February 8, 2008

Not everything with a trefoil on it is Girl Guide related

As an avid collector of Girl Guide related objects, I’ve come across several eBay auctions over the past few months wherein an item with a trefoil or clover shape on it was being promoted as a Girl Guide/Scout item, even if though in reality it almost certainly was never issued or created by any branch of Guides of Scouts worldwide.

The reason that I bring this subject up is that I would never want any of my fellow collectors to buy an item that they believed to be GG or GS related, only to find out later that they were either intentionally duped or accidentally misinformed, and that their item was in fact, not one of GG/GS origin.

I’ll give you a prime example of what I’m talking about. A while back an eBay seller had a bookmark listed (in hindsight I should have saved the listing photo for example purposes) which they titled as being a Girl Guide bookmark from the nineteenth century. There’s just one glaring problem with that description, Girl Guiding did not begin until 1909 (with Boy Scouting being started by Lord Baden Powell in 1907), so unless LBP was secretly creating merchandise before he’d even formally begun the Scouting movement, this bookmark was not authentic.

But wait, I can hear you say, what if they just got their dates wrong? Great point, and certainly one that could happen, but (and I realize that you have to take my word for it here) nothing on the bookmark itself said that that it was related to GG or GS. I believe it was creamy white coloured ribbon which showed a trefoil-like shape, possibly with some written text, but again nothing that would indicate it was GG related (or even a hundred plus years old, regardless of its questionable relationship to Guiding).

I think the asking price was only a few (or perhaps even a couple) of dollars, so had a well meaning collector purchased the item, they wouldn’t likely feel too ripped off. But still, that’s not entirely the point. It’s import when you’re looking to buy Girl Guide and Scout items (memorabilia), on eBay or elsewhere, to try and verify (if you’re at all uncertain) whether or not the item was in fact created for or by an official GG organization or merchandise provider. The point is to ensure that what you’re buying in genuine whether it costs fifty cents or five hundred dollars.

In some instances, I believe that sellers are well intentioned; they may have little to no firsthand experience with the Guiding or Scouting movement and may genuinely believe in good faith that the item they’re listing really is a GG or GS one. From what I’ve seen, this is most often the case when an item (badge, patch, piece of clothing, postcard, etc) has a trefoil shaped symbol on it. Right now for example, a seller has a ring listed on eBay with a somewhat trefoil-ish shape on its face. The seller says outright that they’re not sure if it’s GG related, and in my opinion, I don’t think it is (but, I am far from an expert on GG jewellery, so if you come across this same listing, please draw your own conclusions). As a collector, I appreciate such honesty on the seller’s part, and would always prefer someone to say “I’m not sure”, than to swear from here to the moon and back that it’s as authentic as had Lady BP handcrafted it herself.

Yet in other cases, dishonest sellers may be out to try and scam potential buyers and collectors by attempting to pass off items with trefoils (or even just clover/shamrock shaped symbols) as being GG merchandise, when in fact they are not genuine Guiding items.

The trefoil, a tri-pointed leaf shape, is actually an ancient graphic configuration, whose name in Latin means “three-leaved plant”. It has figured often through history in the art and heraldry (coats of arms) of numerous cultures, especially that of the Celts and Scots (it is also somewhat similar in appearance to the fleur-de-lis, a symbol which is often associated both with the French and with various military related items, as well as being widely used by Boy Scouting movements around the world). Today the trefoil is still commonly used in everything from art to graphic design, and often appears on items in Ireland (I’m speaking firsthand here, having lived in Ireland for two years).

Girl Guide and Girl Scout movements from around the globe have long universally adopted the trefoil as their symbol. From country to country, the artistic interpretation of this shape does vary (call me biased if you like, but the current Canadian Guiding trefoil is my very favourite version), but it’s usually always clearly a trefoil. In some countries where Scouting and Guiding are more fused together than they are in North America, the trefoil may appear atop or beneath a Boy Scout fleur-de-lis, from example, as in the symbol of Scouting and Guiding in Slovakia.

It warrants mentioning that simply because an item (coin, badge, hat, belt buckle, ring, sticker, button, etc) has a trefoil on it, this does not guarantee its authenticity as a Girl Guide or Scout piece of memorabilia. (By the same token though, certainly not all GG/GS items include a trefoil, so the absence of one definitely does not rule out the possibility of something being authentic. A great example of this is merit badges, very few ever include a trefoil, so you’ll need to look for other factors such as size, colour, and stitching quality.)

If in doubt about an item’s authenticity, ask the seller for more information (i.e., “Aside from what’s written in the eBay listing, what can you tell me about this item’s history?” or “Where did you first find/buy this item from”), and try to see what sort of further information you’re able to encounter by doing an internet search for the item in question. Yahoo Girl Guide/Scout collecting related groups are also someplace where you could inquire as to a piece’s credibility, as many collectors in such groups have a wealth of knowledge when it comes to past and present GG/GS collectables.

Collecting Girl Guide items is about buying, trading, and finding pieces that bring you happiness and likely add to your existing collection. Have fun, do your research where needed, and remember that trefoil or not, make sure what you’re buying or trading is the real Girl Guiding deal.

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