Exploring Olympic Pins: Popularity, Traditions and Value Guide

Updated June 16, 2021
Olympic rings

If you've ever had the opportunity to attend an Olympic Games event, you've probably seen the countless trading booths boasting books upon books filled with commemorative Olympic pins from current and past games. These small trinkets are such an integral part of the Olympic experience that even competitors, planners, and members of the press participate in this unique global tradition. Take a look at why these pins were first created and how they became a fixture of the Olympic experience today.

How the Olympic Pin Tradition Began

During the first modern Olympic Games in 1896 - hosted by Greece and held in Athens - the host nation decided that they needed to have something that the people who were involved in the spectacle could wear so that the audiences could differentiate them from the rest of the crowd. Thus, a colorful identification badge emerged, and the insular pin history ended in 1912 when the first official souvenir Olympic pins were offered in Stockholm.

For nearly 70 years, these pins were privately traded between Olympians and those who were involved in running the huge events. It wasn't until the 1980 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid that pin trading began in earnest, with the international audience collecting colorful enamel, metal, and painted pins from the games. Trading became such a large event that the Coca-Cola Company established the first official pin trading center in 1988. Now, each Olympic games have sponsored trading posts for pin lovers to meet with one another and trade their wares.

Types of Olympic Pins

One of the things that collectors find the most fun about Olympic pins is that there are thousands upon thousands of pins to choose from. They come in every color, shape, and size, and given the trading nature of the collectibles, there's a great chance that you'll come across unique pins from around the world. Yet, the volume of pins that've been produced makes narrowing them into categories a bit daunting. Here are some of the more common types of Olympic pins:

  • NOC bid pins - These pins are created from the countries competing to host the winter or summer Olympics.
  • NOC pins - The National Olympic Committee pins are given to participating athletes and staff to show their support of the international community brought together by the games.
  • Sponsor pins - Companies which sponsor the games in some capacity also come equipped with their own pins.
  • Souvenir pins - These are licensed pins that have been approved by the Olympic committee and feature the official logo.
  • Media pins - Media corporations that are covering the events will bring their own company pins to share with the audiences.
Buenos Aires 2004 pin

Identifying Olympic Pins

Olympic pins are relatively easy to identify, especially since the majority of pins you'll find are about quarter sized and made out of cheaper metals. An easy way to differentiate most Olympic pins from other types of commemorative pins is to look for a city and year printed onto the pins. Since these pins are released specifically for one Olympics, most of them visually represent an individual games through this simple notation.

Prominent Pins to Trade

While certain pin's popularity changes from year to year, some historic pins have remained highly sought after by "pin-heads." Here are two of the most covetable Olympic games pins that have pin-heads around the world salivating.

Pins From the 1936 Olympic Games

The 1936 Olympic Games has the drama and suspense of a well-written film; concerns for rising totalitarian sentiments across the European continent served as the backdrop for this Olympics, which were hosted behind enemy lines in Berlin, Germany as Europe was poised on the precipice of war. Pins from this summer Olympics represent the antisemitic legacy of this period in Germany with Jewish members of the German national teams being replaced by non-Jews. On average, these pins are worth around $40 at a minimum, with specialty pins being worth a hundred dollars or more.

Pins From the 1940 Olympic Games

The 1940 Olympic Games were set to be hosted by Finland, but they were dramatically cancelled in 1939 in the wake of Germany's Polish invasion. Since these games were forced to be aborted, the pins that have survived from it are highly desirable, particularly since fewer of them can be found than most other games. One collection of six pins from the cancelled games is listed for nearly $200 by one online trader.

Olympic Pin Values

Olympic pins vary wildly in value depending on their age, type, and what hole in a collection a collector is trying to fill. You can absolutely sell a pin for higher than its worth if you find a desperate collector. However, since trading is such a central part of the pin collecting experience, most people prefer to trade pins with one another, eliminating estimates based on conventional value systems. If you're looking to purchase pins yourself, you'll find that modern pins are being sold for about $10-$20 a piece.

Put a Pin In It

The enthusiastic way pin-heads collect and trade Olympic pins might very well be called a sport; yet, these pins' small sizes, colorful imagery, and historic connections makes them a wonderfully easy thing to collect. As with so many delicious snacks out there, once you try your first one, you won't be able to help going back for a second or third.

Exploring Olympic Pins: Popularity, Traditions and Value Guide