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029 What Is a Police Whistle?

Spotlight > Whistle Categories > Police > 029

Police whistles are gaining in popularity and much attention is given to Metropolitan Police whistles in particular. Deservedly so, as they have been categorized well, being numbered MP1-MP25 ( Gilchrist ) and with variations can be quite engaging to the collector. However, information is wanting in the police whistles surrounding the Metropolitans and here is an effort to bring into focus that arena. What is a police whistle ?? Does any whistle qualify ?? For research purposes we will be restricting the view of police whistles to those that have the following on the stamp —- from the manufacturer ( and not stamped or engraved later ).

1) Metropolitan Police ( at first London, then coupled with specific forces )
2) Constabulary ( constable )
3) City  ( city name combined with force )
4) County ( county name combined with force )
5) Burgh ( same )
6) Borough ( same ) Typically these whistles were not available to the public.

In addition there are associated titles aimed at the general police market, but not customized, such as:
1) police special
2) police – fire
3) Municipal police
4) City police
5) police whistle
6) signal police
These were available to the public, yet could also be sold to be police whistles ( technically ) For the collector however, they would still fall under general service whistles. ( Research is limited to english stamps here and similar stamps and the 'rules of engaement'  can be used in other languages and countries. What we want to accomplish is to weed out any whistles not directly indicative of an actual police issue. In other words, removing all whistles that — could have been used by a policeman, but not actually dedicated for special use by a force in particular.

So, ask the question: Was the whistle restricted and issued for a particular police force OR sold as a promotional whistle outside that special use?? Earliest records indicate different types of whistles for police issue and  included:
1) short beaufort shaped
2) buttons
3) beauforts
4) rounds
5) tube shaped
6) escargots
7) bullets ( Argentina )
8) Combination of escargot/beaufort ( Hiatt patent )

Interestingly, we have not seen pewter, bosun, multi chamber, sirens. Why consider this as a separate topic ?? Because for the collector who actually drives the hobby, for the researcher who endeavors to categorize and not least of all for the seller who wants to aim his/her whistle towards the right market these guidelines are essential. Some observations to consider are as follows: How rare is the stamp ?? Did the manufacturer stay in business long and produce many ?? What condition is the whistle in ?? How large was the police force and how long did it last ?? Can the whistle be dated by that ?? How unique is the design of the whistle ?? Metropolitan tube shaped whistles are far more common than Hiatt round/beaufort combination whistles which are quite rare. Prices seem to be rising in the police whistle market, fueled mainly by the UK  and the many changes of constabularies dating back to 1800. However vintage German issues are very collectable and rare, as are certain other rarities from other countries. At present the range is from a few dollars USD to over to 1000 dollars USD for a Hiatt combo ( spring 2017) ———————————————————–


Not a little confusing for everyone is the subject of distributors ( as opposed to manufacturers ) These were companies with product lines that had their name stamped on whistles along with police forces — and without a force.  For the novice it would appear that the whistle was made by that name — as a maker. They were not. We will show some examples to help separate this. Some distributors are as follows:

Harford,J.Reid,Parker,Field,Kohler,Keane,MerryPhipson,Mitchell,Priest,Aird,Potts,Shaw,Reid, McFarlane,Dyke,Hobson,Simmons,Strand,. The list goes on and usually was seen on beauforts, rounds and tube shaped,  but could also be found on other whistles. ***Beyond this,  some had their name stamped on the whistle as ‘maker’ — when they weren’t, which can be very confusing.

So let’s examine some types and make some comparisons. First, a smaller beaufort type whistle. Pictured here for comparison only. This type has been seen with stamps for police and distributors. ( i.e. Durham Police or Hiatt distributor ) These types date back to very early 1800s as do the button whistles of varying custom and handmade designs.

police whistle 01

Here is a button whistle made for the Denbigshire force:

police whistle 02 police whistle 03

Typically the buttons were taken from the clothes of that particular uniform and formed into a whistle. It was a very rustic ( literally ) way to make them. Police stamped buttons are rare as most were military or other special uses. Many forces used for years — with mouthpieces and without —- the beaufort whistle… The Liverpool beaufort was the longest lasting of all beaufort police issue and this one is by DeCourcy next to a Dowler Lancashire County.

police whistle 04 police whistle 05

Here is a Lincolnshire Constabulary with mouthpiece by Hudson:

police whistle 06

For a discussion of police forces and distributor stamps and the overlap of such please see the breakdown of this under Metropolitan versus GSWs below… Now let’s switch to round whistles in progression. In researching this we have not found rounds with police force stamps. Surprisingly so, as Glasgow rounds reputedly were in very early use in the begginning of the 1880s. yet are not found stamped with particular forces. Recently a DeCourcy round ) circa 1890s ) surfaced, but is the exception and much later.

Now for the largest category, tube shaped police issues… ( A comprehensive discussion of Metropolitan Police whistles by Hudson is seen in SPOTLIGHT 13 ) Does the whistle have METROPOLITAN on it ?? – then it is a general service whistle at this point. Does it have a police force on it too ?? ————- then it is a police issue Does it lack a police force, yet have a distributor on it ?? – then it is a general service whistle Does it have METROPOLITAN, a distributor AND a police force on it ?? – then it is a police issue Confusing ??

police whistle 07 police whistle 08 police whistle 09 police whistle 10

1) general service whistle ( for sale to the public )
2) police issue ( not for sale to the public )
3) general service with public distributors name ( for sale to the public )
4) police issue with police distributors name also ( not for sale to the public )

What do we learn ?? For one thing, if a whistle says Metropolitan on it you do not automatically assume it is a police whistle. Granted the name has become synonymous, but that is a general misconception. Now you will see occasionally ‘police type’ ( referring to the tube shaped design ) and of course that would be accurate, but still a little confusing,  as it is a ‘type’ and not an actual police issue. Now, how does this apply to other manufacturers ?? There were other whistle makers that also supplied police whistles and were contracted for the different forces including: Barrall, Dowler, DeCourcy, Bent & Parker, Yates  ( all UK ) others ? ( Walton came close, but never specified, nor restricted his to a particular force that we have seen. )

police whistle 11 police whistle 12 police whistle 13 police whistle 14

1- Barrall 2- Dowler 3- DeCourcy 4- Bent and Parker

Each country can use these same principles. – What was the whistle made for >> the police only or the public too ?? Specialized or ‘promotional’ ?? Argentina used police and federal enforcement issues, but how restricted were they ?? No records have been accessed to know at present. However there were marked and unmarked issues. Here is a whistle typically seen in Argentina manufactured in the UK, Germany, Argentina and perhaps France ?

police whistle 15 police whistle 16

UK Staffordshire 

police whistle 17

Polish Citizens Militia circa 1950s

police whistle 18

City Police by Barrall ( still a GSW as it is too generic )

The Chief is named after a newspaper dedicated to Firemen and would be a GSW.

police whistle 19 police whistle 20

Lasly let’s discuss the second most confusing topic — whistles with the WORD police on the stamp. As mentioned above, many stamps have been arranged so as to try to capture both the public market and the police market, neither of which was contracted and paid for exclusively by any police force. Listed such as police/fire or police special for example, they could be bought and used by anyone—police or not. So to call such a whistle a police whistle would literally be accurate. However to the collector ( and the seller ) it becomes important to recognize the difference. Examples:

police whistle 21 police whistle 22

police whistle 23

police whistle 24

What about exceptions to the rule ?? What about presentation whistles ?? Or special issues ?? Or engraving afterwards, Or ?? You will have to decide. These are just some guidelines to unravel some of the confusion and perhaps further the benchmark that Martyn Gilchrist tried so well to establish in his milestone book Collecting Police Whistles.   TWG


Posted July 29, 2014

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