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When Owning 10,000 Punk Badges Isn't Enough

Tim Scott

Tim Scott

Image as Virus celebrates the history of the punk badge.

This article originally appeared on Noisey Australia.

Joly MacFie and Better Badges have been involved in the punk scene since day one. The UK button-badge manufacturer, created the first punk badge in West London in 1976 and between 1977-1984 became the leading publisher/merchandiser of punk and post-punk badges—exporting millions worldwide from their offices at 286 Portobello Road.

Considered a pioneer viral marketer, Better Badges helped fuel independent labels' fan-based promotion and the approximately 40 million badges they manufactured was crucial to the rise of punk around the world.

MacFie's principle was that anyone could afford and wear a badge, and that fans, rather than labels or the music industry, could dictate trends. He also branched into printing fanzines including Jamming! and Panache and what would eventually become the British street-style magazine i-D, but the one-inch punk badge is what he's best known for.

Image As Virus is a new exhibition at New York's 80 Washington Square East Gallery that celebrates the history of the punk badge and Better Badges. The exhibition comes from the personal, 10,000+ badge collection of Kevin Pedersen, head of the Brooklyn-based What's Your Rupture record label and initiator of the Punk Badges Instagram site.

Image As Virus includes original badges designed by artists such as Peter Saville, Barney Bubbles, Jamie Reid, and Linder Sterling and rarely-seen original merchandise from bands such as Ramones, Buzzcocks,, Crass, Suicide, Joy Division, The Clash, The Sex Pistols, The Modern Lovers, and Motorhead.


Noisey: You have 10 000+ badges! How do you store/display them?
Kevin Pedersen: The germain way is in varying degrees of plastic bags, going from a small sandwich bag holding a certain size of alphabetical organization, then a whole bunch of those small bags into larger bag, possibly a trash bag. Every serious collector has a story of how a loved one tossed their favorite badges into the bin because they thought it was trash. I mean who would think that? I display them in pics on my instagram account @punkbadges and I wear one or two on the inside of my jacket so I keep them close to my heart.


When did you first start collecting?
About two years ago when I was broke and couldn't afford buying the records I wanted. I came across a Scars badge for their "Adult-ery/Horror Show" single, for about a buck, and that was that. Badges are cheap as long as you're not competing for ones of Gaye Adverts jacket so its easy to get new ones. It's also a way of digging deeper into a group you like and even a good way to talk to bands (unless they're Jowe Head who I annoyed the shit out of asking about Swell Maps badges).


Do you have a favourite?
Does a parent have a favorite child? Yes, they do and for me it's the Eat Shit badge which supposedly Philthy Phil designed. But, it could also be the Performing Ferret Band badge. I mean... THE PERFORMING FERRETS.


When you meet someone wearing badges do your eyes automatically focus on what badges they are ?
No, I respect people and always engage people head on but other people do that to me and I have to say "Hey Lady/Man my eyes are up here". But I can't blame them because how can you take your eyes off of these things?

How are badges valued? Is it how rare or collectible they are?
You got me. They seem to be valued according to band and availability and some times rarity. Again they're cheap in the punk collecting sense.... there are very few that cross the hundred dollar threshold... so a lot of the value is at the whim of some person that wants something.


How do you know if a badge was manufactured by Better Badges?
There is a quality there that isn't with other manufacturers. The printing is noticeably better. The tones, the registration, the laminated tops. It's something that cant be reproduced.

Is punk the most represented genre when it comes to badges?
Yes. The lifespan of Better Badges as I know and love follows the punk timeline. It starts in 1976 with the Ramones heading to England and ends as the New Romantics start to take over in 1983. There are a lot of reggae badges too because Joly was big into reggae. Also weird hippy Stonehenge bits, drug culture bits... but mostly you're seeing Sex Pistols, Crass, Jilted John, Motorhead, Swell Maps, Raincoats, The Ramones, Xray Spex, Exhibit A, Ludus, Buzzcocks, etc etc.


Image as Virus run December 14 through January 5 at New York's 80 Washington Square East Gallery's Project Space.