Like a street vendor, Kyle Barnson sat along the grass displaying a towel covered in multicolored patches waiting to find the perfect trade.
“I just sit around and wait until someone comes along and they might have something I like,” said the 13-year-old Scout from Salt Lake City. “Sometimes I may not like it, but I trade it and I can trade that out for something else.”
For some of the 40,000 Scouts, leaders and visitors attending the National Scout Jamboree, the patches bearing the logos of troops from around the country are symbolic of the diversity of the organization. For others, they represent a chance for easy money when sold on Internet auction sites or at patch trade shows.
“They have some sets that go for like $300,” Barnson said. “But I just collect whatever I like, I don’t mind how much they go for.”
The patches, worn on the shoulder or pocket of Scout uniforms, can represent a specific troop, a state’s delegation or an important event like the Jamboree. This year’s most coveted patches are the ones featuring companies such as SoBe and Chick-Fil-A, or those featuring “Star Wars,” “X-Men” or video games such as “Halo 2.”
There are rules of the trade. Scouts can only trade one-on-one with other Scouts, and adults with other adults, which ties in with the organization’s youth-protection policies.
And although Scouts are not allowed to trade patches for money at the 10-day Jamboree, most say the rarest of them all can be sold afterward for hundreds of dollars.
By Monday afternoon, a 1950s Wisconsin troop patch was listed on eBay for $500, while a 2005 Alamo Area Council patch from Texas listed for $50, with six days remaining in the auction.
“Some of them you can go home and sell them on eBay for a lot, so you want do that,” said 15-year-old Jeremy Loftness from Denver’s Troop 930.
Barnson admitted he sometimes sells extra patches. “My friends at home will see something they like of mine and they’ll be like, ’Oh, I’ll give you $5 for that!”’
But trading patches isn’t just business, it’s about networking.
“If you just set up somewhere on the road or by your tents, a lot of people come over and start looking,” Barnson said as he tried to strike a deal. “It’s one of those things where you meet a lot of new people.”
Most of the patches — some with color-changing or glow-in-the-dark threads — are hand-created by Scouts and printed by professional companies in small batches.
“They do get excited about creating their own patches,” said Paula Chess, sales director for Cleveland-based Custom Logo Factory, recalling a patch with a whimsical and animated boat. “They bring out a lot of personality of the troops and what’s important to the troops.”
Scouts donated some patches to troop members of the Western Alaska Council, who endured an electrical accident that claimed the lives of four Scout leaders July 25, the opening day of the Jamboree.
The Army National Guard also hopes to auction off an 8- by 24-foot world map featuring patches from the 883 troops attending the event and donate the proceeds to surviving family members of the Alaskan troop leaders.
“It’s about fellowship, it’s about artwork, it’s about whatever you make it out to be,” said staff volunteer Chris Witmayer of Philadelphia. “Some people collect patches based on what they look like. Some look for ones for each city or state in the United States. And others, such as myself, collect them based on fellowship.”