SOCHI, Russia — Nothing says “I’ve been there” better than a little metal collector’s pin.
Forget hats, shirts, jackets, stuffed toys and the like. Those are for tourists.
If you want to let someone know you’ve just returned from something cool like the Olympics, just stick a pin in your lapel and you get to brag in a very understated way.
Pin trading, buying and collecting has been going on since the first Olympics in Athens, way back in 1896.
While it’s become a big hobby for many, the basic idea remains the same: Trade what you don’t want for what you do.
It’s the same thing kids used to do with Phillies baseball cards way back when.
Here in Sochi, pin collectors flock to Olympic Park to look for hidden treasures.
On Tuesday, Irina, a pin collector, tells me that anything that has the Olympic logo on it is a pretty hot item.
“It’s mostly trading,” she says. “Not much money.”
Irina says her most interesting swap to date was with a woman who spotted a pin from the tiny European country of Lichtenstein.
“Different things for different collectors,” Irina says with a laugh.
In other words, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
Then there are stories of the really rare items that can fetch a lot of money on the old collectibles market.
Years ago, Don Bigsby, then president of the “OlymPin” Collector’s Club, discussed a few of the most obscure items to come down the pike.
One came about by accident.
Back in 1984, Coca-Cola started making pins of the Games’ official mascot, Sam the Eagle.
Turns out that was in direct violation of the Los Angeles Organizing Committee’s rule: its mascot could not endorse a product.
Only about 450 were made before production was halted. Then the value of those babies shot through the roof.
“They didn’t do it intentionally,” Bigsby explained. “They didn’t realize it was in violation of Olympic licensing rules.”
Bigsby secured one early for 300 bucks. Then, after production halted, the old “gotta-have-one’’ factor kicked in.
“Someone paid me $1,500 for that pin,” Bigsby chuckled.
No one is really sure what the big pin will wind up being at Sochi. It was the same back in 1992 when Bigsby got started in Albertville, France. That year he brought about 2,000 pins to the Games and “turned over” almost all of them through trade.
“That’s what makes it exciting,” he said. “The ones people probably will be after are those that have something to do with the media and corporate pins.”
Wayne Fish: 215-345-3070; e-mail: email@example.com; twitter: @waynefish1