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Collecting & Trading

Aside from their functional and symbolic value, the nature of most lapel pins makes them highly prized as collectibles. Social events and conventions are now organized around the purchase and trading of themed lapel pins. Most trading is done face-to-face, but there are entire websites and message boards dedicated to this hobby as well. Some of the most popular collectible pins are:

Olympic Games Pins

The most collected of these are from specific host cities, mascots, commemorative, and sponsor pins

Sports Trading Pins

Many youth sports tournaments have started to have a pin trading event as part of the schedule. This allows a social interaction part of the event that helps the children relax and meet one another. All while providing unique keepsakes for everyone who trades. Even coaches, umpires and referees will get pins made to trade.

Popular cartoon characters for lapel pins

Peanuts characters, Disney characters, and Betty Boop are among the most popular of these.

Military Pins

Veterans and military enthusiasts collect pins from each of the wars and different branches of the military. Also very much sought-after are military aircraft and honorary pins.

Product & Brands

Big names, such as McDonald’s and Coca Cola, motorcycles, alcohol and tobacco brands, and sports teams all have their place in many valued collections.

Flag Pins

These collections include state flags, country flags, and special flags, which may feature slogans or symbols such as peace signs.

A Whole New World of Trading

Special mention must be made of two corporations who have taken the collection and trading of lapel pins to a new level: The Disney Corporation and Hard Rock Cafe.


The Disney corporation has created a whole new world of pin collecting, with a very detailed protocol spelling out the specifics of how, when, and where pins may be traded. There is an official pin trading handbook which lays out the methods, prohibitions, and etiquette of Disney lapel pin trading. There is even a list of trading terms specific to Disney pin trading. This activity was a popular but casual hobby up until the Disney Millennium celebration. Since that time, they have created special annual events at many of their theme parks which are centered around this activity. At these events fans may interact and trade with each other and the Disney cast members. The only Disney theme park where pin trading is prohibited is the Tokyo Disney Resort, but pins may be purchased there.

There are over 60,000 officially sanctioned Disney lapel pins currently available, and many collectors concentrate on certain themes, such as characters or attractions. The corporation brings out new, limited-addition pin collections yearly as well, so there are always fresh items to add to yours. The new collections are unveiled at an event each September. In addition to lapel pins, Disney also has their own line of pin-related paraphernalia for the display of Disney lapel pins. The most common of these are the lanyards, which cast members and traders alike use for the display and trading of their pin collection. There are also special “Lanyard Collection” pins, that are back-stamped with “Hidden Mickeys,” which are unique to each collection. Non limited-edition pins have the Disney copyright stamped on the back. Limited-editions are stamped with the copyright, limited edition, and edition number. The Disney pins have an original sales price ranging from $6.95 – $75.00, but hard to find and limited-edition pins can appreciate drastically on the secondary collectors’ market. The series which is generally considered the rarest are the “Piece of History” pins. These have come out every few years since 2005, and include a tiny piece of a Disney attraction that they are associated with. The rarest of these is the “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” pin from the first series.

Hard Rock Cafe

Hard Rock Cafe is another corporation that has made pin trading into an entity unto itself. Until 2001, Hard Rock Cafe pin collectors, or “Pinatics,” were of two separate entities: the Hard Rock Cafe Pin Society and the Hard Rock Cafe Pin Collectors. In March of that year, the two groups merged to become, officially, the Hard Rock Cafe Pin Collectors’ Club, complete with officers, bylaws, and their own website. There is also a monthly online newsletter called “PinTales,” that keeps collectors aware of news and upcoming events. Although anybody can buy or trade Hard Rock Cafe pins (there is a complete catalog on their website featuring over 35,000 pins) Club members receive special perks. Some of these perks include a membership pin upon joining, a membership card that gives you an automatic discount at any Hard Rock Cafe franchise or resort, special edition pins, and milestone pins upon proof of visit to different Cafe locations around the world. The goal is to earn the complete set of milestone pins for a unique visit to each of their 175 locations, beginning with your 10th visit. Upon your 100th visit, your pin is framed and you may join the elite Century Club. The 150th and 175th visit milestone pins are personalized. Club membership is $29.95 annually, and the Hard Rock Cafe pins range in price from $6.50 and up.

Aside from the Pin Club members’ pins, the most collectible Hard Rock Cafe pins are the guitar and waitress pins. There are also commemorative pins issued when a new Cafe opens, for each holiday, and for special sporting events, like the Kentucky Derby. Some of the most difficult pins to get are the staff pins.

In edition to officially sanctioned pin trading events, there is also a thriving online trading and collecting community. As with any collectible, know the markings and back-stamps which make them official Hard Rock pins, and beware of fakes. Hard Rock Cafe official pins are stamped “Hard Rock Cafe” on the back, and limited edition pins also have a stamp that says “limited edition” and the edition number.

Why Do People Collect Lapel Pins?

People form collections for many reason. Some collect due to a love of certain objects. Others people become collectors because certain objects or symbols have a personal meaning to them, such as military memorabilia. Some people begin collections as a form of investment due to the high rate of appreciation of some collectibles. Collecting, and the activities that go along with it, are also a fun way to socialize and meet new people. Lapel pins are a great collectors’ hobby for several reasons:

  • Lapel pins are attractive and functional.
  • There is a sentimental attachment behind the symbolism of many lapel pins.
  • There is such a variety of pins that collection opportunities are nearly limitless.
  • A lapel pin collection is very portable and easy to maintain.
  • A collection of pins is a great way to round out a collection of other items, such as sports memorabilia.

Tips On Collecting and Trading Pins

It is very easy to begin a lapel pin collection. For the novice, here are some helpful tips on how to begin your collection and what you need to know when purchasing or trading pins to add to your collection.

Starting a Pin Collection

  1. Start small, and specialize. There are literally hundreds of thousands of lapel pin designs. Start by collecting pins that reflect a hobby or interest that you have, such as sports or art. Another good beginning is to start with pins you or a family member already have, and build on that. The value of this method of starting a collection is a sentimental one, especially if there is a family history or story behind the pin. In such a case, write down the story or history and display it on a card along with the pin to which the story refers.
  2. A good collection should have a little variety to it. Seek unusual pins, and pins that have special features like LED lighting, dangles, spinners.
  3. Learn everything you can about the specific kind of pin you are collecting. You can then collect with confidence.
  4. Have a suitable means of storing and displaying your collection. Some of the options for display are binders, cork boards, or framed pieces of fabric or cardboard. Most craft and hobby stores will have anything you need to showcase your pin collection.
  5. Take good care of your collection. Many lapel pins are mini works of art, and a collection that is well maintained can increase in value. You can clean any type of lapel pin with water and mild soap, using a soft cloth. Dry them immediately. Metal ones can be polished or cleaned using a jewelry cleaning solution, but make sure that you you follow the manufacturers’ directions so you do not damage any of the cloisonne or enamel on the pins.
  6. Once you have your basic collection set, meaning that you have the ones you need toward completion or fulfilling a goal, keep the extras aside to use in trades for other pieces you may need. Keep these extras in good condition to maintain their trading value.
  7. Remember that collecting is a fun hobby. It is a great past time, and can almost become addictive. Do not let it become an obsession; this will take all of the enjoyment out of it.

Trading Tips and Etiquette

A fun and economical way to add to your lapel pin collection is by trading pins with other enthusiasts. There are a quite a few benefits to trading pins, such as the savings you will get over having to purchase new pins to add to your collection. Trading also gives you the opportunity to get pins that may not be readily available for purchase, or another trader may have just the pin you’ve been looking for. There is also the social aspect to trading. Traveling to different trading events will give you the opportunity to meet and mingle with other people who share your interest. Many great friendships have been formed in this manner. You will also have a chance to learn more about your hobby from people who may have more experience, and to see different collections.

If you have never traded, you may be a little intimidated at first, or unsure how to begin. Here is a brief primer on the art of the trade; where to do it and how its done.

Trading in Person

An easy way to begin trading is to trade with friends who also collect pins. This is a common method with children who are trading collectibles. Does anyone remember baseball cards, or more recently Pokemon and slammers? If you are in business or a conventioneer, you could begin by trading with other people that you meet at conventions and corporate events. In fact, traveling for conventions and trade shows is a great way to pick up product pins and city or state pins. There are also societies, locally and all over the world, where people gather for the purpose of trading collectibles. If you belong to one, such as the Hard Rock Cafe Collectors, your groups’ newsletter or web page will inform you of upcoming trade events. The same applies to Disney and many other collection societies. A quick web search will also show you many other opportunities to trade that may not be official affiliated with a particular product, but are groups of like-minded collectors and trading societies. Flea markets are also a good place to find opportunities to trade collectibles locally.

Once you find a place to trade, you can approach trading casually or more methodically, with a wish list of items you need or would like. Gather all of your trading pins, making sure that they are in the best possible condition. Many lapel pin collectors wear their pins on hats, shirts, or vests to better display them and facilitate a trade.

Once you arrive at the venue, don’t be afraid to walk around and talk to people, mingle a little. There will usually be a mixture of novices like yourself and others at every level of trading experience. If you meet someone who has interesting pins, ask to see them. Sometimes they will take them off to give you a better look, but never touch someones’ items without asking first. If some one asks to see one of your pins, you can likewise remove it for them to inspect, making sure that the pin back is firmly attached before you hand it to them. It is OK to ask questions about origin or value, and if you are not sure of a fair trade, you can ask another, more experienced trader for help.

Once you have agreed upon a trade, thank them for trading with you, and then you can either make another trade with this person or look around. If you are not able to negotiate a trade, its OK. There will be other opportunities, and the more often you trade, they more experience and confidence you will have.

There are some general rules about in person trading that you should remember to make the experience a positive one.

  • Always trade only one pin at a time. This avoids confusion and eliminates the possibility of loss. An exception to this rule is if one or the other pins is of a higher value, and the only fair trade is several pins of lesser value.
  • Always be polite, asking to see merchandise, and thanking the other trader whether a trade was negotiated or not.
  • Always make sure that the pin back is firmly in place before you hand your pin to someone. This keeps both pieces together and avoids the possibility of injury to yourself or another trader.
  • Do not let someone try to force you into a trade that you are unsure of, and never try to pressure another trader just to get your way.
  • Do not interrupt when others are making a trade. Wait until they have concluded their business, and then approach.
  • Don’t take it too seriously. Have fun with your trading.

Trading on the Internet

Trading on the Internet has opened up a wide range of ways to trade any collectible. Traders are no longer limited by geography, and can trade with people from all over the world. In some ways this can be as social as in-person trading, and many long-distance friendships have developed in this manner. There are many ways to find collectibles online, and a search engine is a good place to start. In addition to sites that are specifically for pin trading, you can find groups, forums, and chats which can put you in touch with other traders. Traders who operate online will usually have a list of pins that they are looking for as well as pictures of pins that they have to trade.

Most online trading is done via email contact. If you see a pin you are interested in, send that person a message, asking any questions you may have. The normal rules of politeness apply online as well as in person. Be polite when making an inquiry, and thank them for their time. Do not worry if you do not receive an answer right away. This is one drawback of online trading, and if you do not have a answer with in a few days, it is OK to send a follow-up email stating that you had previously inquired about such and such pin, and are still interested in making a trade. When you do receive a response, reply in as timely a manner as possible.

If a trade is agreed upon, then it is time to negotiate the transfer of pins, which will necessarily have to be made through the regular mail. Here are some of the specifics that should be clearly defined up front, in writing:

  • A detailed description of exactly which pins are to be traded. A follow-up confirmation of the trade and the terms should be sent by both parties.
  • The specifics about shipping methods and timing. This includes how the pins will be shipped, such as first class mail, UPS, or FedEx. If the other person wants special terms, like overnight shipping, which person will incur the cost should be negotiated up front.
  • Make sure that your pin is wrapped securely so that it will arrive in good condition. Bubble wrap is a good way to ensure this.
  • Attach the pin to a card or piece of cloth before wrapping so it will not be lost, and use the appropriate sized box for the package.
  • Make sure that you have sufficient postage and insure the package. It costs only pennies to insure an item for shipping, and that is better than having to reimburse someone for an item that never arrives in the first place.
  • After you ship your item, email the other party to inform them of this. If there will be a delay in shipping the pin, let them know this as soon as possible.

There are some other things that you should know when dealing with someone online. Check out the other trader to insure that they are reputable. Online auction sites have seller-feedback sections that rate the seller or trader based on their interaction with others who have done business with them in the past.. You can also ask for references, or talk to other traders in chats or forums who may have had experience with this person before.

A soon as you receive your pin, inspect it to make sure it is what you expected, and then email the trader to inform them that you have received the item. If you are unhappy with the item, email and politely explain the problem, and try to find a way to rectify the situation. Reputable dealers will be more than happy to work with you.

One last note about trading, whether in person or online. Always strive to be polite and professional in your approach, even if you meet with another trader who isn’t. Ask for the assistance of other traders if you meet with a difficult situation. Collecting communities are a tight-knit group, and many who are regular traders know each other and are more than willing to assist new traders if necessary. As long as you approach collecting and trading in the right frame of mind and are polite, professional, and dependable, you should find that you will develop relationships that are mutually beneficial. Happy trading!

Famous Collections

Nearly everyone has probably received a lapel pin at some point in their life, for some purpose. There are some who collect lapel pins almost by accident, in the course of business, and there are many avid and active lapel pin collectors the world over. Here are a couple of collections of note.

Madeleine Albright

The former Secretary of State is so well-known for her collection of pins that she wrote a book called “Read My Pins,” and staged an exhibition to promote its publication. Her collection of over 200 pins contains some jewelry, but most are lapel pins, and each pin has a certain meaning for her. For example, her cloisonne panda was worn during a 2008 Arctic summit on CO2 emissions and climate change.


Fred Huebner is a McDonald’s franchise owner and avid McDonald’s pinback collector. In his over 20 years of collecting, he has amassed 20,000 unique pins, and has some 120,000 extras that he trades with. Every month, he awards many of his 500+ employees with special McDonald’s pins for outstanding service. Some of these pins are for employee achievements such as “Perfect Drawer” or “Best Drive-thru Service.”

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