Baltimore Police Buttons Chronology
By Harry Eichman
Baltimore City Police Buttons
Before 1857 the police force in Baltimore like most other American cities did not wear a standardized uniform or buttons. Thus, the buttons of the Baltimore police during this time were probably the civilian examples worn by the officers.
Note: The dating of uniform buttons can generally be done by studying the designs and marks found on them; and by examining contemporary sources if available. Sometimes dating can get difficult due to companies using old material on new supplies. Moreover, the dating of a button’s manufacture does not immediately suggest that it was used immediately. Some buttons were never issued and ended up in storage while others continued to be used by their owners for years after their design was altered. Finally, the marks on the back-marks of buttons sometime do not reveal the manufacturer of the button but rather the name of the retailer who supplied the uniforms and subcontracted with a button manufacture for buttons.
Earliest Baltimore Police Buttons: Certain P in Wreath examples (c. 1857-1860)
The earliest known Baltimore City Police uniform buttons date to the professional police force enacted in Baltimore in 1857. The sport a Gothic letter P inside a laurel wreath They presumably come in two sizes: 23 mm large coat size and 15 mm cuff or hat size although no examples of the hat size have been observed at this moment. Of these first-generation buttons several marks on the back (called back-marks by collectors are noted).
The Feb. 6,1857 issue of the Baltimore Sun described the new uniform buttons as consisting “superior gilt army style, having a wreath like the dime coin has, and a German text ‘P’ in the center’ HERE
According to the 2006 edition of Bruce Bazelon and Bill McGuinn’s Military Button Makers and Dealers Their Back-marks and Dates. The front design or “die” of this “P” wreath button was cut by Baltimore die sinker Jacob Seeger and sent to the firm of Holmes, Booth & Hayden in Waterbury Connecticut agents for the Waterbury Button Co in 1858. He asked for the buttons to either bare his name on the back or to have a blank back. It is likely that the buttons with the back-mark Jacob Seeger Baltimore were made for him by the Waterbury Button Co sometime after but before 1865 when Seeger entered the Brewery business and gave up metal working.
A slightly design first generation design is found on the buttons with Jacob Gminder Baltimore mark on them. According to Bazelon & McGuinn. Jacob Gminder is first listed in 1859 in Baltimore as a dealer in military and other uniform equipment. 99% of buttons with Gminder marks to date to the 1870s or later when his business grew. This example has a back-mark style called raised metal depressed channel. These RMDC backs were rarely used after the early 1860s so this is likely also a pre-1860 Baltimore police button
Gminder did not manufacture these buttons but bought them from the Scovill Mfg Co of Waterbury Connecticut. This is shown by a silver-plated example with the same design as the gminder buttons but with a scovill mg co Waterbury back-mark. (Scovill changed its back-mark to scovill mfg co Waterbury by 1861). The use of the silver-plated example is unknown as all other observed first generational BCPD examples at this time are gold gilt
Not pictured but also reported first generation BCPD buttons are listed as having a series of RMDC 5 point stars or the word “Extra Rich” on their backs. These are probably examples sold to Baltimore clothing firms that could not afford to have the button company put their name on the back of the button but did not want to advertise that the name of the button company either
*Note on P Wreath buttons
After the BCPD stopped using the P Wreath buttons in favor of BCP Wreath buttons the major American button Companies still retained the dies to the “P” Wreath buttons. Around the mid-1860s the large American button manufacturing firms started making P Wreath buttons again but this time as generic buttons for police officers. These buttons could be used by smaller police forces that could not afford to have their own municipal seal put on buttons or as replacement buttons for buttons lost from a uniform. (In the 19th century police officers had to make their uniforms last so that a new one would not have to be prematurely ordered and the coat docked from their pay).
99.5% of all P Wreath police buttons cannot be attributed to use by the BCPD for the above reasons although they are likely to have been used after 1860. The button examples shown are the ones that can be identified to the 1857-1860 force although more examples are probably out there awaiting to be discovered
2nd generation Baltimore City police buttons: 3 piece buttons with the BCP Wreath (1860-1870?)
In February 1860 the Baltimore police was reorganized again. The reason was that the first professional police force’s members were appointed by the mayor and the Baltimore City Council. Between 1857-1860 the mayor and the city council were composed of members of the Know-Nothing or American Party they turned the police positions into patronage jobs for their supporters. As the policeman were given jobs out of patronage and not merit the efficiently of the BCPD and the conduct of its “officers” especially during elections caused the reputation of the BCPD as an effective civil institution to suffer.
The1860 Baltimore’s police force reorganization brought the force under the direction of a police board to try to mitigate the local politic party control that had previously been the hallmark of the BCPD.
On of the reflections of this reorganized was a change in the Baltimore city police department uniform and buttons. The new buttons were made from 3 pieces (front and back held together by a rim). On the front the buttons supported the letters BCP for Baltimore City Police inside a wreath. These 3 piece buttons are referred to as staff button style buttons as the 3 piece button style was first used for united state army staff officers buttons. They came in 23 mm coat and 15 mm hat/ cuff sizes
They come in two sub variant but are all believed to have been made by the scovill mfg co.
The Civil War era version of these buttons have the retailers mark of Canfield Brothers & Co of Baltimore although they were actually made by the scovill mfg co of Waterbury Conn.. The coat size has a back-mark Canfield Bro & Co Baltimore inside two concentric rings of dots while the cuff size has a back-mark of Canfield Bro & Co Bal around a single ring of dots. The other disguising feature of the civil war era examples is that the outer crimped rim on the buttons is usually small in size on both the coat and cuff examples
(photos needed of both examples)
After the Pratt street riot in 1861 Baltimore’s police were suspended by the occupying federal troops how overtook policing duties until they restored it to civil authorities in 1862.
The post-Civil War version of these buttons have the actual makers mark, or back-mark of the scovill Mfg Co of Waterbury Conn. The coat size examples and cuff size examples have a similar back-mark of Scovill Mfg Co Waterbury around an inner ring of concentric dots. The other main feature of these buttons is that the outer crimped rim on the buttons is much larger in size on both the coat and cuff examples than the earlier versions
(photos needed of both examples)
3rd generation Baltimore City police buttons:
Disclaimer: The information on this page is subject to change upon new information and that the information we present is to the best of our current knowledge. We are not expert or a professional historians but we do strongly believe the presented attributions and dating of BCP buttons is accurate based on empirical observations as collectors of buttons and from the information garnered from the selected sources we have researched. We have not done any heavy archival research or lengthy review of primary sources on the subject so we do not want to claim the information presented as definitely 100% accurate or as thorough as it could be. At best we believe that it is a general guide to chronology and history of BCP buttons.
Bazelon, Bruce S. & McGuinn, William F., Military Button Makers and Dealers Their Back-marks and Dates 2006 Expanded Edition, 1984.
definitive proof Baltimore P
For more information on the subject CLICK HERE
Malka, Adam The Men of Mobtown: Policing Baltimore in the Age of Slavery and Emancipation, Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2018.
For more information CLICK HERE
Folsom, De Francias ed., Our Police: A History of the Baltimore Force from the First Watchman to the Latest Appointee, Baltimore: J.M. Beers, 1888.
“The New Police Uniform” Baltimore Sun, Baltimore, Maryland, Feb. 6,1857.
Driscoll, Ret. Det Kenny. “BPD History” Baltimore Police History.
CLICK HERE (accessed April 1st, 2019).
Research and Findings
We are working on finding the correct buttons used by the BPD, We know our agency used a "Wreath & P" Button, then we used the "BCP" buttons that was circa 1861/62sh, then we went to the "State Seal" button, then the Baltimore City Police with a State Seal, the first was a two-piece convex version much like the BCP button, but with just a MD State seal. Following the BCP button, we'll see a Baltimore City Police State Seal button, but unlike today's Baltimore City Police State Seal button, the earlier version was convex. That earlier Baltimore City Police State Seal button is followed by a similar design on a flat button.
We have the two-piece state seal button here someplace but without "Baltimore City Police" on it too... I'll find it add it to these and re-take these shots.
We'll also add a plain black plastic button, to help tell a story of a time during the second world war, in which the war department wanted all brass for use in bullets, so any new uniforms issued had plastic buttons instead of brass buttons.
I am not 100% on the years or order of these, I am going by info, pictures, and a tiny little bit o common sense, Patty warns me not to waste too much of the tiny bit of common sense I have left
First Mention of a Baltimore City Police Button came in an article dated 1889
The Baltimore Sun Mon Apr 16 1889 HERE
Baltimore Police State Seal Button
A little mix up on the State Seal Button, I was recently provided with a BPD State Seal Button that, on closer examination had a Helm above the State Seal, whereas our old State Seal Button had an "Eagle." The correct button should have the HELM so we removed the one with the Eagle and replace it with the HELM
So in order we would have them as they appear in the brass polishing tool below, minus some generic, plastic, wood and other buttons early on in the department before the "P Wreath Button" which came before the BCP Button, the BCP button wasn't around long, it was replaced around the time of the Civil War when Jacob Frey said something to the effect of, "The force being a state institution,'" he thought it appropriate "to have placed the Maryland coat of arms upon the badge," shortly after it went on the badge, it was on our buttons where it would remain until we started wearing the "Baltimore City Police Buttons" similar to those we see today. Unlike the later version of our Brass Police Buttons that are nearly flat, the first "Baltimore City Police Buttons" were convex almost like a sliver of a child's toy ball. But our buttons today still have the influence of Marshal Frey in that we still have a State Seal on our Badges, and Buttons to this day, but rather than a HELM, we now have an EAGLE.
The Following Timeline is based on what we have so far, we know changes will be made as further investigation continues and better information is gathered. For now the early numbers are good, we will gather better numbers as we dig deeper into things.
1784 - 1857 - No Uniform Button
1857 - 1861 - "P" Wreath Button
1861 - 1863 - BCP Wreath Button
1863 - 1889 - State Seal with Helm Button
1889 - 1920 - Baltimore City Police "Convex" Button
1920 - Present - Baltimore City Police "Flat" Button
The first, "Flat Face" buttons we were able to date have a back-mark of "S. Eisner Red Bank N.J." This company was only around for a short time in the early 1920s
Brass Buttons Seized by War Efforts
1 Oct 1942
Brass Buttons Taboo, Policemen's Future Dark
The Evening Sun 1 Oct 1942 page 27 and page 44
Officers Face World Grimly as WPB [War Production Board] Order takes Twinkling Coat easterners From New uniform Coats.
The Baltimore Police Department found itself in a hole today - a BUTTONHOLE… The fortunes of war "shot" the tradition brass buttons right off the uniform of the Bluecoats. Boy, are the police glad their pants buttons are black!
A button manufacturer in Waterbury, Connecticut, informed uniform makers here that no more brass buttons will be available for police uniforms, and the uniform manufactures notified Commissioner Robert F. Stanton, who in turn notified Senator George R. Radcliffe.
Could Wear Overalls
Senator Radcliffe tendered his deepest buttons - beg pardon, sympathies - but said there was nothing he could do to help the police department out of its hole. The restriction on the manufacture of brass buttons is a War Production Board order which became effective 4 Sept 1942, he said.
The order prohibits the use of brass buttons for anything except overalls or dungarees, which, if you ask the bluecoat on the beat, sounds a little bit like rubbing it in.
What! No Pants?
The next class of probationary policemen to be graduated from the police school will be the first members of the department to feel the pinch of the button crisis. But the last class, numbering 30, which was graduated yesterday, had a hint of the hard times ahead. They had to graduate without their pants, that is.
The graduation took place in the Police Building on the Fallsway. The graduates had coats, caps, white shirts and black ties, but no pants - uniform pants. Furthermore, they can't go on the street duty until they get pants - uniform pants.
Stanton is Perplexed
Baltimore Police History Challenge Coin
Years ago, we had a challenge coin made to represent our departmental history. For this History coin, we chose a Baltimore City Police Button, and we went with the old Conex button as seen below
2018 BPD History Challenge Coin
Copies of: Your Baltimore Police Department Class Photo, Pictures of our Officers, Vehicles, Equipment, Newspaper Articles relating to our department and or officers, Old Departmental Newsletters, Lookouts, Wanted Posters, and or Brochures. Information on Deceased Officers and anything that may help Preserve the History and Proud Traditions of this agency. Please contact Retired Detective Kenny Driscoll.
How to Dispose of Old Police Items
Please contact Det. Ret. Kenny Driscoll if you have any pictures of you or your family members and wish them remembered here on this tribute site to Honor the fine men and women who have served with Honor and Distinction at the Baltimore Police Department.
Copyright © 2002 Baltimore City Police History - Ret Det Kenny Driscoll