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The Magic of Pin Trading

act-disney-pin-trading-emblemCollectible lapel pins have been popular Disney souvenirs for decades, but it wasn’t until October 1999, to mark their Millennium Celebration, that The Walt Disney Company introduced the now wildly popular phenomenon of Disney pin trading.

Not surprisingly, when Disney does something they go all out. They have thought of everything for this theme-park-inspired sport, including an official pin trading etiquette guide!

To join in the Disney pin-trading fun, you have to start with something to trade. If you don’t already have a Disney collectible pin, you can get started with a handy starter set, a lanyard and four collectible pins. Pin traders wear the lanyards around their necks, using them to display their pins. Others secure their collectible lapel pens to hats, vests or sashes. Pins not intended for trading can be attached with secure screw-on locking backs which prevent them from becoming accidentally dislodged while riding the attractions or walking through the park. Pins for trading are best left with the original backs, which are easily removed.

To execute a trade, you simply approach another pin-displaying guest or a Disney Cast Member and make your request. Guests at the park can decline a trade, but Cast Members cannot refuse. In fact, they are required to make at least two trades per day!

Trading pins are available at kiosks in the park, at Disney stores, in the resorts, and online. Thousands of pins have been produced since the trading program began, featuring everything Disney—from characters to movies to theme park attractions. They range in price, style and availability, including special limited-edition pins. Each one bears a stamp on the back that details important collector information such as the limited edition number and copyright.

act-disney-wet-paintThere is an entire culture around pin-trading and lots of terminology specific to Disney pin trading. For example, there is a limited edition “surprise” pin known as Wet Paint. Only one thousand of these pins, depicting the wet paint sign used at Walt Disney World were produced. They were introduced as a “surprise” at certain kiosks and store and they are highly coveted. In fact, it is referred to as the Holy Grail and it typically sells for more than $200 on sites like eBay.

Another pin highly coveted by traders is the “Continuing the Pin Trading Tradition” pin. This pin cannot be purchased. It is awarded to guests by Cast Member Leaders at Disney resorts when they witness positive Disney Pin Trading etiquette or when they see a guest promoting the spirit of Disney Pin Trading. Disney has indeed worked its magic, creating an entire kingdom of faithful subjects who are devoted to the thrill of pin-trading. You can learn even more about the Magic Kingdom of Disney pin trading by clicking here.

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A Brief History of Lapel Pins


Photo from the Smithsonian Museum; Click Image for Link

The earliest lapel pins were made as adornment, rather than statements and are difficult to distinguish from pins or brooches. Lapel pins, however, are typically smaller in size than decorative pins and brooches, usually measuring no higher than one inch.

During the American Civil War, lapel pins were introduced to the armed forces. They were worn by a soldier to distinguish which unit he was fighting in, and to encourage a sense of loyalty and camaraderie within the unit.

But by World War I, the significance of the lapel pin had changed. Instead of being given to all soldiers as a way to differentiate units, lapel pins were awarded to select individuals to distinguish them for exemplary service in the field. Using lapel pins as an award for service is still a common practice in all branches of the armed forces today.

Inspired by their military use, politicians and patriotic citizens started wearing pins to show support for their country. Wearing patriotic lapel pins is a global tradition that extends from the United States to China to Russia.

Later, other groups began using lapel pins. Civic organizations, religious groups, fraternities and sororities, for example, often wear membership pins to their meetings and events. Lapel pins are also used by schools, sports teams, charities, and businesses to promote loyalty and rapport. Colored ribbon lapel pins are also a popular way to raise awareness for causes like breast cancer, child abuse and domestic violence.

For more on the history of lapel pins, read this article from .

Pinning It Forward

act-autismI love lapel pins because they are great conversation starters. Like unobtrusive, little miniature walking billboards, they share messages about who you are: your professional affiliations, military service, favorite sports teams, events you’ve attended, or causes that you believe in. Wear a lapel pin and you open yourself up to meeting people who are interested in your causes. Ask someone else about their pin and you’re bound to finish that conversation more enriched, more enlightened.

It’s a subtle way of ‘paying it forward’. The ‘pay it forward’ concept really hit the mainstream when the movie, Pay it Forward  (based on the book of the same name) came out in 2000. In the film, a social studies teacher challenges his students to think up a practical way to make the world a better place and put it into action. His 11-year-old student comes up with the notion of Pay it Forward. The idea is to do a needed favor for three different people without being asked, and then ask them to do the same for others. It was a new twist on performing random acts of kindness.

I was thrilled when I discovered this New York Times article , Letting His Lapel Spread the Word About His Cause, where Mark Roithmayer introduces the idea of ‘pinning it forward’.  The article, (which is definitely worth reading) profiles Roithmayer, in his role as president of the national nonprofit advocacy organization Autism Speaks. Mark travels frequently for Autism Speaks and always wears a puzzle-shaped lapel pin on his suit. The article sites several different instances when Mark’s lapel pin has started incredible conversations about autism and opened the door for introductions to people directly connected to or deeply interested in this cause.


Mark (pictured above right) says:
“I always take off my pin and give it to someone who shares his or her story. I think of it as ‘pinning forward.’ In fact, I have learned to take a small bag of pins with me whenever I travel because passengers and airline workers — even the security guys — regularly ask me for them.  And I gladly give them away.  It kind of reminds me of when pilots used to give young passengers wing pins to commemorate their flight, and maybe build a little brand loyalty in the process.”

So what are you waiting for? Isn’t it time that you started your own ‘pin it forward’ campaign?

Lapel Pin Diplomacy

act-read-my-pinsMy friend Star Sosa of Spectrum Art & Jewelry told me about a wonderful book by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.  Read My Pins: Stories from a Diplomat’s Jewel Box, was published in conjunction with the Museum of Arts and Design’s first major exhibition of jewelry from Ms. Albright’s personal collection.

Why should the world care about Madeleine Albright’s pins? Well, turns out they were an important factor in recent history. The story goes that Albright, the first female Secretary of State became known for wearing brooches during diplomatic meetings that purposefully conveyed her views.

It started when Albright criticized Saddam Hussein and in return, Hussein’s poet in residence called her “an unparalleled serpent.” Shortly thereafter, while preparing to meet with Iraqi officials, Albright decided to make a diplomatic statement by wearing a snake pin she happened to have in her jewelry box. From that day forward, pins became part of Albright’s diplomatic communication.


For example, when Ms. Albright thought negotiations would likely go well, she would wear a balloon pin. She also frequently wore a dove pin given to her by Leah Rabin, wife of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated in 1995 by a radical opposed to Rabin’s role in peace efforts. Later, Leah Rabin presented Albright with a matching dove necklace, and told her, “In your job one dove of peace is not going to be enough.”

As the Queen of Promotional Products, one of the things I find most interesting about Albright’s collection is that it is not particularly valuable in terms of the jewelry itself. Many of the pins owned by the former Secretary of State are mass-produced, inexpensive pieces (like the ones we sell here) that she picked up or received as token gifts during her diplomatic globe-trotting.

The Museum of Arts and Design will be holding on to Albright’s pin collection for a while; because it is a traveling exhibit, Ms. Albright will not get her pins back for at least two years. This didn’t seem to bother her. According to USA Today, the museum curator said Albright saw the long delay as an opportunity — to buy more pins.

20 Reasons for Lapel Pins

Flag lapel pinI love lapel pins because they an unobtrusive and tasteful way to make a statement about your beliefs, affiliations, and values.

These hard-working little metal billboards are one of the most low-cost, yet effective ways to deliver a message. They’re also excellent conversation starters, instant builders of camaraderie, and strong visual messages.  Looking for a reason to wear a lapel pin? I’ve got plenty for you.

You can wear a lapel pin to:

20. Dress Up or Decorate Your Lapel
19. Brag About Receiving Special Employee Recognition or a Prestigious Award
18. Identify Your Membership in a Fraternity or a Sorority
17. Demonstrate Your Affiliation with a Professional Organization
16. Support a Charity or a Cause
15. Cheer for a Sports Team
14. Show Your Holiday Spirit
13. Commemorate an Anniversary
12. Celebrate Your First Parachute Jump, Kayaking Adventure, or Yoga Retreat
11. Show That You’ve Joined a Club
10. Break the Ice at a Networking Event
9. Promote Your Business
8. Create Awareness About Breast Cancer, AIDS, Autism, etc.
7. Prove That You’ve Been to a Museum, the Hard Rock Café, Disneyworld, etc.
6. Encourage Pin Collectors and Traders to Trade with You
5. Promote a Sale, a Special Promotion, or an Upcoming Event
4. Identify Yourself as a Conference or Trade Show Attendee
3. Show Your Loyalty to a Branch of the Military or a Civic Organization
2 Advertise Your Interests, Hobbies, and Beliefs
1. Show Your Patriotism

So what are you waiting for? Give me a call and we’ll help you design your own personal lapel pin billboard today!

The Bumble Bee Lapel Pin

act-mary-kay-book-coverDid you know that Mary Kay Ash, creator of Mary Kay Cosmetics, always wore a bumble bee lapel pin? Her signature lapel pin was a symbol for her achievements and the accomplishments of all of the women who made up her sales force.

Mary Kay used to tell the story of how scientists had proven that based on their anatomical construction, there are many reasons why bumbles should not be able to fly. Their bodies, for example, are too large in proportion to their wings. Yet, fly they do!

Mary Kay wanted to create a company that could offer women unlimited opportunities for personal and financial success. Many naysayers thought her ideas were too idealistic and that they would never work.

In 1963, at the age of 45, and with only $5,000 in savings, she opened her dream cosmetics business with her son Richard Rogers.  She had used furniture, homemade drapes and a single metal shelf from Sears to furnish her small Dallas storefront.

Her initial team of salespeople, or beauty consultants, as she called them, made nearly $200,000 in profits in their first year of operation. Today there are more than 1.7 million Mary Kay salespeople around the world, generating billions of dollars in sales.

Cue the bumblebee lapel pin. Mary Kay said, The bumble bee is “just like our women, who didn’t know they could fly to the top, but they did.” In 1970, at an annual seminar, Mary Kay started awarding the diamond bumblebee pin  to her top-performing sales consultants, telling the can-do story of the humble bumble bee. Her lapel pin message: If the bumble bee can fly, you can too!

“Aerodynamically, the bumble bee shouldn’t be able to fly, but the bumble bee doesn’t know it so it goes on flying anyway.” – Mary Kay Ash

World’s Most Expensive Pin

act-worlds-most-expensive-lapel-pinThe Cartier Panther Brooch just may be the most expensive of its kind.  Made of 18-karat white gold and platinum, it boasts 868 brilliant diamonds totaling 16.4 carats. The panther’s eyes are emeralds totaling 1.1 carats, and those blue panther spots are 102 Cabochon sapphires totaling 10.7 carats. Suspended from the panther’s front paws is an enormous 65.9 Ceylon sapphire. This elegant brooch is part of Cartier’s High Jewelry Collection and sells for $1.1 million. Now that’s what I call one expensive lapel pin!

Looking for more reasonably priced lapel pins? Unlike the rare jewels at Cartier, our rates for promotional lapel pins are very competitive.

How to Wear a Lapel Pin

Lapel pins add a nice touch to a jacket while making a statement about the groups or ideas that you believe in and support. What’s the best way to wear a lapel pin? And, where exactly should place a lapel pin on your suit?

As with most fashion accessories, there are no steadfast rules, but here are some general guidelines:

If there is a button hole sewn into the left lapel of your suit or jacket, that’s where the lapel pin should go. If there isn’t one, then you should place your lapel pin about one inch down from your tie knot and about four inches over on the lapel. Most people wear their lapel pins on the left (over the heart) to show that a certain group, cause, or country is near and dear to their hearts. For more information on the proper placement of a lapel pin, read this article from

Of course, lapel pins need not be worn only on the lapel. Men may opt to wear a lapel pin on a tie in lieu of a tie tack. Women can wear lapel pins on blouses and scarves. Many pin collectors prefer to wear the pins on lanyards.  Lapel pins may also be worn on hats or baseball caps. They can even be pinned onto a favorite tote bag or knapsack.

Make sure that your lapel pin is properly positioned and securely fastened to your clothing so it will not spin or fall off as you move throughout the day. This is especially important if you are wearing a patriotic flag pin. If the flag pin is upside down or crooked, it could offend some people.

Remember to remove your lapel pin from your suit or clothing each day. If a lapel pin is left in certain fabrics for an extended period of time it could leave an unsightly permanent pin hole.
Most importantly, enjoy wearing your lapel pin. A lapel pin is an ideal way to break the ice, create instant rapport, and express your interests and your personality.

Do you have any other ideas or favorite ways to wear a lapel pin? Please share them with us here!

McFred and his McPins

act-micky-dPrick Fred Huebner with a pin, and you’d surely find McDonald’s flowing in his blood. Huebner, a McDonald’s franchise owner based in Garner North Carolina has worked for the fast-food giant since he was a student in high school. He financed his way through college working as a part-time swing manager for the chain, later accepting a full-time position with the company. When he became an operator in 1986, Fred had already been working with McDonald’s for fourteen years.

Although Huebner owned a small collection of McDonald’s award pins from his early days with the franchise, it wasn’t until his coin and stamp collections were stolen during a home break-in that he decided to shift his collector’s passion to McDonald-themed pins. Huebner says: “I figured I should work on a collection that people wouldn’t want to steal, and if they did, I’d know exactly where to find it”. He adds: “I also liked the idea that the pins were small, so I would be able to collect a bunch of them.” “A bunch” is a bit of an understatement:

act-mcclintonToday, the McBurglar would have a difficult time sneaking off with Fred’s collection of almost 30,000 pins neatly displayed in cases that line the walls of his corporate office. His collection also includes over a half million duplicate pins that he uses for trading or for sale. The collection spreads to every room in the building, except his wife’s office. After living with Fred’s growing collection in her home for years (it took up three entire rooms), she wants all of her space to be lapel-pin free!

act-mcarnoldThere is little doubt that Huebner owns the world’s largest collection of McDonald’s-themed pins: about 10 years ago, there were 3 other collectors in the United States who were contenders, but Fred, unlike his colleagues, has taken full advantage of the internet to further expand with his own website. Still, Fred insists that there are a few pins missing from his collection: “I’m still trying to get a regional award pin from Albany, New York. It is shaped like a Buccaneer ship with five canon holes. McDonald’s employees or owner/operators used to receive the pin as their first award, and then, each time they earned an additional award, the canon hole would be filled with a precious stone. I have a Buccaneer ship with 5 rubies in the canon holes, but I’m missing one with 5 diamonds. Most people don’t like to get rid of awards pins.”

act-mcfredFred’s stories about his lapel pins are fascinating, even if you’re not a part of the McDonald’s family. He considers the crown jewel of his collection to be a 100,000 Club 10-carat gold pin with a slashed arch logo that Ray Kroc (McDonald’s founder) used to give as an award to restaurants in the 1950’s for selling 100,000 hamburgers in a month. “I would have easily paid almost $500 for that pin”, explains Fred, “but I was lucky to find my first one for just $75.”

In addition to collecting pins, Fred has also been inspired to design lapel pins over the years. He has created a “Fries Pin Collection” for his team of employees that is very meaningful to him, and he is the wit behind many of the most comical pins in recent McDonald’s history. For example, during the infamous O.J. Simpson trial, one of O.J.’s alibis was that at the time of the murders, he was in the drive-thru at McDonald’s. In response, Huebner created a pin that reads: “I saw O.J. at McDonald’s!”.

act-mcelvisThe Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal inspired Huebner to create a lapel pin that says: “I never touched her fries!” And, a few years ago, when Burger King introduced its so-called Stealth Fries in attempt to seize the “Best Fries” title from McDonald’s, Fred cheered on his company with a flurry of lapel pins that imagined what celebrities would say about McDonald’s fries. From “I’ll be back—for fries” (Arnold Schwarzenegger) to “The fries have left the building” (Elvis), the entire series is inspired.

Huebner will readily trade any pin  for which he has multiples. As for the future of his collection, he imagines that one day it will end up in the McDonald’s museum archives near Chicago. Until then, Fred plans to keep on collecting. As for me, I’m planning a visit to Exit 312 off of I-40 where I plan to eat some delicious McDonald’s French fries and marvel at McFred’s McPins in person!

Pining for Pins in the Movies

This weekend, the movie Eat, Pray, Love  opens.  If the success of the book has anything to do with it (over 155 weeks on The New York Times Bestseller List), I’m sure the theaters will be packed! 

Last summer’s blockbuster book-turned-movie was Julie and Julia  featuring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams as Julia Child and blogger Julie Powell, respectively.

The film was indeed a feast for the eyes, with scenic shots of Paris and a bounty of butter-laden delights: gooey chocolate cakes, fish swing in buttery sauces, and towering soufflés, to name a few.

Another thing that caught my eye: the vintage pins and brooches that both Julie and Julia wear throughout the film—everything from whimsical pins like a Scottie Dog to a gorgeous initial pin that appeared to be rhinestones. You can see some of the visually stunning images from the film (and even make them wallpaper on your computer) here:


The New York Times reported that as a direct result of the movie, almost 48 years after it was first published, Mastering the Art of French Cooking  by Julia Child hit the top of the best-seller list.  It sold more copies than were sold in any full year since the book’s appearance. The books on which the movie is based was also in high demand: Julie and Julia  is in its 13th printing this year, and My Life in France, the book that chronicles Julia Child’s years there, is in its 9th printing.

But mark my words: books weren’t the only thing that were selling as a result of the film. The movie has lots of people pining for pins. Vintage-inspired brooches and initial pins were hot sellers as a result of the movie’s charming aesthetic.

I wonder what fashion trends Eat, Pray, Love will inspire….  We’ll be finding out soon!

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