beta cloth supplied by Owens Corning under contract with NASA .

This is in the same town in which I live today. I have owned a coin and antiques store for about 27 years. In 1974 when I first opened my store I purchased a small quantity of these patches, as they were made here, there was not to much interest in them. They were packed away in my storage unit until I came across them about one and half years ago. I started listing them on eBay. I put them on every so often.

About six mounts ago I received a email from someone looking to buy some that I did not have. I started to make inquiries in the area, and also ran an ad for about five months looking to buy more of these patches. I did buy some from some of the old employees of the company that had made then and even met with the owner of the factory. He also had a grouping that I bought.

I found out that the company went bankrupt in 1983, there are no records left and that the screens used to print the patches have been donated to the Smithsonian. The patches were printed using many different colors that were applied one color at a time. They were very good at mixing colors and it is doubtful that someone could copy them.

The Dish
New Member


posted 10-26-2002 05:07 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for The Dish   Click Here to Email The Dish     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thanks for the information. At times, it's hard to know the details of something you see and think would make a great addition to your collection. No one likes to pay too much for something, but I think very few of us could say we have never got caught up in the excitement of trying to add that special piece to the collection. I've been there a few times.

New Member


posted 10-26-2002 12:06 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for sapper82   Click Here to Email sapper82     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I am also attempting to complete a beta-cloth patch collection. I have seen many of the patches listed on eBay, and had posed the same question - where are they coming from?

While not questioning the information provided in the above post (and I am also thankful for the details provided) I would encourage caution to anyone seeking to purchase beta cloth patches, especially from eBay or similar online auctions.

Contrary to the earlier suggestion, Beta cloth patches for any mission would be very easy to reproduce, especially today. My wife used to work as a senior graphic designer with a printing and design company and created most of the space insignia currently used by my space operations team. Curious about how feasible it might be to fake a Beta cloth I consulted her about the issue and what I learned was not very encouraging.

First, beta cloth can still be purchased from various sources and with a little effort can be "aged" to appear as if it's been sitting in a drawer for two decades.

Second, with a scanner, Adobe Photoshop or similar software, and a printer, the Apollo mission designs can easily be reproduced. A designer would either scan in a picture or drawing of the Apollo patch and then redraw it on the screen to create the electronic files required for the screening process.

Then the colours are determined. Contrary to the earlier assessment the colours are easy to match. Anyone used to working with colours will be familiar with the Pantone system, based on the company of the same name. Starting in the late 1940s, Pantone began codifying colours using a palette of 14 base inks that yielded approximately 500 colours. Today, the Pantone system is an internationally recognised industry standard with millions of colours, and is used by almost everyone to ensure that colours match no matter where you are. Pantone is the system used to ensure, for example, that McDonald's yellow looks exactly the same in London, Paris, or New York.

All this being said, it would take about two minutes to determine the exact colours needed for something like the Apollo 16 patch. Once that is done the designer would break them down into their base colour screens (borders, colours, and fill) that would be used by the silk screener to produce the screens. There may be a bit of a challenge in getting the colour to take properly but the printer would do a sampler to get the consistencies and shades right before mass printing. It also provides a chance to check for any flaws in the overall design and product.

With the screens ready, a printer could then whip off as many patches as he had beta cloth for. And unless you've got significant experience in handling originals (say those attached to the spacesuits) it would be difficult to tell the difference.

All this may seem discouraging for collectors, but there are options for those who wish to collect beta cloth.

First, try to acquire beta cloth patches that have some provenance or legacy. A COA, even supplied with honest intentions, just doesn't really cut it in the space memorabilia market unless it comes from a very reliable source (i.e. an astronaut him/herself or a well-known dealer that may have former astronauts under contract). Alternatively, try bidding in auctions where these patches are still coming out of NASA employee estates and astronaut collections.

Second, get a beta cloth patch autographed. Most appear to be sold with about a 9"x9" border, leaving plenty of room for autographs. I have a few like this, and I feel that even if the beta cloth patch itself were a reproduction, the autographs add both interest, personal attachment, and value to the item.

Finally, I wold offer that this issue requires further research. Even though Screen Print Corp. went out of business in the 1980s, I would be surprised if NASA archives didn't have some record of the contract. It couldn't be too difficult to figure out either roughly how many were produced, even a ballpark figure would help. Any ideas? Also, has anyone confirmed whether or not the Smithsonian actually does have the silk screens? This would be interesting to know.


Posts: 42
From: Chelmsford, MA
Registered: Oct 2000

posted 11-08-2002 03:22 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for edorr     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I want to begin this with a disclaimer: I don't "have a dog in this fight". I don't sell beta cloth patches, I don't make any money or claim any fame in the patch business. I do happen to have a web site that discusses patches, but I try very hard to avoid any discussion of "provenance," mostly because I think it's a very difficult matter in relation to embroidered patches. That said, here's my opinion: I don't believe it would be as easy as described to counterfeit beta cloth patches. I'm not saying impossible, just not easy. By extension, I also doubt that it would be cost-effective.

Beta cloth was an outgrowth of a fabric developed by Owens-Corning to create fire-resistant drapes. My understanding is that, because it turned out to be difficult to print on this fabric, some people researched the matter and Screen-Print Corp. was formed specifically for this purpose. I'll concede that it's probably not a big problem to silk-screen beta cloth today, but I suspect it's still not just a run-of-the-mill silk-screen job that can be done by any printer. I certainly could be wrong here, I'm not a professional printer.

The Pantone system is used for exactly the purpose described: to ensure that a created artifact (whether it be McDonald's arches or a printed brochure) exactly matches some artwork which defines it. Both the artist and the creator of the artifact must use the Pantone system. It is not intended for (nor particularly effective for) matching colors with an existing artifact that wasn't created with the Pantone system. Screen Print did not use Pantone: they purchased pigments from Roma Color in Fall River, Massachusetts, and custom-mixed the inks to arrive at specific colors in an attempt to match the artwork. Therefore, the colors on the patches are not Pantone colors, and while you might get a close match, you'll never get an exact match.

The color separations would not be as simple as scanning in the original artwork -- at least not in all cases. As an extreme example, take a look at the Apollo 17 artwork and the Apollo 17 beta cloth patch. You'd need to scan a (good) beta-cloth patch to get equivalent color separations, and that would lead to a significant degradation in image quality. In some cases the beta cloth patches don't even follow the artwork particularly closely -- see the Apollo 9 patch as an example.

To my mind, it all comes down to the effort involved (very high) to make exact duplicates of the Apollo-era beta cloth patches, versus how many you could sell (not very many). It just doesn't seem worth it to me. I mean, just how big is the market for beta cloth patches, anyway? While it may seem "too big" when you're in a bidding war on eBay, I suspect in actual numbers it is pretty small. Are we really seeing that many beta cloth patches on the market? (I'll concede that a recent Superior auction lot of 100 Apollo 9 patches was an anomaly -- but does anyone think that all 100 of those could be sold for $100 apiece?)

As for attempting provenance by counting numbers: Screen Print Corp. wasn't contracted by NASA to print the patches, they were apparently subcontracted by Owens Corning. I submitted a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request to Johnson Space Center to get a copy of any contract between JSC (MSC at the time) and Screen Print Corp. None exists. (It occurs to me now that a contract between NASA and Owens-Corning might give numbers. I need to look into that.) Besides, the beta cloth patches sold by Bob Bennett were not part of the contracted-for quantity -- they are extras made as personal souvenirs by the employees of Screen Print, and (I suspect) quality-control rejects (bad registration, wrongs colors). So, the ones sold by Bob wouldn't be counted among those contracted for anyway.

I agree with Andrew that COAs are not to be counted upon. I would think that they are more easily counterfeited than just about any artifact, even with astronaut's signatures. I also heartily agree with his sentiment that if you get an astronaut signature (yourself, in person) on a beta cloth patch (or any other artifact), that increases the value and personal interest of the item more than the provenance of the artifact itself.

I hope this doesn't get interpreted as my casting aspersions on the professional knowledge of Andrew's wife -- I'm not in the printing business, so I certainly don't have the qualifications to do that. I'm just airing my opinions (and hopefully a few facts, too), and if anything would like to know her thoughts on the validity (or lack of same) of my observations.

New Member


posted 11-09-2002 02:27 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for sapper82   Click Here to Email sapper82     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
First, let me say thank you for your excellent post, I certainly learned from it (and also from your website - I've emulated your idea of framing patches with the artwork, it looks great on the wall and draws alot of fun questions). As well, I would say that your points are valid and well taken. In return I would like to offer the following:

The technical aspects of reproducing patches would be difficult but not that difficult. Even though Screen Print did not employ Pantone (thank you for this - I didn't know that) the colours could be matched closely enough to pass casual inspection or the first or second time beta cloth patch purchaser.

Scanning in a beta cloth photo is not to capture image quality but rather to simply provide a point of reference for the designer. For example, when I came up with a patch idea for my crew, it usually got drawn out on a napkin or a yellow note. This "artwork" was scanned in to Photoshop and is then redrawn by the designer in the program to create an electronic version of the image. This allows the graphic designer to then break down the components of the drawing for the various screens. It does take time - a uncomplicated 4" patch may take 4-6 hours to e-draw, but the end product is very satisfactory.

Your point about the simplicity of reproducing Beta cloth patches is true, it's certainly not a simple matter that any person with access to a printer could try and do - it would require someone skilled and with intent to deceive, and what usually drives such incentives is the financial return.

A quick search of recent eBay sales alone shows that an average Apollo era beta cloth patch sells for between $50-$80, with NASA meatballs, SMEATs, and Apollo 11s fetching slightly higher at $100-$120. Rarer patches could go much higher. The 2TV1 patch recentlty sold for over $200. Beta cloth patches "identified" as flown tend to go in the $thousands, even without some sort of provenance.

Is there a market? As a sample, just yesterday 11 Beta cloth patch auctions ended on eBay with a total sale value of approximately $1000. I would argue that there is a market, and that given more and more people join this collecting field every day, that market will continue to exist, if not grow.

Unless one has handled a lot of Beta cloth patches or has does considerable research on the designs, I would regretfully say that it would be easily to sell these items without notice.

Gene's comment re: determining provenance based on numbers alone would also be difficult is also correct in my opinion. There are always extras left over from any print run of anything, so one couldn't determine authenticity this way. I was intrigued by the 100 Apollo 9 patches that were sold... were these just in a box somewhere? If there are that many of them available, I would suggest perhaps that the market is over inflated. I do believe people are paying more for Beta cloth because they are perceived as "the real thing" and therefore less common.

Never one to simply point out a problem I would offer the following solutions.

  1. Research, research. Do your homework and learn about what you're buying. Gene's website is an excellent example. I also keep a digital photo library of patches, including Beta cloths, in order to compare prospective purchases. During a recent visit to the Smithsonian, for example, I snapped up a buch of pics of Scott's Apollo 15 EVA suit, including all the Beta cloth patches. Research material like this is invaluable.

  2. Provenance. Gene's point about this is quite correct, it is very difficult to determine provenance on embroidered cloth patches. Yet, there are some bench marks for the collector.

    For early period patches, other than autographed beta cloth I would recommend Lions Bros. patches. If you've handled enough of these they are easily distinguishable from other period pieces and light years better quality than more recent repros. As well, their hidden numbering and initials system is a good key as well. When asked if this too could be "faked" this is where I would argue that it is neither easy or cost effective. One would have to reproduce a period piece cloth patch, reproduce the stitching style, loops quantity, and patterns in which the patches were made. Modern machines can't even do this and given the unique characteristics of cloth and embroider, an experienced patch collector can easily spot LBs from other patches identified as "vintage". I personally don't even collect AB patches from the Apollo period, preferring LB patches.

    Another issue of provenance is flown patches (especially shuttle patches) which are beginning to appear on the market. I would offer that unless accompanied by other material that we know too little about this field to start discussing it. One point though, hundreds of patches are flown every flight (check out the official flight kit manifest for an STS mission) so I'd offer that they're not worth spending hundreds of dollars on at this time.

  3. Autographs, in my opinion, will separate collectible beta cloths from everything else once the market becomes saturated with them. While the cost may not drop, those with additional attributes will certainly be prized as better samples and more collectible (just as now).

  4. Finally, share knowledge with other collectors. Again, thanks to Gene for his website and his post.

All times are CT (US)

next newest topic | next oldest topic

Administrative Options: Close Topic | Archive/Move | Delete Topic
Post New Topic  Post A Reply
Hop to:

Contact Us | The Source for Space History & Artifacts

Copyright 1999-2015 All rights reserved.

Ultimate Bulletin Board 5.47a