Once again, fans stuck on great game of pins

Souvenir market couldn't be hotter

Winter Olympics

Salt Lake City 2002

February 08, 2002|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

SALT LAKE CITY - The unofficial currency of the Winter Games is pins: food pins, sponsor pins, sports pins. Even the FBI has pins.

Want something copied for free? Give the clerk a pin. Need a cab driver to wait while you dash to the ATM? That'll cost you two pins. Don't have a pin to trade? Welcome to the loser's club.

An urban legend has it that 17 million pins were traded at the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles, and that's before bartering really got hot.

Pin traders are everywhere. Some specialize. Others aren't picky.

For Harvey Davids, it all started in 1988 in his Calgary collectibles shop. Someone covering the Winter Games gave him an ABC network pin.

"I somehow got hooked," he says. "It's every parent's nightmare. The circus comes to town and the kid runs away. The Olympics came to town and I haven't missed one since.

Davids is sitting on the corner of West Temple and 200 South, wrapped in a parka, looking for his next score. He has few takers, but he's not worried. "It'll pick up," he says. "It always does."

A block away, at Dare to Dream, it's a swapper's paradise.

Store employee Suzanne Lammle is dickering with two police officers from Hurricane, Utah, over what their pins are worth. They want to swap their pins shaped like police badges for her badge-shaped, narcotic's officer pin.

Even up. Two for one. One for two. Finally, the deal goes down.

The store manager, Jack Frost, watches as people peruse boards filled with pins that cost anywhere from $5 to $25 (the expensive ones are behind glass), trying to decide if they want a bowl of ice cream with the 2002 Olympic snowflake or a Valentine's Day tuxedo and rose combination with the 2002 logo.

Usually, they take both and throw in a few others for good measure.

The Salt Lake Organizing Committee has authorized about 600 retail pins, but there are hundreds of non-profit organizations that have permission to produce pins for fund-raisers. On top of those are the hundreds of unofficial Olympic pins that poke gentle fun at Utah and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Frost says the number of designs tops 1,700.

Local pin expert Bill Hipson and Salt Lake Tribune editorial cartoonist Pat Bagley have sold out their series of pins that play on Utah themes. "Seven Brides for One Brother," is a play on the banned practice of polygamy. Another makes fun of sea gulls, Utah's state bird. Yet another declares Utah is a "holy-owned subsidiary" of the Mormon church.

Many people in the store say the pins are inexpensive souvenirs for children or grandchildren that are easy to pack in luggage. But other folks are hoping to make a killing later on in the collectibles market.

Frost says as the games get closer, there's been a noticeable shift from the former category to the latter.

"There are people coming in with lists, looking for specific pins - say a Nagano participation pin - and they don't quibble when you say $250," he says.

Although there are some notable exceptions among this year's pins - the original green Jell-O pin is selling for $150 - the vast majority of them don't appreciate.

"People who buy pins to make money are buying pins for the wrong reason," Frost says. "They come in here and say, `These must be worth something.' So I point and say, `Let's walk over here to the $5 boards.' "

Artistically, some pins are jewelry, while others are, well, not.

Frost recalls one group of customers staring at a pin of a roasted marshmallow, and then turning to him and asking, "Why would they have a burning toilet paper roll?"

He chuckles at the memory. "There's no negatives in the pin business. Everybody's happy, everybody wants to be here. Pins can make you smile."

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