The Bolshevik

The Bolshevik
A painting from 1920 by Russian artist Boris Mikhailovich Kustodiev (1878–1927) currently in the possession of The Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.

20 March 2011

Chekist Badges and the Enduring "Egg" Design

From the outset of awards for members of the state security agencies the basic shape with the oval "shield" and the sword pointing downward across it has survived - at least with the MVD - to this day. The badges shown in the chapter on NKVD badges illustrates the design that became the standard for at least four agencies with much more enamel than the earliest types.

The first anniversary badge, like the rest, was given to high-ranking officers in the Chekist and internal security agencies for "honorable" or "meritorious" service. Below is an example of the first such badge with an enamel-filled Roman numeral "V" across the obverse. Like most of the earliest Soviet awards, they were not only made from silver, but by individual or groups of silversmiths rather than mass produced in a factories or mints.*

This first design had the initials for the V. Cheka and the GPU raised from the ribbon/banner. Later versions had the letters depressed in the same locations filled with a black or blue paint, as in the following.

Examples of the obverse of both the 5th and the 15th Anniversary of the Cheka-GPU badges which were awarded in 1922 and 1932 respectively. These are some of the most difficult to find originals, but at the same time they are heavy counterfeited and sold as originals. Even the silversmith's maker's marks common on the reverse are replicated.


Typically, all awarded security service badges, including today, have serial numbers to identify who was given the award. The simple and at the same time ingenious design of these early badges was greatly in part due to the fact that silversmiths from Imperial Russia were essentially drafted to work for the Bolsheviks as were most skilled craftsmen. The swords, and on the 5th anniversary badge, the "V" were held in place on the shield by either relatively thick wires that were bent on the reverse or the same wire cut and shaped into "rivets" as pictured above. The ribbons/banners and hammer and sickle were soldered on by hand. In addition, the troughs in the shapes of the "V" and the "XV" were smooth or textured to provide a design for the enamel to enhance. The texture was especially true of the 5th Anniversary of the Cheka badges as can be seen above. A "textured design" was used in the ribbon/banner section of the KGB badges, but not the direct descendants of these designs followed by the NKVD, MVD and MGB (the last name change the Chekist side of the security services underwent before the final and renown KGB). Below is an example of of another NKVD Honored Chekist badge and a photo from the only known copy of the MGB version and is from the KGB Museum which is housed in the Lubyanka building and can be visited by prior approval only.

The above contributed photo and text below is from "Slava1stclass"* and shows "Zveryev, Yulian Lvovich. He was Russian and born on June 21st, 1895 in Saint Petersburg. He began his association with the VChK-OGPU-NKVD in 1920...His career culminated as follows: May 21st 1934 - July 10th, 1934 - Chairman, GPU of Turkmen SSR GPU; July 15th, 1934 - July 20th, 1937 - People's Commissar for Internal Affairs Turkmen SSR; October 21st, 1937 - [he was] arrested; September 7th, 1938 - [tried,] convicted/sentenced and executed by firing squad; January 23rd, 1958 - "rehabilitated" by order of the Supreme Court of the SSSR; rank: senior major GB [(state security)] effective 29 November 1935; awards: Honorary Chekist (V) Badge - serial number 472 awarded in 1929; Order of the Red Banner [pictured above] - serial number 21280/20280 awarded 3 April 1930."

Like many who were victims of Stalin's purges, he was
"rehabilitated" and awards restored sometimes decades after their murders - which was the post-Stalinist government's way there had been a mistake and the victim was in fact, innocent of whatever charges were used as a case for execution. More about "destalinization" is discussed in other chapters here.
However, before going that far forward, the main 10th anniversary OGPU badge design is essential to illustrate. As can be seen below, the design was far different than the 5th and 15th with a profile of Dzerzhinsky in the center as well as a laurel wreath and large banner behind the head. This badge was unique in that it had no sword and shield motif and the only presence of the H&S is inside the flagpole finial.  
They were made from various metals and combinations of metals, enamels and paints. Some were made of solid silver, others solid brass while some of the earliest and most uncommon designs used gold for Dzerzhinsky's profile.

The rarest gold profile and wreath surrounded by red and white enamel on a base of silver. There are crossed swords at the base of the badge as well as red enamel backing the letters OGPU (All-Union State Political Directorate - both the successor and later predecessor of the GPU) and filling the star above Dzerzhinsky's head.*

And here is an example of the solid silver base and Dzerzhinsky profile and wreath together with red enamel.
Finally, the least expensive versions were produced from bronze and/or brass with red paint replacing the enamel. There were even a final lot made of only brass with no paint or enamel at all - just the design itself.

 The "Honored NKVD Employee" badge resumed the oval shield with sword pointing downward atop it and the world renown hammer and sickle resting on top of the sword, but as the most prominent symbol on the badge. Designers continued to use various metals including silver and gold. Much later in the 1960s when MOOP was the name of the MVD, the base metal was an simple brass. Prior to that, real gold layers had been tried on the sword hilt and especially on the H&S, but this proved too likely to peel, tear or wear, so a gold-based allow was used to coat both the hilt and the H&S in a very thick layer that proved to hold up to use much better than previous attempts. It was this alloy that was used at least until 1991 and likely onward.

This pre-WWII NKVD badge once had a thin layer of gold coating the hammer and sickle in the center which likely wore off from everyday use and the color of the upper parts of the ribbon/banner suggest that the enamel has been repaired - which is extremely common since the enamel in early badges of this type were notoriously fragile. Rumors circulated that ingredients in the traditional red colored enamel used included blood and gold. The former was supposed to create a mystical quality while the latter was supposed to give the red its unique color. Neither have ever been found to be true.

The only widely known "Honored Chekist" MGB badge. This may have been a prototype, but curators at the KGB Museum in the Lubyanka building (and partial FSB counterintelligence headquarters) have not made an official statement about productions of these rarest of all "egg" badges. This is also the only design of this type to use text on the ribbon/banner. Later KGB badges did make use of text on the red enamel (see the top of the site page), but it was considerably thinner ribbon/banner to include text, but not on this large scale.* Also, KGB "shield and sword" badges were a unique design that has lasted well into the current era of Russian Federation FSB, SVR and MVD honor badges. 

In 1962 Khruschev, in all likelihood to limit the enormous powers of the MVD (roughly equivalent to the US Federal Bureau of Investigation) accrued by Beria who had been "tried" and executed after Stalin's death, the powers that were dissolved the "all-union" MVD and created a new, localized "Ministry for the Preservation for Public Order," or MOOP. This lasted until Khruschev was forced to resign and Brezhnev took over. Since the MVD was the "supercharged" internal police with the job of counterintelligence as well as combating crime and the new regional-only MOOP was not handling the job very effectively, Brezhnev started the process of returning the all-union status of the former MVD in 1966 and formally restored the MVD, name and all, in 1968.
In the example pictured above, the base metal used for the H&S, the backing of the ribbon/banner and the lettering appears to be simple brass. Judging from other examples of brass-based badges of this "egg" type, the oval shield is likely silver plated as is the sword blade. The sword hilt still has gold plating on it and the H&S and lettering probably had gold plating that wore off since these are the areas most prone to regular contact from hands, clothing and any number of reasons including excessive polishing and a very thin layer of gold over the base metal.

Though the MGB "egg" badge is by far the most scarce of this type for obvious reasons stated above, the MOOP version is the second most difficult for collectors to find for a couple of reasons. The first is that the organization under he name of MOOP only existed for six years. The second is that, as in the case of the NKVD badge being MVD simply because the badges were so complex to make that leftovers from one name of the agency to the next were given out until supplies were depleated. Thus MOOP agents were likely given MVD badges until those stocks were exhausted, and by the time MOOP badges were fully in production the name was changed back to MVD, thus logic dictates that far fewer MOOP badges were made and awarded to officers than would be expected between 1962 and 1968.  

*Most photographs in this chapter (except where otherwise noted are from Robert S. Pandis' compilation CHEKA: Distinguished Worker Awards Parts I, II and III, Ver. 8/6/01 and are copyrighted material. Formerly, these were on a website that is no longer active: Pandis' work is some of the best in the field of Soviet security services information and photography.

** "Slava1stclass" - which is the English for Слава класс 1 and one of the highest awards junior and non-commissioned officers could receive mainly for military duty, will appear in photo contributions extensively in other areas throughout this work. He uses that name as his "handle" on the Soviet Military Awards Page Forum where he is an active and knowledgeable member. It is also what he wanted me to call him in all credits.

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