Raymond H. Sherrard got a real shock while thumbing through Playboy.
There for all the world to see was an incorrectly identified Internal Revenue Service investigator's badge in a story about organized crime.
That was in 1980. It bothered Sherrard so much that he wrote a history of IRS badges that the service still uses as an information book.
"The way federal agents have been wrongly portrayed in movies has always upset me, and I guess this was just another upsetting incident to me," said Sherrard, 47, of Cypress, who has been an IRS investigator for 24 years and has served as a regional vice president for the Federal Criminal Investigators Assn. He is assigned to the money-laundering division in the Santa Ana office.
While he primarily wrote the badge history to "set the record straight," it led him to a side career. He has become an author and a major collector of federal badges and patches.
In fact, he says, he has the country's biggest collection of federal law enforcement badges (800) and the world's largest collection of federal patches (2,000) and is now a recognized authority on the history of both. In fact, filmmakers often use him as a consultant, and he once worked with screenwriters on the "Police Woman" TV series.
He has published "Badges of the United States Marshals" and "Federal Law Enforcement Patches."
"Collecting badges and patches has become a major hobby to me and lot of other people," he said, noting that 90% of the collectors are law-enforcement people.
Some of the badges can command a lot of money, he said. The badge of Sheriff Pat Garrett, who shot and killed Billy the Kid in New Mexico in 1881, sold for $70,000" earlier this year, he said.
He notes that Elvis Presley had a fascination with law-enforcement and was a badge and patch collector too.
"He had a huge collection, and after his death, the collection was broken up, but I didn't get any of them," Sherrard said with a moan.
When be began collecting, Sherrard said, "the idea was to find a badge or patch, but now it's more of a social thing, a fellowship. I meet a great number of people, and many have turned into friends."
Sherrard decided on the IRS after attending a career days event at Cal State Long Beach, his alma mater. And as a career IRS agent, Sherrard believes it is important to change people's ideas about federal agents.
"The old movies showed the agents mowing people down with machine guns the way criminals like Al Capone did," he said. "Even people in other countries view us that way."
But it's "a whole different world out there," he says. "The thing is to set the record straight, and no one has done that. That's why I'm writing these books."
The markets for the books, each of which cost Sherrard about $30,000 to get into print, have mainly been libraries, Western bookstores and movie property houses wanting information on early federal agents.
And Old West buffs.
"Even stranger is that book sales in Germany are good," he said. "For some reason Germans like anything to do with the Old West."