The tradition of collecting and swapping custom trading pins dates back many years. In recent years, pin trading has been dubbed “the Number One Spectator Sport of the Olympic Games,” thanks to worldwide interest by people of all ages in Olympic custom trading pins.
Olympic custom trading pins have grown steadily in popularity over the past 30 years. From a small practice among athletes and officials in the early years of the modern Olympics, custom trading pins have become a massive enterprise. One news magazine reported that traders swapped more than 3 million pins at the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta.
By the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing, custom trading pins were an even bigger attraction, and even took on political meanings. Many Chinese traders at the Games chose to collect custom trading pins from Taiwanese and American delegations, rejecting the official Chinese pins.
Custom trading pins as we know them today have their origins in the Olympics. In 1906, Swedish athletes introduced the first modern trading pins to the Games in Athens. These bore Sweden’s national colors of blue and yellow. The precursors of custom trading pins first appeared a decade earlier at the first modern Games. The first designs were simple pins used to identify athletes and officials. Before long, the Swedish style took off like a turbo Saab from a stoplight, and athletes began swapping custom trading pins as a symbol of international friendship.
The pins’ success was hardly surprising. Their small size made them portable and easy to trade. The unique connection to the Olympics made custom trading pins attractive keepsake items.
For many years, the hobby of collecting and swapping custom trading pins was largely confined only to Olympic athletes and others associated with the Games. But by the time of the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, spectators joined the party too. Many quickly discovered the fun of exchanging pins with others from around the world.
The corporate world quickly noticed the increasing popularity of custom trading pins as well. By the 1998 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Coca-Cola created its own Official Olympic Pin Trading Center. The company’s gathering point for those interested in custom trading pins drew more than 17,000 visitors a day during the Games. The soft drink giant has maintained a Pin Trading Center at every succeeding Olympics.
Four years later at the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona, more than 500,000 people, representing 70 countries, visited Coke’s trading pin center. Coke’s corporate website notes that the custom trading pins are considered “cultural currency – sparking trades, creating personal connections and breaking down barriers among people of different backgrounds, languages and customs.”
From humble, utilitarian beginnings, custom trading pins have become a popular hobby throughout the world. For many people, they can be a fun, easy to afford hobby that they can share with others. Custom trading pins turn strangers into friends, overcoming cultural differences of all kinds. In a very real sense, they do represent the very best ideals of the Olympic Games and the spirit of friendly international cooperation.