Thread Heads Episode #5: Early OA Pins With John Ortt

THREAD HEADS 5

With the Order of the Arrow celebrating it’s centennial 2015 this episode of Thread Heads goes back to the earliest lodge insignia before anybody had a lodge pocket flap on their shirt. When the OA was just a few years old some lodges began making Brotherhood and Vigil Honor pins in the same line as popular fraternity pins. The distinguishing factor for many of these was the arrow attached by a short chain to the totem pin. Today these early lodge pins are the rarest of all Order of the Arrow insignia.

My guest on Thread Heads is John Ortt who began collecting OA pins several years ago after seeing what Bill Topkis had put together. John felt like an entirely new door had been opened to him and over the last seven years he has built a nice collection. In this interview John shares the history of these pins and helps to explain the differences.

The early pins were produced by the Hood Company but by 1945 another Philadelphia based jeweler – the Caldwell Company had purchased those dyes and was the licensed company used by the OA. As the Caldwell company had the contract until pins died out in 1972 you will often hear people refer to these as Caldwell pins regardless of the make or manufacturer.

The trick with these pins according to John is that you have to look at them more as totem pins rather than lodge pins. Caldwell had a stock group of totem animals and depending on whether you wanted the pin in silver or gold either made for Brotherhood or Vigil they could take care of your order.

John himself remembers that in the 1960s in Blue Heron Lodge the pins were available in the lodge store for $12. That is a price that in today’s terms would seem like $90 after inflation. When lodge flaps only cost $1.25 at the same time you can see why pins eventually faded out.

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