The year was 1896, and Athens, Greece was abuzz with athletes from 13 countries, tourists, and locals eagerly enjoying the first modern Olympic games. The restored games hosted 43 athletic events, and 280 athletes officially participated. A few tourists competed as well. While not as exciting as the World’s Fair at the time, this international event was destined to grow bigger and better.
There were no trading pins during the early era of the Olympics. Instead, athletes were given blue badges, officials had red badges, and judges were given pink badges. Unfortunately, these were made of cardboard, which deteriorates over time. Trading wasn’t really a thing, and most people held onto their badges.
Olympic Metal Badges
Someone had the brilliant idea of making badges out of metal instead of cardboard, and metal badges first appeared at the 1904 St. Louis games. Thanks to the longevity of metal, some of these 1904 badges are still around, but they’re not easy to find. In 1908, International Olympic Committee (IOC) members and the reporters also wore variations of metal badges. There may have been some goodwill trading during this time, but it wasn’t widespread.
As the Olympics continued to grow in popularity, increasing numbers of athletes, officials, and attendees desired to own badges. Badge collecting reached peak popularity during the 1952 Helsinki games. Metal badges are still a part of the thriving Olympics memorabilia scene today, but not as popular as pins.
Olympic Trading Pins
During the early years, spectators didn’t have easy access to badges, so most trading was done between official participants. That changed during the 1912 Stockholm games. Olympic pins made their official debut, and were advertised to spectators, mainly as a fundraising tool. Even so, it took another 12 years for pin trading to really take off.
The Olympic Village Sparks Pin Trading
The 1924 Paris Olympics proved to be an exciting time for athletes because they were the first Olympic competitors to live in the Olympic village. Athletes from all over the world mixed together, and friendships were born. As a sign of goodwill, they swapped metal pins.
By the time the 1928 St. Moritz games came around, spectators were observed wearing Olympic pins, joining athletes, IOC officials, and the press in pin trading activities.
First Commercial Sponsor Pins
Sylvania Electric was the first company sponsor of the games to issue a trading pin. This pin depicts the Olympic rings and a microphone. Other sponsors picked up on this idea, and sponsor pins are now a common part of trading pin collecting.
Got a Trading Pin Idea?
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