Feb 25, 2010 8:02:36 PM
Lonely Planet at the Games – Day 14: pinheads
With official pin trading sponsor Coca-Cola estimating that 30 million of the shiny, sought-after little mementos have changed hands at their designated Olympic swapping zones, pin bartering has become the participant sport of choice for magpie-like Winter Games visitors.
Walk down any street here and you’ll soon spot youngsters studded with multicoloured scraps of metal; couples whose matching jackets are dappled with dense, variegated badge life; and the occasional oldster, whose completely hidden baseball cap is like a head-mounted armadillo, complete with a patchwork plating of collectables.
For those who’ve never encountered the pin trading phenomenon, it’s a quite an eye-opener. But it’s also easy to be swept up in the cause.
“I like the Quatchi ones,” says shyly-smiling nine-year-old Damian Miller, who’s visiting the Games from England with his dad and has a familiar penchant for the lovable sasquatch mascot. Carefully unraveling his scarf among the Robson Square crowds as if he has the Crown Jewels secreted in there, he shows me his treasures.
The four all-different Quatchis are gathered together at the top of the array, while lesser badges like VISA and Saskatoon Shines languish at the bottom, clearly ready to be jettisoned at a moment’s notice if a better offer comes along. And what might that better offer be? “More Quatchis,” says Miller emphatically.
Pin trading has been a feature of the Olympic movement for decades. But it’s not just about amassing a sparkly collection of mementos and taking them all home with you, according to veteran trader Donald Hollis from Chicago. He’s been pin swapping at the Olympics since 1984 and his collection is currently around 16,000-strong.
“It’s not really about the pins. It’s about meeting with the other party and the exchange you have with them. I look at my pins and it reminds of that person and what it was like to meet them,” says a chatty Hollis, who adds that pin trading at the Olympics is often called the sport of the spectators.
Conversing inside the shopper-packed Olympic Superstore, one of the first things Hollis asks me is whether I have a Lonely Planet pin to exchange. He’s a little disappointed when I don’t, gesturing at some NBC and CTV pins in his array to show that even media companies are on the pin-producing bandwagon.
Surrounded by a gaggle of other traders whose wares are laid out at tables opposite racks of new pins being snapped up by the souvenir crowd, Hollis is excited to see the interest paid to pins at these Olympics. But he’s worried that the “sport” has changed over the years. “Trading is about communicating and sharing memories,” he says, “but at these Games people seem to be keeping their pins rather than exchanging them. I’ve been to 13 Games and this is the worst one for trading,” he adds a little glumly.
Part of the reason, of course, is that anything collectable can also have a price. Across the street near the Canada Line train entrance, several vendors have set up their own impromptu stands on a series of benches. The youngest by far is Travis Vance, a laid-back young man from Eureka, California who recently completed a sociology degree. He came to town for the Games but found himself quickly caught up in the pin trading frenzy.
“My friend recommended it to me and I’ve found it to be an economically profitable endeavour,” he says with a grin, adding that he still trades as well as sells and the ratio is about 50-50. Most of his pins sell in the three for $20 range and the vast majority are Olympics-related. Most are contemporary, but he also has a smattering from Nagano, Torino and Salt Lake City plus a couple of FIFA World Cup badges.
It’s not what anyone would call easy money, though. “It’s mostly 12-hour days out here and you have to stay alert because most of the trading happens in the evening,” says Vance who, despite his business prowess, is clearly having a great time just hanging out at the Games.
“For some it’s only about making money, but I really enjoy meeting and talking with people from all over the world. And if I break even, I’ll be happy,” he adds, before chatting to a couple of red-shirted Canadian under-10s about their collections. Quatchi is mentioned more than once.
Check out all the action from day 13.
Wanna see what happened on day 15?