Collectors of Police Insignia – the Guardians of Police History

17 May 2019

Thanks to the collectors of police insignia, the history of the police will not sink into oblivion. In May 2019, the 20th International Meeting of the Collectors of Police Insignia took place in Ptuj (Slovenia). On this occasion, we talked to the president of the Police Insignia Collectors’ Association of Slovenia, Branko Zupanič, also a long-term IPA member. We discussed his passion for police insignia and talked about the venerable anniversary of the event.

2011.12.20. Muzej (7)What exactly are insignia?

The meaning of the word insignia comes from Latin – ‘insignia’ represents medals that honour someone. They include symbols, badges, awards, ceremonial symbols, special badges and symbols of a specific title, power, honour, and dignity. Examples of royal insignia are crowns, maces, coats, coats of arms, etc. Insignia also come into use when marking a specific status in social or professional hierarchy. Police insignia can be parts of the uniform, marks, symbols, badges, awards.

How long has collecting insignia been your passion?

I began collecting police insignia in 1992, but soon realised that I should have started many years earlier since numerous things were discarded between the years 1991 and 1992. Foreign fellow collectors taught me to search and gather what sinks into oblivion and then continue with current material. Perhaps I manage to do that.

Where did the idea come from?

In 1983, while working at the border crossing Šentilj, I had a conversation with an American tourist from California who was travelling to Greece for a vacation. He showed me photos of his collection and himself in a uniform and wanted to have a patch of the Militia. As he was very persistent, I went to the locker room and took a patch off a raincoat and gave it to him as a gift. In exchange, I received his Californian patch, which then became my first exhibit. However, at that time I was not yet ready for this hobby. Later, in 1992 I got the newspaper PC NEWS (Police Collectors News) into my hands, which was published by American collector Mike R. Bondarenko. There I found a lot of information regarding collectors and their collections, along with many advertisements, through which they were searching for police patches for exchange. I started sending letters to the United States and some other countries to the addresses I found in the newspaper. And so, the patches started to come, together with occasional gifts in the form of a badge, keychain, police unit’s leaflets, etc. I continued collecting patches and later added models of cars, literature, medals and awards, plus photos.

2013.12.07. Beograd (3)

What is the story behind the international meeting of the collectors of police insignia which will soon take place?

The first international meeting in Slovenia was organised by a policeman from the Police Station in Celje, Mitja Vodušek. It took place in the Police Directorate Celje in 1998. Back then, an idea of establishing a club or association of collectors from the police arose, so in 1999 we established the Police Insignia Collectors’ Association of Slovenia and organised an international meeting every year since. The meetings were attended by policemen from Slovenia, Austria, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Hungary, Croatia, Spain, the Czech Republic, Serbia, Macedonia, and the USA. My responsibility as a president of the association was to organise those meetings since the very beginning. As a member of the IPA, I attended meetings in Austria and Germany, and so got to know the activities of the clubs there. We can pride ourselves as one of the most organised and active clubs in the field of police collectors in Europe.

Who are the collectors of police insignia, is perhaps the youth among them?

Collectors of police insignia are not only police officers. Around the world, this hobby is really common, and many collectors are not related to the police in any way, but like to add police insignia to their other collections. We would wish to have younger colleagues among us for sure, but it seems that the youth does not find this hobby interesting. We are sometimes joking that to be a collector, you need to be either rich or mad, but I believe that this is incorrect. I personally wish to retain as many items from the history of the Slovenian Police as I can, so that they do not sink into oblivion or end in some landfill or with traders, who only see it as an easy way of earning money,  and not as a passion for preservation and respect for the history of our occupation.

Is there something especially valuable in your collection?

There are many items and insignia in my collection that possess a huge collection value. Anyhow, for me each one of my more than ten thousand items in the collection has collection value.

Is there any item that you would never want to exchange?

None of the police insignia in my collection is available for replacement, and none will ever leave my collection. Only those where I have several pieces are exchangeable. I am glad to exchange those and add something new to the collection. 

Are you searching for any specific items?

There is always something that could enrich the collection. I understand that it is impossible to get the collection of all police insignia that I would wish for, but I keep collecting. Perhaps, I will once encounter some rare and priceless item.

Text: Anita Kovačič Čelofiga, IPA Slovenia, photos: personal archive