Slave Badge System in Charleston up to Civil War

Slave badges were used in Charleston, SC, for a number of years in the eighteen hundreds as a type of annual license that permitted slaves to hire out their time for money, which was then shared with the slaves' owners. The badges were made of metal with the year, number of the badge, and a job category (such as Servant, Porter, or Mechanic) stamped in the metal. The earliest badges that have been found were made in 1800, and they were created every year after that up to 1865, when the result of the American Civil War ended the practice of slavery. Over the years there were a variety of styles of badges by different craftsmen that were contracted to make them each year. The number of badges created every year fluctuated, depending on the strength of the economy as well as changes in laws and regulation practices affecting the use of the badges.

Slave Badges Rare and Collectible

Sometimes called slave tags, slave badges are very rare and considerably valuable to collectors. One badge from 1803 sold for $26,450 at an auction. Since slave badges were usually discarded after their use, there are very few that have been passed down over the years. Most slave badges have been uncovered by metal detectors, though because the badges have been scattered or destroyed, there are still quite limited numbers of these badges in existence. It is important to beware of the forgeries that claim to be real slave badges, as there are quite a few of those floating around.

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