Bill Thomas has collected Boy Scout patches for 46 years. (JOYANNA LOVE/ADVERTISER)


Many collectors focus on rare and unique items. For Bill Thomas, it is Boy Scout patches.

Thomas has been collecting for 46 years, and now has patches from all other the country in his approximately 2,000 patch collection.

There are two types of patches in the scouting world. Those earned for rank and those that commemorate special events along the way. Thomas said some of these events had the opportunity for Scouts to purchase extra patches for trading with Scouts from other places.

“As I got older, I started trading with other Boy Scouts from other areas,” Thomas said.

Thomas said he did not become a serious collector of the patches until he was an adult.

He has focused his collection primarily on patches for his Alibamu Order of the Arrow (OA) Lodge 179 and Camp Tukabatchee. However, Thomas also has patches from several other Order of the Arrow lodges, Council shoulder patches and Order of the Arrow Cherokee 50 patches. At one point, he wanted to get a patch from all 600 OA lodges in the nation. Thomas said the patches became too difficult to find, so he abandoned the idea.

His oldest patch is from 1942.

The first special event patch he received as a Scout was in 1969 while attending Camp Tukabatchee. Two patches were created to commemorate the 40th Anniversary of the camp in 1990, and Thomas has both of them. Thomas has the yearly patches for this camp from as far back as the 1950s, including some from when it was called Camp Rotary.

“It took a while to put that together, then with my Order of the Arrow lodge I have all the way back to the first one in the ’50s,” Thomas said.

Thomas became a Boy Scout in Clanton’s Troop 57 when he was 11 in 1968, but his introduction to scouting came in first grade through Cub Scouts.

“Other than my Christianity, probably one of the best events in my life was going through the Scouts, the times I had and the friends I made, memories, not only as a boy, but both my sons are Eagle Scouts and I was their Scoutmaster for several years,” Thomas said.

Thomas’ father had also been his Scoutmaster. Both of Thomas’ sons reached the rank of Eagle Scout.

For his Eagle Scout project, Thomas cleaned up the yard of First Baptist Church. During his time as a Boy Scout, Thomas collected about 50 badges from events he attended.

“A lot of times if you were in the Order of the Arrow you would meet guys from other areas and trade with them,” Thomas said.

Order of the Arrow held two or three camp-outs a year.

“The Order of the Arrow has a patch that designates you are in the Order of the Arrow. They issue new Order of the Arrow patches once or twice a year,” Thomas said.

To become a member, Thomas was recommended by his troop. Each troop can recommend one Scout per 10 in the troop per year to be a part of this special order.

Research is a major part of finding new patches.

“Now, I guess we depend a lot on internet to find ones that I didn’t have. I did a lot of phone calls to men I knew myself that were in Scouts back in the ’50s and early ’60s,” Thomas said.

Some still had their patches. Others did not.

“As you get into the more difficult [to find] ones, you wind up having to buy a lot of them,” Thomas said.

Other times people do not want to sell the patch, but will trade for one they are looking for in their collection.

“I also traded a S10 Blazer for a full collection one time,” Thomas said.

Some of the patches have been gifts from adults who had been Boy Scouts, but did not want to keep their patches.

“I don’t like to see any get thrown away,” Thomas said. “one reason I like to collect them is just to preserve them.”

Thomas began looking for patches from the Cherokee 50 Order of the Arrow Lodge after hearing that the lodge had claimed the only way someone could get their patches was to be a member. Thomas has proven that to be false.

“I’ve bought a lot of patches, but I have never sold a patch. I do trading with people and I give them away,” Thomas said.

Some patches have been given to Boy Scouts going to the National Jamboree who wanted some to trade. Others were given to young men starting their own collections to give them some they might be missing.

Boy Scout patches vary in design and shape.

“In the Order of the Arrow, they have an executive committee that chooses what the patch is. They usually have one of the scouts submit a design, and then the executive committee of the lodge will approve it,” Thomas said.

In addition to the patches form the different Order of the Arrow Lodges, Thomas has also collected Order of the Arrow area conference patches. The oldest one he has is from 1952. Thomas said it is hard to find because it is made out of felt.

His collection is housed in blue binders designed for preserving patches. Each binder has a different theme.