Refrigerator magnets, old coins, stamps, action figures, first-edition books, vacuum cleaners, mugs and glassware, vintage radios—you name it, you can probably collect it. It’s both visually pleasing and emotionally satisfying to see your collection on display. And while most collectors would be loath to part with any one item from their trove, collectibles can fetch rather large sums, too.
Nowadays, one of the most popular collectible items are lapel pins. Not only are they functional and stylish, most pins also have a symbolic value. And compared to other collectible items, it’s easier to showcase a lapel pin collection. In fact, most collectors and traders wear their pins on different articles of clothing such as hats, vest, sashes, lanyards, or scarves when attending conventions and other events related to pin trading and collecting.
A Brief History of Lapel Pin Collecting
It is difficult to pinpoint the origin of pin trading and collecting, although it is widely believed that it began with the sport of curling, as some of the oldest trading pins were from curling clubs that were established in the mid-19th century.
Lapel pins, on the other hand, can trace their history back to the art of inlay and enameling, which began around 1800 BC in Egypt, when artists began soldering wire to create decorative filigree accessories. Some six hundred years later, at around 1200 BC, the Greeks began using powdered glass to fill in the spaces in the filigree designs. Then, the Chinese have begun perfecting enameling techniques, with the earliest fired enamelware emerging during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368 AD).
Enamelware gained mainstream popularity in China during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 AD), and from there, the technique has spread across the world. Today, the process of enameling is one of the most popular ways to produce a lapel pin.
How to Start Pin Collecting and Trading
If you’re looking to start pin collecting and trading, you might want to check out two of the biggest names in the trade: the Disney Corporation and The Hard Rock Cafe.
Disney has always had collectible pins available for sale in all of its parks, but their tradition of pin trading officially began with the Millennium Celebration at Walt Disney World in October 1999. Today, thousands of guests at Walt Disney World, the Disneyland Resort, and Disneyland Paris trade pins with cast members and fellow guests, with over 60,000 officially sanctioned designs (or more if you count “unofficial” pins crafted by independent artists) to collect and trade, which cost from $6.95 to $75; however, limited edition pins can be priced considerably higher, like the much-valued “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” pin. The on-site trading process is simple: you just locate a cast member with a lanyard of Disney pins, find a pin you like, and give the cast member a pin of your own to trade.
Meanwhile, Hard Rock Cafe pin collectors and traders (called “Pinatics”) have an official group called the Hard Rock Cafe Pin Collectors’ Club, with its own set of officers, bylaws, and an official website. Similar with Disney, anyone can buy or trade Hard Rock Cafe pins (there are over 35,000 pins available), but there are special perks for club members, including a membership pin upon joining. Club members also receive a card that grants discounts at any Hard Rock Cafe branch, and lower prices on special edition pins and milestone pins. One of the primary goals of the club members is to complete the set of milestone pins, earned when you get to visit all of their 175 current locations. Meanwhile, among the most collectible Hard Rock Cafe pins are the guitar and waitress pins, and the commemorative pins issued whenever a new branch opens. There also Hard Rock Cafe pins for events like each of the holidays and the Kentucky Derby.
Excited to start your own pin collection and trade with fellow enthusiasts? Here are some tips.
- Start Small
You don’t have to have a huge collection all at once. In fact, most collectors start with two pieces of a certain item and build their collection from there. You shouldn’t also immediately gun for the rarest lapel pins. Get a bunch of common designs first, then work up the rarity tree, so to speak. You can get a head start with your collection this way, as the standard designs are definitely more affordable. However, if you can afford getting the rare ones immediately, you can certainly do so. After all, a rare pin might cost $200 more that its original price tomorrow.
Another way to get started on your collection? Ask your friends and family if they have any lapel pins that they could give you. If you’re attending an event where participating businesses and organizations are giving away freebies, you may also chance upon one or two groups giving away lapel pins for promotional purposes.
- Organize What You Have
Have an organization system that’s all your own, say one case for cartoon characters, one for sports, one for businesses, and so on. What’s important is that you don’t throw your pins willy-nilly into a box, since this will damage the face of the pin. For safekeeping, you can invest on a specially-designed pin case to house your collection. If you’re on a budget, you can buy a sheet of cork board to attach your pins on before placing them in a box. Cloths like velvet (black or red works best) mounted on a paper or plastic board is also a good budget-friendly option to keep your lapel pins organized.
Organizing your collection makes it easier for you to locate individual lapel pins, making trading a breeze. It also makes it easier to showcase your lapel pins during collectors’ meetings or swap-meets, as you can’t always wear all of your pins, especially if you have quite a sizeable pin collection. You can even include an information card for every pin to generate interest and increase the chances of someone trading for it.
- Create and Collect What You Love
It’s easier to start a collection if you know what you’re passionate about. Be it pop culture, music, sports, tourism, education, even politics, you can certainly find lapel pins whatever your interests may be.
If you want, you can event start your lapel pin collection by creating your own pins that others may want to buy or trade with for their collection. Non-profits and other charitable organizations, as well as privately owned companies can launch their own line of lapel pins to promote their cause, raise funds, and maintain consistent interest.
Wristband Creation can customize lapel pins for you to start or expand your collection. Hard enamel and soft enamel lapel pins are popular choices for schools, offices, and most clubs and organizations, while die-struck lapel pins are ideal for those looking to create pins with sophisticated, handcrafted appearance. If, however, your intended design has details that may be difficult to replicate using enamel, printed lapel pins may be the best option to go for.
When you genuinely love what you’re doing, it will be a lot easier to really “get into it” and do more to keep it going. Indeed, pin collectors and traders travel far and wide just to acquire special pins that they can’t get anywhere else. There are Olympics pin collectors, for example, who make it a point to go to the host country to meet with fellow collectors and traders and get that year’s commemorative pin. This kind of passion ensures that not only does your collection continues to grow, it also carries more value.
- Learn Trading Etiquette
Attending your first pin trading meet may be as simple as visiting online message boards for the nearest trading event in your area. However, pin trading has some basic etiquettes that you have to follow, no matter where you are, apart from specific rules that different pin trading clubs may enforce.
Among the most basic pin trading etiquette is that your pins should be worn or displayed in full view. If you want to look at someone else’s pin (or someone else wants to look at yours), ask them if they can bring the pin forward for a clearer view. Never touch the other person’s pins or the box or garment that the pin is attached to. Some collectors are very particular about how their collectibles are handled, and as a fellow collector, you also want to be extended the same courtesy.
Pins for trading should also be in good condition, barring limited situations in which the damage is unavoidable. You should also remember not to undervalue the other collector’s pins and overvalue yours to get multiple pins for a single trade. If you’re not sure about the value of a pin, whether it’s yours or the trader’s, ask the advice of another trader or an expert who may be in the venue. The trade should be fair to both parties.
If both parties are happy with the pins they have chosen from the other’s collection, hand over one pin at a time, with the pin backs attached or closed. If you cannot agree on trading terms, you may suggest alternative proposals like offering a different pin. Should you not reach a common ground, simply thank the other person and politely end the transaction.
Are you ready to begin your journey into pin collecting and trading? It may seem daunting at first, but remember: it’s not a competition—it’s a hobby that brings people together.