A lot of things about the Olympics are pretty weird (all of the countries apparently getting along, the host cities putting their economy at risk for the sake of building new arenas, some of the stupider sports), but one of the more harmless weird parts of the Olympics is the fervor surrounding the collectible pins that people involved with the Games have been handing out for over 100 years. Looking to study this phenomenon a little further, Wired talked to some pin collectors and traders in Brazil for the Rio Olympics and put together a quick primer on what the pins are and why people are so interested in them.
Apparently, the whole pin thing began in 1896, but it really took off in 1936 when the Nazis “manufactured them in the millions as tiny propaganda pieces.” These days, most of the countries involved make their own pins, with special ones designed to highlight the sports that they’re particularly proud of (Wired says Germany reportedly has one for its cycling team this year). Also, collecting pins is so popular among Olympics people that one big-shot “pin-head” that Wired interviewed said “you can get in some places with a pin where you probably couldn’t get in if you handed them a $20 bill.”
Also, while it’d be safe to assume that the quest to collect all of the best pins every year gets heated, Wired claims the trades happen in “a good-natured, take-whatever-you-like manner.” That’s mostly because “selling pins almost certainly would lead to expulsion from Olympic park,” but the trader Wired talked to says he sold a dozen pins to a Russian guy in a sable coat at the Sochi Games for $1,000.
The whole thing is a lot more interesting than you might expect, and if the idea of getting so excited over pins still seems strange, Wired says the “most coveted pin” this year was created by a Japanese press group and features a little Pikachu. Don’t act like you wouldn’t want to get one of those.