Trading has been part of the modern Olympic Games since the original 1896 games in Athens.
At those Olympics athletes, judges, coaches and members of the media traded
identification badges with one another. Once the first Olympic pin was designed to commemorate the 1912
Stockholm games, the hobby began to grow. The number of pins produced for each Olympics inceased, reaching one million to celebrate the 1936 games. When the Olympic Winter Games came to Lake Placid in 1980, the general public began to take notice of the hobby, and more spectators were collecting and trading pins as well. By the 1988 Calgary games it had exploded - with over 17,000 people visiting the pin trading center each day. The hobby has continued to expand at each games with more fans and athletes from all over the world taking part in what Coca-Cola calls the "most popular spectator sport at the Olympics."
Pin Trading in the Wild:
My first (and only) experience with Olympic pin trading was at the Salt Lake City
Olympics. I had heard about it on television and even from people who had gone to games in other years, but nothing prepared me for
its scale. It is essentially an entire economy. People will trade anything, - tickets, other
souvenirs, etc - for certain pins. Several of the traders that I met came to Salt Lake with just their pin
collections, knowing that they could trade to get tickets for the events that they wanted to see.
In the Olympic Square in Salt Lake, most of the trading happened in the area
surrounding the "Pin Trading Center". Coca-Cola provided a store to to let people
acquire trading stock, a trading area, and a course on the etiquette of trading. Much of this information comes from there.
Since Salt Lake City was my first experience with pin trading , there was a lot to learn.
One of the most important things to realize is that not everyone is looking for the same pins. There's such a huge variety of types out
there and most traders focus on a small subset. They then collect "valuable" pins for the sole purpose of trading them to get their desired type. Finding a person with a pin that you want, who wants a pin (or pins) that you have can be an long (but
enjoyable) process, sometimes involving several intermediate steps.
Generally, to be considered an Olympic pin, it must depict Olympic rings. There seemed to be some exceptions to this rule, but usually
without the rings the pin was worthless. Pins that
specified which Olympics they're from were more valuable than ones that did not. They should have a date, the city's name, a picture of the mascot - something that can specify which games it was from. Moving parts (a sliding luge, for example) made it more attractive as well. Pins could be placed in one of a number
- Sponsor pins: These seemed to be the most common. Many of the Olympic sponsors (e.g. Home Depot, Betty Crocker, John Hancock) issue series of collectable pins for each
Olympics. Collectors of this sort of pin usually focused on certain companies, and even sometimes on certain sets from a sponsor. Since they were the most common, they were also the easiest to start with. Coca-Cola sold some of their pins making it easy for new traders to get started.
- Media pins: Among the most valuable in Salt Lake City, these come from the
radio, television, and print organizations that were covering the Olympics.
- National Olympic Committee pins: These are the pins that the athletes and coaches have to trade. They're
among the most rare and treasured pins at the games. Having one or two seems to elevate even a first time trader beyond newbie status.
- Law Enforcement pins: From the people providing security for the games (local police departments, fighter wings, etc.). These also seemed to be in high demand by many traders.
- General Salt Lake City pins: These were ones that were issued by the Salt Lake Olympic Committee. Easy to get before the games started,
they varied in worth greatly. The must-have pin of the games, "Green
Jell-o" (which I saw sold for $100), was of this type.
- Bid pins: When a city prepares to make a bid for the Olympics, the local committee often issues a pin
commemorating it. These pins are hard to come by, and are usually reserved for trading to acquire other rare pins.
The rule of thumb is, if you're wearing more than one pin, you're inviting people to offer trades. You'll see people all over venues and public areas wearing pins on their vests, carrying pin bags, or even towels covered with them. Just displaying any quantity of pins can cause
other traders to swarm and make offers, and ask questions about what's available. The hobby is a great way to socialize at the games and to meet people from all over the world.
If you're going to the Olympics, and think you'd like to try pin trading, it's a good idea to acquire a few pins ahead of time. Look for pins that interest you, if you think they're attractive, then there's a good chance that someone else will as well. These starter pins may not be valuable by themselves, but often people will be willing to give up a nice pin for 2 or 3 that are less
Remember to bring a towel with you. It sounds like advice from The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, but it's amazing how handy it can be. There really isn't any need for something more complicated when you're starting out. The towel lets you organize your pins, and easily display them for trades. Attach all your pins to it, and anytime you bring it out you'll attract attention.
Don't be shy about letting people know that you're new at this. Almost all the traders I met were very sociable, and loved to talk about the ins and out of the hobby. They'll let you know which pins are "hot", and who might have pins that you'd be interested in. A lot seem to have as much fun introducing people to the hobby, as they do actually trading the pins.
As Olympic souvenirs go, pins are pretty inexpensive. By trading them with other people, you'll be able to take home things that you couldn't buy at any store, and have some great memories to go along with them. It can be one of the best parts of the entire "Olympic Experience".