Monday, August 1, 2016

Little Keepsakes That Tell a Story

QUESTION: I live in Atlanta, Georgia, and attended some of the events at the Olympic Games held here in 1996. During the games, I acquired about 100 Olympic pins through purchase and trading. I’m particularly proud of the groups of pins I was able to collect, such as one in which all the pins are in the shapes of guitars. My favorite are the blimp pins commemorating the Good Year blimp that helped in media coverage of the games. Can you tell me how the tradition of collecting pins began and what the market is like for Olympic pins today?

ANSWER: You certainly seemed to have amassed quite a number of pins during the Atlanta Games. Today, pins come in all shapes, colors, and sizes and represent a myriad of people, activities, and events at the Games. With the start of the Summer Olympics in Rio this week, it seems appropriate to take a look back and see how pin collecting began.

Pin collecting has become a sport unto itself. But it wasn’t always like that. The Olympic pin tradition began with small cardboard badges worn by athletes and officials at the first modern Olympic Games held in Athens, Greece in 1896. Athletes from competing teams traded them as a gesture of goodwill. At the 1908 Games in Paris, designs of pins grew as specific groups like judges, coaches, and reporters got involved.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) issued the first pins to be sold to spectators at the 1912 Games in Stockholm, Sweden. Today, the pins created for the 1940 games,  cancelled because of World War II, are highly sought after by collectors.

In 1968, the Mexico City games featured the first butterfly-clutch pin fastener, which  became the standard for Olympic pins. But it wasn’t until the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles, California, that trading pins became a tradition. Sponsoring companies, such as Coca-Cola, set up official trading stations to market their own pins. Because the pins were small and affordable, fans quickly seized the opportunity to bring home keepsakes for themselves. At the 1984 Los Angeles Games, some 17 million pins circulated among fans, participants, media representatives, and officials.

Pins began as a pre-social media form of communication that gave fans a reason to start a conversation with each other. The individual country Olympic committees, sponsors, bid cities, media outlets, and many others issue these colorful enameled pins today. Hundreds of thousands appear at each of the Games.

Pins are generally manufactured in limited numbered editions, and collectors seek out those produced in the smallest quantities or from the earliest Games. These also include pins issued by the various cities competing for a chance to host the Olympics.

Some of the most popular ones to collect are those from the smaller countries, such as Jamaica, the Seychelles, and Afghanistan. At the games, fans pin those they’ve collected onto a hat or the strap holding their Olympic credentials. As one fan walks by another, they look at each others’ pins and often one will ask where the other got a particular pin. From there, it’s onto trading and acquiring more pins. As the Games continue, fans try to either gather as many pins as possible or become selective as to the type of pins they want to collect.

The unwritten rule is to trade like pins for like pins. Of course, rules are meant to be broken and that’s the fun of it all. At the last Olympic Summer Games, fans were on the lookout for pins from Rio de Janeiro, the city to host the next Summer Games. At this Olympics, they’ll be on the lookout for pins from the next host city.

Somewhere in the host city, pin collectors representing pin collecting clubs from all over the world congregate to trade pins and stories. It won’t be any different in Rio. Also, hundreds of vendors set up tables to sell pins of every design and origin. Most of these cost about $5 each, so amassing a lot of them can cost a small fortune. The majority of people, however, acquire their pins by trading ones they have for ones they want.

Some collectors have over 30,000 pins in their collections. They’re always on the lookout for pins from the 1936 Berlin Games, a hot commodity in the pin collecting realm.

While it may seem that the only people trading pins are fans and athletes, everyone involved with the Olympics, from the members of the IOC to newspaper reporters, volunteers, judges, and coaches, all get involved.

It used to be that all you needed to do to begin collecting pins was to show up at the Olympics, find some pins and start trading. But today, beginning collectors can find thousands of pins online and while the fun of trading may not be there, the ability to collect just about any pin, even the important ones, is there—for a price.

Pin collecting is affordable and the little darlings don’t take up much room, so they’re ideal for anyone just starting out in collectibles. Searching the Internet for  “Olympic collectibles” will undoubtedly result in links for collecting pins.

An Israeli Olympic pin in the shape of a guitar from the Atlanta Games is today selling for $18 online. And while that same pin sells for a variety of prices, that’s not a bad return on investment. So let the pin games begin!

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