Today, the AA is one of the most recognised car breakdown cover providers in the UK, helping millions of people get back on the road when their vehicle runs into mechanical problems.
However, back when the organisation was in its early days, the AA served a different purpose. One of the main tasks of the first AA members was to patrol British roads on bicycles, alerting motorists of pesky police speed traps. Although these patrols may be seen as defying the police, on the whole, these patrols made the roads a lot safer, as it encouraged drivers to maintain a safe speed.
When the AA started, these patrol members carried AA badges. This article will detail what these badges were used for, their interesting and sometimes complex history, and their significance in the modern day.
AA Car badges are metal plates that drivers display on cars to signify to other drivers that the owner of the car was a part of the AA group. At first, these badges were only given to the bicycle scouts patrolling the roads to help with identification.
For the scouts, these badges had their individual scout numbers engraved on them, thus helping with the identification. If road users wanted to report an AA scout or praise him to the rest of the group, they could simply use this number to identify who they were talking about.
From 1906, these badges were given to all members of the AA and would be proudly displayed on their vehicles.
AA badges before 1967 varied drastically in appearance. While some of these visual differences were to help differentiate different members and vehicles, some of the other designs throughout the years were simply due to the desire to evolve the logo.
The first badges had the initials ‘AA’ within a circle above a shank that was used to mount the badge to a vehicle. This main look didn’t change much over the years, although it had a few additions and changes.
In the winter of 1907, smaller versions of this original design were made for motorcycles. Some also included a heart-shaped token to indicate the expiration date of a user’s membership.
After the AA amalgamated with the Motor Union in 1911, the badges were changed to incorporate an M within the original ‘AA’ lettering. Wings were also added to the top of the badge, which was the standard pattern used for the next half-century.
In addition to this main badge, there are a few unique and rare versions that look a lot different that were used to distinguish different vehicles. There’s the pentagonal light car badge that replaces the classic circle with a pentagon and was used for two- or three-seater cars that had low horsepower.
You can also find other pentagonal badges made out of brass with a red background. This was for industrial vehicles between 1911 to 1930. From 1930, this design was changed to be made out of chrome and had a basket-weave design. These were used until 1967 when all badges changed to the square, yellow AA badges that we know today.
On these badges, a number would be displayed. This number originally appeared on the shank of the badge. However, as membership grew and larger numbers were needed to differentiate members, these were inscribed on the circle surrounding the ‘AA’ iconography. Some badges also have a signature from one of the founders.
The numbers on the badges are used to help date a badge, as they detailed when the badge was issued. For patrol members, these numbers were used to help with identification, however with other members of the AA, these numbers were not membership numbers.
To help you date AA badges, here’s a little rundown of what to look for:
The earliest badges were created in 1906 and used a simple numbering system with numbers 1-999999. If you find a badge with these numbers, you’re likely to have one of the earliest badges created and could have been issued from 1906-1930.
In 1930, they started to add lettered suffixes to the badges that came after the numbers. If a badge has a suffix between the letter A-P, it means that it was issued from 1930-1945.
The suffixes of the badges can also help you identify what vehicle these badges were fixed on. For example, if the badge has a suffix R, S, or T, it demonstrates that this was a flat motorcycle badge from between 1946-1956. From 1956 to 1967, they changed these motorcycle badges into a domed shape and will have the suffixes WXYZA.
As more and more members joined the AA, they had to come up with another way to differentiate badges. From 1945, they started to add prefixes to the badges that came before the numbers. A prefix of OA to OZ meant the badge was from 1945 to 1957, 1A to 9A are from 1957-59, and 1B-9B is from 1960-1961.
The last badge was created in 1967 and would have had the prefix of 1E to 9E.
The materials used to make AA badges have changed over the years. Although it’s not exactly known how the first few AA badges were made, it’s believed that the first two or three hundred were made only in brass.
Soon after the introduction of the AA, white metal versions of these badges became available, although the quantity of these badges is not well known. White metal simply means that these badges were nickel plated, giving them a more glamorous and quality appearance.
From around 1925, the badges were instead being made entirely out of nickel or were given a chromium finish. Today the badges are now made out of chrome, but they are very different from what they started out as.
Despite having a long history, with many AA badges being considered antiques, many of them don’t hold that much value, especially from the 1950s onwards.
On auction sites, the average price for an AA badge will range from a few pounds to around £20. Of course, the rarer the badge, the more it can be worth.
Some badges can fetch upwards of £100, but these need to either be badges made early in the AA’s history or badges issued in interesting locations, such as the channel islands.
There’s not been a lot of documentation of the highest costing AA badges that have been sold, but it’s not farfetched to assume that some of the early badges, especially the ones made out of brass, could potentially cost a lot, especially if you’re selling to a collector.
The AA badges aren’t the only ones you can get for your car. In fact, some of the others are far more valuable. The cost of AA car badges is also dwarfed by another car accessories: hood ornaments.
Hood ornaments are basically sculptures that are fastened to the hood of a car and are most commonly associated with the Rolls Royce brand of vehicles. The most expensive hood ornament is expected to cost upwards of $350,000, which is vastly more than what you’d have to pay for a vintage AA car badge.
Despite not being worth as much as other car accessories from the time, for many people in Britain, the AA car badges have a much more enduring legacy. They are icons of a different time where motoring was new, cutting-edge, and exciting.
Car badges are widely traded and collected within the UK, and there’s a thriving second-hand market for these pieces. This means that depending on the individual, these items are invaluable.
The new versions of AA car badges are still used and displayed on their patrolling mechanics used for roadside assistance. For members, you’re unlikely to be issued your own badge and instead might be able to get a sticker to display on your car window.
For most, AA badges as they existed in the past no longer exist. However, a new kind of AA badge is worth knowing about.
As well as being one of the leading breakdown cover providers, the AA is also one of the most well-trusted hotels reviewing companies, using their famous star rating to showcase the quality of a hotel. Hotels with a good star rating are given a badge to display on their entranceway and in their media. This badge closely resembles the car badge that was issued in 1967 and in some way continues the legacy of the AA car badge.
Apart from these uses, the AA badge is no longer a staple of British roads, with its yellow logo advertised on its patrol cars as being the main symbol of the brand. Regardless of its depleted use case now, the AA badge will always remain a key part of Birth auto history.