Games Calling: The Art of the Olympic Pin Trade

Pin trading isn’t an Olympic sport, but it’s a hobby that has caught on to thousands of spectators. On a side street near the entrance to Olympic Park, I decided to try my hand at the art of the trade to two Greek pin traders,  offering a Samsung  pin I’d received in the media center for a USA pin with the Olympic rings. I was pretty pleased with my trade until I walked a little further and met pin pro Ed Schneider.

Note to self: don’t trade with the first pin trader you meet.  Ed traveled from New York at his own expense to indulge his passion for pins in London. It’s his fourth Summer Olympics, and he plans to head to Sochi, Russia in two years for his 12 Winter Games.  Ed started pin trading back in 1984, when he attended the Summer Games in Los Angeles. After trading a pin he had saved from the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, he was hooked.

As I perused Ed’s extensive collection, his attention was on the Main Press Centre pin hanging on my lanyard. Nearly every Olympic venue has its own pin design which are given to volunteers and other special guests. Dozens of pins are available for sale as officially licensed merchandise, but ones like my venue pin aren’t available for purchase. In fact, only a certain amount are made (for instance, only about 750 Main Press Centre pins exist),  so for a trader, these limited edition pins are something to covet.

While I wasn’t willing to part with my MPC pin, I was willing of offer up some other pins I’d acquired: a Visit Great Britain pin from the fine folks in the tourism department (I knew the supply of them was low so I thought it would be valuable) and my recently acquired USA Olympic Rings pin. “How about my Visit Great Britain pin for the NBC London pin?” I asked.  “Great trades for you, but not for me,” Ed told me politely. He wasn’t interested in any of them! Neither was his buddy, Ross, a Canadian who is in the same pin trading club as Ed called Olympian. Apparently, pin trading is one tight-knit fraternity and members get together at every Olympics.

So why weren’t my pins trade-worthy? First, traders want pins they don’t have. Second, pins from the various news agencies like NBC, BBC and the like are extremely popular. Ed showed me the amazingly intricate pin he traded from CCTV, the Chinese television network, which was in the shape of a fan. He had several pin versions that NBC News had produced for London 2012, along with ones from Canadian Television (CTV) and Reuters.

Ed strongly suggested I get my hands on the Reuters pin, which he thought was very well-designed, another one of his pin trading criteria.

Finally, a desirable pin has either the location on it, the year or the Olympic Rings. If a pin has all three, consider it golden. (Thus the reason my Visit GB pin wasn’t a hot item) Ross showed off some of his pins from various Olympic Committees, which like my MPC pin are limited editions, and also very popular with traders.

In addition to media outlets and athletic committees, Olympic sponsors get in on the pin-trading action to promote their brand. Coca-Cola is the granddaddy of them all. The company has a whole dissertation about pin trading on its website, and has been on the Olympic pin trading bandwagon for years. The company even had pin trading venues in Olympic Park and in Hyde Park.

With my unwillingness to part with my MPC pin,  pin trading wasn’t in the cards between Ed, Ross and me,  but I had to find out why two men would spend their vacation trading pins.

“It’s fun to share and meet people you wouldn’t otherwise met,” Ed tells me. A few days earlier, a Romanian gymnast who had competed in the 1948 London Games stopped by Ed’s pin display. “You don’t get to do things like that. It’s wonderful!”

Just like volunteering, pin traders spend long hours meeting and greeting people from all over the world. No doubt about it, the art of the trade is quite an experience. And by the way, I did get my hands on one of those Reuters’ pins, thanks to a very generous Reuters photographer who dropped some off to MPC volunteers and has been handing them out to other Gamesmaker he meets (Unlike at other Olympics, London 2012 volunteers have been strongly discouraged from asking media or sponsors for pins.) Getting this pin with its image of Big Ben made my day.

Read More at Anglotopia


  1. avatarCat says

    Glad u got the Reuter pin, next Olympics u could trade it, & maybe Ed would trade one for it! It sounds like a fun hobby, and not to cumbersome. :)