Souvenir patches/badges are usually shield-shaped, and generally contain a coat of arms, a map or a miniature view. The patches/badges can be made of any material, but are usually woven or embroidered fabric, though they can also be made from paper or, increasingly, plastic. The hobby is also known as 'stickophily', mainly in France.
Other types of collectible patches/badges include police or service patches, space mission patches, scout patches, fashion patches, political and sports stickers, walking stick labels, car window pennants, pin badges, etc, etc etc. Collecting metal badges or pins, either military or civil, is known as faleristics.
THE HISTORY OF SOUVENIR BADGE COLLECTING
Badges of one sort or another have been collected since ancient times. Greek and Roman pilgrims to pagan shrines often made collections of miniature images of gods and goddesses or their emblems, and Christian pilgrims later did the same. Usually medieval Christian pilgrim badges were metal pin badges - most famously the shell symbol showing the wearer had been to the shrine of St. James at Compostela in Spain. These were stuck in hats or into clothing and hard working pilgrims could assemble quite a collection, as mentioned by Chaucer in his 'Canterbury Tales'.
The growth in the 19th century of travel for ordinary people saw a huge increase in the souvenir industry, as these new secular pilgrims - like their medieval counterparts - wanted to bring back reminders of their holidays/vacations and sightseeing, ranging from china plates to postcards.
The production of stick-on souvenir badges seems to have started in mainland Europe during the early 20th-century, probably in Germany shortly after the First World War when hiking became popular, and people began sewing badges of resort towns onto their backpacks and jackets. In the U.S., the development of the National parks system and the growing popularity of vacationing saw a similar development of patch collecting.
After the Second World War, American GIs occupying Germany sent badges back to their loved ones, showing where they were stationed. These badges became known as 'sweetheart patches'. They were also imported to Great Britain by Sampson Souvenirs Ltd, which also began producing badges of British tourist spots, and went on to become (and still is) the largest British manufacturer of souvenir badges. The biggest American manufacturer is Voyager Emblems of Sanborn, NY.
Souvenir badges/patches are often beautifully designed and deserve to be seen as miniature works of art, even though they are ephemeral and designed for a mass market. They are a good way of showing off places visited if worn on clothing, or stored in albums they can bring back happy memories of holidays/vacations or just day trips to interesting places.