You would be hard pressed to argue that the Olympic Games don’t play host to the world’s largest collectors’ event. Whether it’s athletes trying for multiple medals to accompany newly-donned titles, or news organizations keeping score of which country holds the most gold, silver and bronze atop the medal table —it seems everyone is counting, or collecting. This need to collect has gained such momentum that a different sort of sport has been born—pin trading—affectionately dubbed “the unofficial spectator sport,” this behind-the-scenes activity is widely popular during the Games and London 2012 is no exception. Inside Hyde Park,
Coca-Cola hosts one of the two pin trading centers in London. Here veteran pin traders set up posts to display their loot in hopes other traders and pin holders will find them and offer an exchange for something better. What constitutes better? It seems it’s a bit of the ole supply and demand rule paired with sales pitches—sometimes the story behind the pin creates the value and makes the trade.
No one knows this better than Australian pin trader, David Blair. He’s become a celebrity in his own right as he’s now the face, or maybe more accurately the vest, of pin trading for the London 2012 Olympic Games. Featured in Business Week and NBC News, he’s explained to many reporters and now amateur traders how this all works.According to Blair, there are four types of pins: sponsor, athlete, news and the official Olympic Games pins. Off the bat, the most valuable pins belong to the athletes with the smallest number of competitors that therefore have the smallest allotment of pins to trade. From there the value may come from a story. Blair showed me a Coca-Cola Beijing Olympic Games pin that was made from the leftover metal used to construct
the Birds Nest—for Blair, that little tidbit of information makes that pin much more valuable than any regular sponsor pin. Blair informed me he doesn’t travel with his favorite pins—they’re not up for trade. When I asked him about his most valued pin that he left at home, a smile came over his face. The pin that means the most to him he gained in an exchange from a little girl. He goes on to describe a little teddy-bear pin that the girl parted with in order to make her first pin trade. He says she wanted one of his pins so badly, but that he would only give it to her through a trade. It was a deal. She walked away holding her parents hands, and at that moment, smiled over her shoulder at Blair. The memory of introducing the girl to pin trading is one he won’t part with—and so while he searches for another memory in London, the teddy bear remains tucked away safely at home.
There are easily thousands of pins from various Olympics Blair has attended that he toted all the way from Australia. They are all on display among black velvet cloths and all are up for grabs. If you want one, I would just suggest you have a good story ready, because there aren’t many Blair hasn’t seen or heard before.