LCA History: The story of our badge

by Jono Hren (Florida Tech 1975)

Photos by Bob McLaughlin (Purdue 1963)

Introduction by Mike Raymond (Miami OH 1967)

This article first appeared as a chapter in our new history book, “Our Story: A History of Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternity,” published last year . This article is an impressive work of research, writing, and photography concerning the membership badge. The article covers a lot of territory, sometimes finding our way though the misty beginning of our fraternity is difficult, but this article presents the clearest path to understanding the origin of our badge that is available.

I believe that this is the first time that the story of our badge has been presented with full color illustrations that more completely document its history. The value these color illustrations add to the history of the bade is incalcuable.

Without question, our badge is an integral part of being an initiated brother in our fraternity. While the display of our badge has shifted over time, from use only on formal occasions in the past to nearly non-existent use today, it is still rich in symbolism.

This article should be of extreme value to anyone interested in the history surrounding the many changes and forms of our badge. It deserves a close reading with your undivided attention.

The wearing of badges or other symbols of allegiance, authority, or rank is a custom which dates from antiquity. From an early period in the history of Greece every freeman, it appears, wore a signet ring. In the story of the prodigal son, a signet ring is placed upon his finger emblematic of the renewal of the family tie. The orders of knighthood developed badges of more complex design than the devices of allegiance such as the white and red roses of York and Lancaster and the falcon of Queen Elizabeth.

The general social fraternities followed the lead of the early literary societies in making a badge one of their central symbols. Kappa Alpha Society, the oldest of the present social fraternities, adopted the “key” worn upon the watch chain. It literally was a key that was modeled after keys used to wind large pocket watches of the day. Most contemporary groups display the badge as a pin, which has migrated from the jacket lapel to the area over the heart on the vest or sweater (if worn) or shirt. At one period of heavy opposition to fraternities several groups specified the left armpit region of the shirt as the location! About a third of today’s badges are some form of shield or slab with the fraternity’s initials and significant symbols displayed. Another third have a symbolic shape (some form of cross, diamond, or triangle) such as the four triangles of Theta Kappa Nu. This style of badge often contains additional symbols as well as Greek letters. Almost a third use a monogram of letters composing the name of the organization. Lambda Chi Alpha shares with Alpha Chi Rho, Theta Chi, and Triangle the use of both monogram and symbol in the basic shape of the badge. Many badges are set with stones such as diamonds or rubies. The pearl is the most frequently used gem to decorate badges.


Lambda Chi Alpha’s founding is inextricably linked to the badge.

Warren Cole had been living in Boston with his wife of one year at 22 Joy Street, but by the time of his 22nd birthday on November 15, 1911, he was rooming at 35 Hancock Street with Ralph Sylvester Miles and Harold Bridge, the latter having transferred from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Cole did not enroll in Boston University that semester. His primary focus was starting a new fraternity.

Cole told historian John Clark Jordan, some 40 years after the fact, that Lambda Chi Alpha had its origin in a prank. According to Jordan, “He and Miles were out walking in the fall of 1911 and came to the show window of a jewelry shop. They saw there some pins that looked like fraternity pins advertised for sale at a very low price. The pins turned out to be some badges that had been made for a high school fraternity, on which some error had been made in the manufacture. So the jeweler was willing to sell them very cheaply. Cole and Miles each bought a pin. They began to wear the pins to tease a chap named McDonald, a friend and former roommate of Cole’s who was a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon. They said they had founded a new fraternity.”

It is not known who originally designed that first badge. Cole repeatedly maintained that he, his young cousin Clyde Kingsley Nichols, and Percival Case Morse had belonged to a high school fraternity called Alpha Mu Chi (AMX), although records show no indication of the existence of such a group at any of the schools they attended. It is also not understood why Cole named Nichols a founder of the Fraternity in Boston, since Nichols was a junior in high school in Taunton, Massachusetts, in the fall of 1911. The combination of a high school student named as a founder of a college fraternity, an elusive high school fraternity, and the selection of a high school fraternity pin as the basis of a college fraternity’s badge is more than a little curious, as is the similarity of the Greek letters ΑΜΧ or perhaps ΜΧΑ if “some error had been made” to ΛΧΑ. Is it possible that Nichols designed the badge? He was certainly considered a genuine member several years later by Ralph Miles, who wrote in the March 1914 Purple, Green and Gold, “Brother Nichols is now located with the Mechanics’ National Bank in Providence.” Nichols had just graduated high school the previous June (1913).

On Saturday, December 23, 1911, Cole and Miles (and later Bridge and Morse) purchased the first four badges from the Boston jeweler J.G. Johnston located nearby in the Sudbury Building at 79 Sudbury Street, near Scollay Square. J.G. Johnston is known to have produced athletic and Masonic medals, police and municipal badges, and high school pins, but was not a major supplier to college fraternities.

These four badges, costing $3.25 each, along with eight more ordered later for Gamma Zeta at Massachusetts (M.A.C.) at $3.50 each, and a replacement for one lost by Louis Drury were of one-piece construction, bore a black enamel oval containing the Greek letters ΔΦ, and are the only known examples to exhibit grapes and olives, done in purple and green enamel upon the gold of the badge itself – thus providing the Fraternity colors. The badges had no pearls or jewels of any kind.

On the same day that the first badges were purchased, Cole, Miles, and Morse also bought fobs from Johnston, and Cole and Miles bought pipes at the nearby United Cigar Store. The significance became clear several months later when Cole wrote to Albert Cross at the University of Pennsylvania on the importance of “pins, hat bands, (and) frat pipes” in attracting prospective candidates. These purchases undoubtedly heralded a distinct turning point from an abstract idea to the reality of a fraternity.

On February 9, 1912, Cole and Miles moved from 35 Hancock Street south to the Ansonia Hotel at 16 Westland Avenue, where they’d remain throughout 1912. Harold Bridge left Boston for New Hampshire. During February, March, and April, Cole worked on expansion and a ritual. The chapter at M.A.C. was installed on May 18, 1912. The following day, Albert Cross at U.Penn inquired about getting pins. On May 21, Cole replied that the men in Philadelphia would have to have their pins made locally, and sent his own Johnston badge to Cross, “as a model from which to get out the die.” Curiously, however, just three days later, on May 24, 1912, Cole accepted an order from M.A.C. for eight pins, an order that was filled during the summer. It is believed that only four members of Alpha at Boston owned Johnston badges and the Gamma men at M.A.C. ordered the eight just described. Louis Drury ordered a replacement for one he lost, bringing the total number of badges known to have been made by J.G. Johnston to 13.

Fig1aWhy Johnston badges could be obtained for one chapter and not the other is unclear. Miles’ badge (see Fig. 1) is flat on the back and marked 14K, while Drury’s (see Fig. 3) is concave, is marked 10K, and lacks the maker’s name. Both are engraved with the owners’ initials and are virtually identical on the front.

On May 25, 1912, Cross took Cole’s badge to William Thegen’s Sons at 618 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, and ordered eight pins for the Epsilon chapter at the University of Pennsylvania. Thegen, like Johnston, was not known for making fraternity jewelry as much as Masonic items and military medals. Discussions with the jeweler led to the decision, with Cole’s approval, to replace the enameled grapes and olives with arrangements of tiny purple and green jewels, thus retaining the Fraternity’s colors. When the pins were ready on June 17, 1912, however, six large gems – alternating emeralds and amethysts – filled the crescent above and below the black oval (see Fig. 2). The badges cost $9.00 each. Ray Ferris did not like them. In 1927 he wrote, “when I first saw the pin, I almost swooned for to me it resembled a grammar school class pin of some sort. I particularly disliked the flat letters, Lambda Chi Alpha.” Cross, on the other hand, did like them, writing to Cole, “the pins don’t look half bad, however, as the jewels liven them up considerably.” Cross promptly returned the Johnston badge to Cole. Later in 1912, Ferris, enlisting Mason’s artistic abilities, would submit to Hoover & Smith the design we still use today.

As early as June 1912, questions arose concerning the use of the Greek letters Delta Phi in the oval, and their use for the Latin motto dedimus potestatem, a legal term meaning “we have given (or assumed) power.” Cole wrote the meaning of the motto in the constitution, but did not include it in the ritual. Cross wrote to Cole on June 9, 1912, “An embarrassing question was put to me by one of our fellows who is a much better student in languages than any I have ever met or heard of around Penn. He wants to know if that wasn’t a little error when you chose the word P— to fit the symbol Φ? He claims the letter should have been Π for P. Of course it doesn’t matter a d— bit, but what do you think of that yourself? I hadn’t given it a second’s thought, but took it on faith.” Cross broached the subject again on September 12, 1912, writing to Cole, “Some of our Arts men want to know if that Φ on our pin can not be changed to Π as it was meant, for two reasons. 1st and least they object to explaining to Greek scholars about the error. But mainly because ΔΦ is our biggest and most powerful Frat. at Penn. And they are liable to raise a howl about the prominence of those letters, and if they should it would sure cook our goose at Penn. Personally I don’t care, for I’m not afraid of anyone, let alone those d— soreheads, but some of our fellows are more particular.” The Delta Phi fraternity, founded in 1827, and one of the Union Triad, was prominent on the University of Pennsylvania campus.

Cole replied on September 19, 1912. “Regarding that question of substituting “Pi” for “Phi” I will say that it has been upon my mind ever since last spring when you first mentioned it to me, and in the new plate of coat of arms which Gamma Zeta is having made for their use I have directed them to use “Pi”. I think the better [way] to get around the matter is to let it work out gradually and in my designs for pins I can have “Pi” used and in this way it will save friction which would otherwise develop if the matter should be changed at once. You can tell the men of Epsilon Zeta that should they desire pins with “Pi” they should send me their order and I will forward them prices etc. I am getting quite a number of good prices on pins and I myself think that the men who are having pins made through me by our regular fraternity jeweler are getting better pins for their money than through other jewelers who are making up the pins in small quantities. Of course it is optional and the man can get his pin made by a local jeweler if he so prefers.”

As it happened, news of the change from Φ to Π did not reach the Massachusetts chapter in time to be incorporated into the Gamma Plate. On October 15, 1912, the chapter received the proof of the engraving from the Chas. H. Elliott Co. of Philadelphia. The graphic of the badge was a stylized depiction of the original Johnston pin, but with tall, narrow letters within the crescent, and lacking an oval around the letters ΔΦ, suggesting the engraver worked from a description or rough sketch, and not from the Johnston badge itself. In a letter from Epsilon Zeta dated October 30, 1912, Cross remarked to Cole, “Was thinking maybe it is too bad you bothered about changing Φ to Π as we could explain that we used the Greek form of the Latin letter, and not one in 1000 would ever tumble to the error,” to which Cole replied bluntly, “I changed Φ to Π and will remain so.” Delta Pi has appeared on our badges ever since and only the 13 made by Johnston and the eight made by Thegen’s are known to have had Delta Phi on them.

Probably the first pin to exhibit the new ΔΠ monogram was made by a third company to make our badge, namely Edwards, Haldeman Company of Detroit, Michigan. Cole began soliciting prices from them in August, and on September 3, 1912, described the pin to Cross: “I have received the estimates from Edwards, Haldeman & Co. of Detroit and they are quite reasonable in the prices of pins. Their full jeweled pin 14K opals crown set around crescent, pearls set upon “Lambda”, amethysts and emeralds set upon the crescent, seal with ΔΠ in brilliant gold. They will make the pin up for $15 which is the cheapest bid I have had from any jeweler yet.” Cross sent his $15 payment to Cole in October and acknowledged receipt of the pin on November 4, 1912. Although Cole initially described the estimate as including a “seal with ΔΦ”, Cross makes no mention of it bearing the old motto, and likens it to the badge pictured on a revised version of the Gamma Plate which clearly shows the badge as having ΔΠ. Cross wrote to Cole on November 4, 1912, “Pin arrived O.K. And I thought it pretty, though a trifle flashy. The fellows who are considering other jeweled forms don’t seem to think much of it. A big firm member said it looked like a ladies brooch.” He wrote again on November 6, “The pin is very pretty I think, and as I notice, the exact duplicate of the pin on the coat of arms, so naturally I’ll keep this pin always. One objection, the opals are set too far apart and away from the pin, but if they were just as on pin in coat of arms it would be ideal.” The only other pin known to have been made in this design was owned by Cole, who described it to Cross as “exactly like yours except it being a little heavier gold.” Both men later sold their badges to other alumni. The possibility remains, however, that still more pins edged with pearls rather than opals could have been made by the Edwards, Haldeman Company. The Expositor of Lambda Chi Alpha (1929) describes such a pin. “The colored stone designs reached the climax in the “white elephant” badge in which the crescent, set with emeralds and amethysts, was completely edged with pearls. This design was never popular.” A badge described as the “White Elephant” was once on display at our headquarters.

With fall rush upon them and new chapters soon to be installed, both Cole and the men at Epsilon were searching for new suppliers. Cole’s original jeweler, J.G. Johnston, seems to have made only plain badges and may have been unable to make jeweled pins. Epsilon was unhappy with Thegen’s work, particularly regarding the flat letters that could be read as Chi Lambda Alpha, and evidence suggests they sold their Thegen badges to Penn State upon, or shortly after, the installation of Zeta on November 2, 1912. On November 1, 1912, Ray Ferris and Jack Mason approached Charles I. Clegg, manager of the fraternity department at Hoover & Smith of 616 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, with a sketch Mason had drawn from Ferris’s idea of a badge with a more prominent Lambda made as a separate piece with eleven pearls, and eight graduated pearls on the crescent. Clegg suggested reshaping the black enamel oval containing ΔΠ to fit more closely around the two largest pearls. These Hoover & Smith badges, looking much as do today’s badges, were in the hands of the Epsilon men by December 15, 1912 (see Figs. 4 and 5). Members of Penn State, Michigan, and Rutgers also wore the Hoover & Smith badge.

Cole, meanwhile, had been working independently since September 1912 to find manufacturers that ultimately supplied Massachusetts, Brown, MIT, Maine, Bucknell, and Worcester. His firms included the Standard Emblem Company and Irons and Russell, both of Providence, Rhode Island, and the D.F. Briggs Company of Attleboro, Massachusetts. Cole also purchased stones from a traveling evangelist named Whitman.

Hoover & Smith badges were made with pearls, rubies, and alternating pearls and sapphires on the crescent, but always had eight stones on the crescent. The Lambda was made as a separate piece with eleven pearls or was plain gold. They were generally stamped with the distinctive “dollar sign” maker’s mark on the back of the badge and had the Greek letters ΔΠ, but never in an oval (see Figs. 6-8). Badges from Cole’s suppliers were one piece, generally with eleven pearls in the Lambda, colored stones or pearls numbering either six or eight on the crescent, and always with ΔΠ in an oval (see Figs. 9-11). These pins, although appearing to be of an earlier vintage, were made at the same time as the Hoover & Smith badges. Distribution of these badges and those made by Hoover & Smith most likely continued through much of 1913. It is the Hoover & Smith badge, however, that is depicted on Mason’s first coat of arms engraved by Chas. H. Elliott in late 1912 and on his final version adding Per Crucem Crescens engraved by E.A. Wright in early 1913.

Standardization of the Badge

On March 3, 1913, Cole wrote to Leland Frank Reynolds at Michigan offering a plain badge for $3.00, one with eleven tiny pearls on the Lambda and three amethysts and three emeralds for $5.25, and one that he said was the most popular having eleven tiny pearls on the Lambda and eight pearls on the crescent for $6.75. He wrote on July 5, 1913, to E.W. Connors at Maine mentioning a plain badge at $3.00, an all white badge at $6.75 with Lambda slightly raised, and one with the Lambda raised at $8.50, adding “Above all things I do not advise a colored stone pin. Either get pearls or else get the plain pin.”

“Because of certain changes which have been made in our Ritual this summer by the Ritual Committee the styles of badges have been more or less limited,” Cole wrote to Clyde Wilkins at Maine on August 27, 1913. “The stones used in a badge should be white stones [as] the $8.25 badge with eight pearls set upon crescent and with eleven tiny pearls set upon the Lambda.” And the next day, August 28, he wrote the following to Robert Currie at Cornell, six weeks before Omicron was installed, “Another thing I might call your attention to is that Hoover & Smith Co. put out a circular stating prices on different combinations of colored stone badges. (Rubies, Emeralds, Amythsts [sic], Sapphires, etc.)I will admit they are very pretty. But after taking our Lambda Chi Alpha Ritual you will find the reason for having white stones upon your badge (pearls).” Hoover & Smith was our official jeweler in 1914 and Ray Ferris later recalled brothers ordering badges from them as late as 1916.

On December 31, 1914, the fourth assembly convened at the home of Omicron Zeta (Cornell) in Ithaca, NY, for a three day session. According to Bruce McIntosh, “Probably the most far reaching effects of the fourth assembly resulted from the appointment of a member of the Fraternity as its first traveling secretary and sole official jeweler to serve for three years. According to the plan adopted by the convention, the traveling secretary was to handle all fraternity jewelry and to receive, in lieu of salary for his services as traveling secretary, all profits on jewelry sales. In the years which followed, this plan was thoroughly tested and found to be unsatisfactory.”

The traveling secretary was Warren Cole, and from 1915 through 1919 all badge sales were to have been through him. At the Ann Arbor Assembly, December 30 and 31, 1919, and January 1 and 2, 1920, the official jeweler plan was discontinued, and the executive committee was authorized to place the manufacture and sale of all Lambda Chi Alpha jewelry in the hands of a reputable manufacturer who should become sole official jeweler on a royalty basis. Thus, L.G. Balfour became our official jeweler and remained so from 1920 to the 1970s.

The L.G. Balfour Company, of Attleboro, Massachusetts, first made badges (see Fig. 12) at the request of the Cornell chapter in the fall of 1913 when that chapter was installed. When these first Balfour pins were made, the company had Lambda Chi Alpha listed as a local society, although at the time it had twelve chapters, and so, when Warren Cole called on Mr. Balfour to discuss jewelry manufacture, a misunderstanding arose, for Mr. Balfour did not know that his firm had been making badges for a national society known as Lambda Chi Alpha. Mr. Balfour wrote in part: “I believe it was in the fall of 1914 [1913?] that Cole walked into our office and demanded an interview with me. He wanted to know why we were making Lambda Chi Alpha national fraternity badges without permission. On investigation I found that our salesman at Ithaca had sent in a Lambda Chi Alpha badge, and that we had criticized the construction, material, and general design. Later, at the instigation of the Cornell chapter, we cut a set of dies and made a quantity of pins for them. I believe we charged them about $9 each. Later in the day he came back to the office [Attleboro was not far from Cole’s home in Swansea] and asked us to use his dies.” These dies belonging to Cole may have still had the ΔΠ contained in an oval, unlike those made by Hoover & Smith. Mr. Balfour continues, “We used Cole’s dies until Jack Mason demanded that we change them. I wanted to make the dies the way Mason had planned them, but Cole insisted on a different style. We were prepared to go to the Worcester convention [April 9-11, 1914] and submit the new badge and a net price, but Cole convinced us that this would not be the square thing to do, so we stayed away.”


These references to Balfour’s dies, Mason’s dies, and Cole’s dies are intriguing. Early Balfour badges had a curved (convex) Lambda and beveled letters, so if Balfour used earlier dies then what did the badges look like (see Fig. 12 and 13)? The lack of a maker’s mark on Balfour badges and others of unknown manufacture makes identifying early examples even more difficult. The most familiar production runs consisted of thick, crown set pins containing all pearls with beveled letters and curved Lambda. No loop for attaching a chapter guard was provided, so some members drilled holes directly through the crescent in order to accommodate a chain (see Fig. 14). Around 1925 the beveled letters and curved Lambda were replaced with flat letters and a flat Lambda (see Fig. 15), and a loop was soldered to the back (see Fig. 16).

Fig 14aFig 14b

Following Hoover & Smith and Cole, Balfour was Lambda Chi Alpha’s sole official jeweler from 1920 to 1971. Beginning in the 1950s, it became fashionable to adorn the Lambda with gems instead of pearls. Emeralds, opals, rubies, diamonds, sapphires, and amethysts can be seen in samples from that period Fig19aonward (see Fig. 19). Balfour used no maker’s mark in the beginning. In the late 1930s, badges were usually stamped LGB (for Lloyd G. Balfour)(see Fig. 18), and the trend was toward 10K and away from 14K. By the 1950s the company was using a shield logo topped with three columns capped with a roof and accompanied by the circle R registered stamp (see Fig. 20). Although they no longer had exclusive contract, Balfour continued making badges through the 1970s. J.O. Pollack of Chicago was also authorized to make our badges. These were characterized by fine details, particularly in the letters Chi and Alpha.

The last badges made under the Balfour name, circa 1979, were tapered in profile, that is to say the diameter of the back was slightly larger than the front, and the open areas smaller in the back than in the front (see Fig. 21). After going through several incarnations as Masters of Design and Legacy, these tapered dies survive today in the hands of Herff Jones of Providence, Rhode Island.

image26630In addition to solid gold, economy versions of our badges – both plain and with pearls – have been made by Balfour (BalClad, marked BC), J.O. Pollack, Burr, Patterson & Auld, and Masters of Design/Legacy/Herff Jones (Goldgloss)(See Fig. 23). Badge sizes also have varied, including standard, medium, and miniature.

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