In the antebellum South it was often customary for slave owners to hire out their slaves, primarily as a means of generating extra revenue. In Charleston, South Carolina, the hired-out slave was required to have a badge. This served two purposes. First, it regulated the practice and, in turn, allowed the city to collect a tax. Second, it identified the slave as being separated from the owner's lands. After use, the badges were usually folded, bent or otherwise defaced prior to being discarded.
Unlike many other years during the 1830s and 1840s, Charleston awarded the contract to produce badges in 1844 to John Mood instead of William Rouse. Mood's work conforms to that of Rouse, however, the badges uniface with most of the information stamped, including the city (Charleston), the occupation and the date (1844). The individual badge number, on the other hand, is individually punched. Mood's badges, like Rouse's, are diamond shaped with clipped corners to prevent injury and a hole at the top for wearing.
According to Harlan Greene, Harry S. Hutchins, Jr. and Brian E. Hutchins in the book Slave Badges and the Slave-Hire System in Charleston, South Carolina, 1783-1865 (2004), Charleston may have issued as many as 4,275 slave badges in 1844. Few examples are known, however, and like most years the more frequently encountered occupations are servant and porter. This piece was issued to a mechanic, however, a fact that only enhances its rarity and desirability. As typically seen, this piece exhibits several old fold lines that obviously date to when it was discarded. There is also a barely noticeable 6 millimeter tear or crack in one of the fold lines that does not detract significantly from the appearance of this piece. Dark-brown surfaces with light roughness and pitting to the surfaces.
This lot includes a pretty presentation case for the badge, the inside top lid of which includes a small mirror for ease of viewing.