RSPCA Brasses

Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) award brasses were used in England as a way to encourage owners to take good care of their equines, harness, and vehicles. The badge was stamped with the year of issue, and displayed on the horse so that people could see that they currently met or exceeded the RSPCA’s standards of animal welfare at that time. In modern day terms, these badges were like the ‘pink slips’ we have for our cars.

In 1886 the first London Cart Horse RSPCA parade was performed. It is believed very soon after, the first RSPCA awards were awarded. There is record of RSPCA award brasses from 1896 on till the late 1960’s. Badges were presented for Van Horse Parade and Cart Horse Parade Merit Badges. There was no 'first prize' as such, anyone who's horse and turnout met the criteria set by the RSPCA would be awarded a merit badge.

Note - The London Harness Horse Parade is still run every year around Easter, although horses are now awarded with a rosette rather than a brass and it is not directly associated with the RSPCA anymore. This is a spectacular event, with dozens of splendid turnouts of all types attending.

The RSPCA merit badge was also used as a ‘general’ merit badge as proof of high standards of animal care. There are pictures of English seaside donkey rides where the donkeys proudly wore their current merit badge on their browbands.

The original RSPCA merit badges were cast of brass, with a nickel plated coat of arms on the front. They then eventually became wholly brass, then aluminium was substituted in the 1930s. During WWII when metal was scarce, the badges were made of bakelite plastic.

Because this system of merit badges was in place in the UK only, there are very few of these horse brasses in circulation in Australia. My collection of RSPCA brasses has been bought mainly over the internet and through family in the UK.
For the collectors out there, the price of a merit badge varies from about $50 Australian dollars for an Aluminum badge up well over $1,000 for a 1800’s brass badge with it’s accompanying certificate.

I really love these brasses, and like to imagine the story behind the working horses and their owners who received these medals. Unlike most horse brasses, which are purely for decoration or collection, these brasses have been worn by horses sometime in the past and represent someone who has cared for and taken pride in their animals.

Posted by Amanda on January 9, 2011 07:06 PM