Willabee and Ward's Collectible Patches

 

  

In the 1990's and early 2000's, a company called Willabee and Ward sold a set of 50 sleeved patches with information cards on a subscription basis. Typically you enrolled by purchasing a first set at a reduced price and received 2 additional, random patches each month for a fixed price such as $12.95. Willabee and Ward produces a number of patch sets sold in this manner, including Superbowl emblems and sports team insignia. 

Each patch arrived affixed in a sealed bubble affixed to a 12" x 9" cardstock fact sheet. The front usually features a large photo from the mission and a fact about the patch. The back side of the card had mission statistics, highlights and a summary. It has been found by some diligent collectors that there are a few factual errors on some of the cards. 

The patches represent every NASA program from Mercury to the space shuttle program. While the Mercury and Gemini selections were mission-complete, the set lacked an Apollo 1 in the Apollo series. The space shuttle patches did have many gaps, as there are only 15 patches, from STS-1 to STS-95 when there were 92 actual missions between them. 

The patches themselves are the official souvenir patches as supplied by A-B Emblem. Technically the Mercury patches are not the official emblems from those missions, as the crew did not wear mission-specific insignia on or around the time of their flights. However, in lieu of official crew insignia, the designs have become the insignia that are associated with those missions and are sold at locations such as the Kennedy Space Center, Huntsville Rocket Center and the Johnson Space Center. 

It has been discovered that there are some variations that are unique to or largely associated with the Willabee and Ward series. The most notable is the Apollo 12 patch. Some subscribers received a version that was a nearly identical replica of the Apollo 12 Crew "Quarantine" patch. The only difference is that this patch has a modern plastic coating on the back. A majority, however, have the standard souvenir version. It is unknown if this is intentional or for what reason the original pattern was used for some of these patches. The strangest thing about the replica is that A-B Emblem never produced a patch with that star pattern. Dallas Cap & Emblem did. 

 

A more recent discovery is that the Willabee and Ward Apollo 16 patch is also a near replica of the Apollo 16 crew patch. This patch has not been seen made available outside of the Willabee and Ward set.

It appears that there can be significant differences between sets based on when they were made. Some sets feature the classic Schiffli embroidered patches while others offer the more modern stitching of multi-head machines.

 

 

I have noticed that within my own set, the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project patch was embroidered with a darker, almost Bronze metallic thread rather than gold. I am going to have to compare it other sets before I can confirm this as a specific variation. 

Another recently discovered variation is the STS-51L "missing star" patch. This patch is not unique to the Willabee and Ward set, however, it has been widely spotted in the collection. There are two versions of the missing star variation, one with the vintage A-B emblem "waffle" or dimpled coating and a newer, vacuum sealed type. Both variations have been seen in the Willabee and Ward selections. 

If you were a subscriber and you purchased all of the patches that were mailed to you, you would be in to the collection about $300. Recent sales of complete sets in an album have been selling on eBay anywhere from $80 to $225, so its debatable if it has held its value, however there is something intrisically enjoyable about a service such as this and receiving a two new patches on a monthly basis, so it's not really fair to estimate a return on investment. It would make a wonderful gift for a young space enthusiast and its a great conversation piece. I believe there's a distinct collectbility in the set given that there are some unique patches to be found within the set. 

It is impressive to see that all 50 patches fit within the gigantic 4" thick binder. I have seen some collectors split the set across two binders, but I do not find that it is necessary to do so. While heavy, the pages flip nicely within the three rings. While open, the book spreads a whopping 36"! 

Given that there were some crew replica patches in the Apollo set, it would have been neat to see other A-B Emblem crew souvenir patches represented. I am not the first to say that the 4" Apollo 7 and Apollo 9 patches leave much to be desired as far as quality and styling go. I am also surprised that Apollo 1 was not included in the set.