Every so often an emotional itch will develop somewhere deep in my collector soul and I find myself unexpectedly starting a new collection of some sort. It’s just the way I’m wired and it has hit me with things like Magic cards, boat themed Hot Wheels, Marvel Legends action figures, Dungeons & Dragons gaming stuff and, for a time, I was even a dedicated Disney Trading Pin collector.

Chasing after Disney pins held my focus for a couple years as I stumbled onto them just as the marketing campaign was getting started at Walt Disney World Resort in the late ’90s. Though I’ve now pulled myself away from the “hobby” (as Disney officially defines it), those early days had me hunting limited edition pins tied to the rides and scenes I grew up with and, just as they planned, I found myself opening my wallet again and again as I started my collection. Even today, I felt the pins pull once again during a recent family vacation to the Walt Disney World resort. Those tiny collectibles were littered throughout the parks and that collector’s urge, once you have it, is sometimes tricky to block. In the end, this visit didn’t leave me with a suitcase of treasures but it did make me curious about the history of this hobby and just how healthy it remains today.

In the article that follows I plan to do three things. First, I’m going to get you up to speed with the history of Disney Pin Trading. Next, I’ll walk you through some considerations should you become a collector as this hobby has its own language and customs. Finally, I’ll point you to some strong resources around the web where you can deepen your knowledge and begin building a collection that reflects your personal pin-based passion for all things Disney.

The History Of The Pins

If you want to be technical, there actually hasn’t been a time that pins weren’t a part of the Disney theme park experience in one way or another. You’ll find pins dating all the way back to the opening in 1971. That said, there was a turning point where Disney Pin Trading really came into its own and solidified as a concept. That point arrived in October of 1999.

As part of their Millennium Celebration, which ran from October 1, 1999 to January 1, 2000, the company introduced the idea of Disney Pin Trading at the Walt Disney World Resort. Right out of the gate, Disney put their considerable marketing weight behind the new program encouraging the birth of some serious collectors. It was at this time that they caught me in that very first wave of fandom. I was visiting the park for their Halloween celebration roughly 20 days after the pins’ debut and I watched as new fans took up the challenge sometimes running to the new pin trading stations, which were popping up throughout the parks. In retrospect, it was fascinating to see how quickly this craze took hold even just during the time I was there that first month.

After the debut at Walt Disney World Resort, the company clearly felt they had stumbled on something as the hobby arrived at Disneyland Resort the following year. From there it spread quickly throughout all the associated parks, resorts and cruise lines around the world.

What began as a simple series of pin stations and trades within the parks has grown quite a bit over the years with each Disney property evolving their own celebrations and traditions. After the Millennium launch, Disney began hosting annual Pin Events which yield event exclusive pins and add to the collector fervor. These events also serve as a gathering point for collectors to trade and compare pins. The biggest of these gatherings is the annual September event, which is held at EPCOT in Walt Disney World Resort. There are also events at Disneyland Resort, Hong Kong Disneyland and Disneyland Resort Paris but they are not as expansive as the Walt Disney World gatherings. Even the Disney Resorts where guests stay get in on the action with monthly pin trading nights and related activities.

Building A Craze One Pin At A Time

Disney was wise in the way they stoked the fire for this craze. First, they produced a wide array of pins very quickly and mixed up the level of scarcity creating demand for certain ones in a very strategic way. Some pins celebrated rides or parks while others marked special events or festivals. If you were visiting the resort, there was always an angle through which you could commemorate your time with a new pin. And that is the true secret. One pin is really all it takes, as they quickly become a small collection. You see, it’s not just the ability to build a collection but the fact that this collection plays toward your nostalgia for a Disney experience which makes these keepsakes feel more personal. Your collection is as much about you and your moment in the Disney magic as it is the pins, which anchored it. In that, Disney has already made you a collector.

There is also the interactive element that draws some fans to collecting. Through the trading side of the experience, Disney encourages interactivity between the guests and staff. Disney encourages guests to proudly display their lanyards of pins while visiting the park and trade with other guests and Disney Cast Members. Adding spice to the fun, those cast members sometimes have cast exclusive pins (now known as “Hidden Mickey” pins) which make taking a look and talking to staff whenever possible something that becomes more exciting for the collector. The end effect is an in-park hunt that layers an added level of fun on top of the already incredibly active world of Disney resorts and destinations.

Over the sixteen years that have followed the formal launch, there have been thousands of pins produced (well over 60,000 at last count). Starting at $6.95 for rack pins and climbing in price from there based on the nature of the pin, the fact that many are only available for a limited time also drives the collector urge. Add to that the level of creativity and artistry present in each pin and you will find a beautiful little keepsake here and a collecting craze that, in the end, become pretty understandable. Well, to me anyway.

Considerations For The Collector

At its heart, Disney Pin Trading is the hobby of buying and trading collectible pins (and related items) which feature Disney characters, icons, attractions, events, movies, history and just about anything else they can render down to pin form. It is an officially supported hobby promoted by Disney. Pins do rise in value and some have commanded over $2,000 in private and public sales on the secondary market, which too this day remains vibrant and active.

Those are the basics. If you are going to dive into pin collecting there are some other things you need to know. Let’s run through the details and we’ll begin by sharing the official etiquette (which I’m summarizing here) as set by Disney:

1) A pin is only tradable if is a metal pin bearing a “©Disney” mark on the back. It should represent a Disney event, place, location, character or icon. That said, pins from other business units within the Walt Disney Company (ABC and EPSN for example) are fair game for a trade.

2) Pins should be undamaged and in good condition and a trade should not include money, gifts or receipts.

3) Only one pin may be traded at a time with a maximum of two pins traded with any single Cast Member, per day. The trade should result in the Cast Member getting a pin not already on their lanyard.

4) Guests should not touch the Cast Member’s pins or lanyard and everyone involved should remain respectful and friendly.

Be sure to check back to the official site as the rules (oops, I mean etiquette) certainly change from time to time. Okay, from here we jump into some advice as you start your collection with a quick round of questions and answers!

Let’s Answer A Few Of Your Questions Right Away

How is the best way to begin?

As you read above, there are A LOT of pins to choose from and the fact that many have only nominally increased in value means the choices for building your collection are massive. The advice here is to stop, take a breath and think about what you love most about Disney. Is it a character? A particular ride you grew up begging your parents to ride again? A time of year you always remember visiting the parks? For your collection, focus on what you love and let those first few pins form the roots of your hobby. Everything will grow from there. When it comes to Disney Pin Trading (and collecting) this is not necessarily a hobby for the completest among us. Pick your battles, let them reflect what you personally enjoy and dive in!

Where can I go to find exclusive or limited edition pins?

Disney does many things well but shopping has to rank high in the experiences they’ve perfected for guests. Feel certain that anytime you are on their property you are going to bump into pins. That said, you’re looking for the rare ones aren’t you? In Disneyland Resort, make your way to Disney’s Pin Traders in the Downtown Disney District. For the Walt Disney Resort, you will want to visit Disney’s Pin Traders at Disney Springs.  These two spots have some of the most comprehensive collections of available pins (both limited edition and open ended) you will find.

Do you have to be at the parks to collect the pins?

If we exclude the secondary market, the answer to this question is “yes”. You do have to be at the parks, with one notable exception, which I’ll address shortly. Running down the list, pins are sold at the Disneyland Resort, Walt Disney World, Disneyland Paris, Hong Kong Disneyland Resort, Tokyo Disney Resort (only available for sale or prize awards, no trading), on the Disney Cruise Lines, at Walt Disney Studios, Burbank, at Walt Disney Imagineering and at Disney’s Soda Fountain and Studio Store. You may note that the Disney Store (found in malls coast-to-coast) is not on that list. Since 2008, trading pins ceased being sold in stores outside the spots listed above. Yes, some select Disney stores have added open edition pins themed specifically for their location but by and large the chase to find special pins has become much more of a destination event though the years. That single exception I mention is the online Disney Store where limited edition pins are actually offered from time to time.

Not into Disney animation or the Disney theme parks?

You didn’t think you were getting off that easy did you? For those of you not into chasing the Mouse, there’s still a lot of reason to be a Disney Pin collector. Ever seen a Star Wars film, read a Marvel Comic or watched a Muppet movie? I dare you to take a look at the pins tied to these franchises and tell me you don’t want a few of those in your collection.

Know The Terminology

Do I have a cloisonné pin? What is a scrapper? Should I be worried if I don’t have a Free-D in my collection? Have no fear faithful reader. We have you covered as we walk you through some of the terminology you’ll need to talk the talk as you walk the Disney walk. First, let’s quickly get you up to speed on pin types:

Artist Proof (AP) – Pre-release pins created to measure production quality
Cloisonné – Surface of the pin contains individually set color sections
Dangle Pins – A portion of the pin hangs from small loops or a chain
Die Cast – Hand engraving dies used to create a three-dimensional image
Free-D – Contains a fastened rubber element on a pin adding extra dimension
Flocked – The pin has an area that’s a bit fuzzy
Hard Enamel – Next generation follow-up to Cloisonné allowing for more colors
Jumbo Pins – Larger, often more intricately designed and more expensive pins
Lenticular – A pin where the image changes when tilted back and forth
Light-Up – You guessed it! The pin has a section which lights when activated
Pre Production/Prototype Pin (PPP) – Sent to developers prior to manufacturing
Slider Pin – These pins have a movable piece which can slide across the pin
Spinner Pin – One part of the pin can move a full 360 degrees
Soft Enamel – Thinner pin than cloisonné pins but offering some of the same effect

Next, let’s cover a few special pins:

Build-A-Pin – Here Disney invited you to selecting your base and then add on extras via a special machine which constructed the final pin for you. This pin program was discontinued in 2004.

Cast Member Exclusive Pin – Pins sold only to Cast Members of a Disney Resort and are usually in a limited edition.

Continuing the Pin Trading Tradition Pin (CTT) – These are annual pins given to guests by cast members for demonstrating “positive Disney Pin Trading etiquette and promoting Disney Pin Trading”. These are sought after pins to say the least.

Gift With Purchase Pin (GWP) – These special pins come as bonus pins offered at special times in conjunction with the purchase of a certain level (usually the $25-$30 range) of pin merchandise.

Limited Edition Pins (LE) – Here a finite number of copies of the pin are manufactured and sold. You can check the back stamp to confirm it is limited edition and in some cases it will even list its number and the size of the edition.

Mickey’s Mystery Pin Machine – Existing at Mouse Gear in Epcot in 2007, this game dispensed special pins for a time and everyone who played was a winner.

Name Pins – These special pins are collectible and have a name is engraved on them but they may not be traded with Disney Cast Members.

Piece of History Pin (POH) – Each pin contains a minuscule piece of a prop from a Walt Disney World attraction. It should almost go without saying that these pins are considered some of the very rarest “grails” to find and add to your collection.

Pin of The Month – Each month cast members are given a new exclusive pin to trade which is commonly referred to as the pin of the month.

Surprise or Mystery Pins – These low to limited edition run pins are typically back stamped with the words “Surprise Pin”. They are released randomly within parks or resorts and sometimes turn up at fan gatherings as giveaways.

Just a few more terms for you to know:

Back Stamp – Information on the pack confirming copyright and edition size
Epoxy Coating – See that glossy, protective coating on your pin? That’s epoxy.
Pin Trading Nights (PTN) – Pin trader meetings where LE pins are often released
Rack Pins/Open Edition – Pins restocked for several years before retirement
Retired Pins – Pins which are no longer in production

Finally, here are a few pins to know about or avoid:

Fantasy Pin -These are pins commissioned by collectors but not created or endorsed by Disney (though they have been known to produce similar pins after seeing some of them).

Scrapper Pin – Sometimes the molds used to make the pins overseas (95% are made in China) fall into unsavory hands and unauthorized pins are made. Bootlegs, know as scrappers, have been used to flood the market at times. The term can also be used for actual scrap pins containing defects, which are then discarded.

Places To Go To Learn More

You’re first stop should be Disney’s official Pin Trading Page, but after you’ve made your way through their offerings there are a few strongholds for gathering even more information on Disney Pins. PinPics, the Disney Pin Forum and DizziPinz have been two long running resources for seeing what pins are out there. Be careful when it comes to utilizing eBay though, as there are a lot of scrapper auctions which can bite you. It’s better to look for pins in places that know collections well and validate what you are buying like the online Disney Store or our own CompleteSet Marketplace. Yes, at the time this story is going live we have pins for sale right here on the site just waiting to get you started!