(Updated February 2013)
"Some folks have more dollars than sense."
When I first got into Disney pin collecting, I wasted too much money getting caught up in the emotion of it all. I was giddy when I found a Surprise Release, excitedly telling others; I freely traded pins I had paid full price for, and traded away pins of value for useless junk. After more than a decade of trading, I've learned some tips that may save you money.
Inside the Park Tips
- When going to Disneyland or Walt Disney World (and for you lucky few going to Tokyo, Hong Kong or Paris, those parks), prepare in advance. That's pretty obvious, since you're on eBay right now, looking for pins. Purchasing lots of pins off of eBay to use as traders with Cast Members and not paying the $7.95 to $15 per pin that new pins cost in the parks is a huge savings. Legitimate pins can be found for $2-$2.50 per pin in groups. If someone is selling pins for pennies on the dollar, you have to ask yourself if they are truly REAL pins and not scrappers. Cast Members have Lanyard pins - pins that cannot be bought in the parks and can only be traded for off of a Cast Member's lanyard. Concentrate on finding those pins, as well as pins on your wants list. NOTE: When buying pin lots, beware of and avoid Scrapper Sellers. Scrapper sellers are claiming to sell genuine Disney pins, but their pins are 2nds and overruns not authorized by The Disney Company. (See my article, "Disney Pin Scam: Avoiding Scrapper & Bootleg Rip-Offs" for details.)
- Cast Members with lanyards are required to trade with Guests, as long as the pin you have is not already on their lanyard...and that brings up a point. Certain pins have SO flooded the eBay market that almost every CM lanyard has one. People buy these duplicates for cut-rate prices on eBay, but are then disappointed when they are unable to freely trade them. When buying pins, buy a VARIETY, not bunches of the same pin...most likely, 100s or even 1000s of those pins have already flooded WDW's Cast Member lanyards.
- Cast Members with green lanyards only trade with children...if you have kids, this is a great way to let them have fun. Of course, they can trade with anyone, but CMs with green lanyards are usually less swamped with others searching their lanyards.
- Just because you don't see a lanyard on a Cast Member doesn't mean they're not trading...look on their belts for rectangular trading boards (about 5 inches by 8 inches). It's a great alternative for CMs who don't want a lanyard hanging around their neck (or for female CMs who get tired of guys staring at their chests all day long). Some kiosks also use pin books, so just because a Cast Member doesn't have a lanyard on, they still may have pins!
- Don't be afraid to approach any person with a lanyard, even Guests. If they're wearing a lanyard, they may be willing to trade. (While Cast Members are required to trade with you, Guests are NOT.) The worst thing they can do is to turn you down. Always follow the rules of etiquette for pin trading when approaching a Guest or CM.
Pin Trading Events, Trader Nights and Sharks
To the first-time trader, trader nights or pin trading events may seem intimidating. And unfortunately, many of these same people get a sour taste of pin trading by ending up in Shark Pits -- places where professionals hang out to rob you of your valuable pins in trade for useless garbage. But if you educate yourself beforehand, you can enter any trader night, shark pit or pin trading event with confidence and assurance that you'll not only hold your own, but possibly find some of those pins you've really wanted.
Sharks are "professional" traders. The Shark problem has lessened in recent months and that's a good sign, but you can still find them hanging around Epcot's main pin shop (near the exit of Spaceship Earth), and in Frontierland at Disneyland. You'll see them set up with huge pin books on the little round tables next to the pin shop. Some Sharks - especially at Disneyland - are there day-after-day...in fact, I talked with one shark who has hired several employees so the people showing the pins varies from day-to-day. There are sometimes a few legitimate pin traders in the mix, but a majority of people out there act extremely "shark-like."
There are a few ways you can tell who's a shark and who's not:
- Sharks have lots and lots of lanyards and HUGE books -- some showing multiples and some not. Their goal is to get you to trade your rare lanyard pins in trade for their common ones. If you are uneducated, you're going to get taken. To prevent this, research on PinPics or Dizpins to find out what lanyard pins are rare and what aren't. Usually within a lanyard, mystery or vinylmation set, there are a few of the pins that are much rarer than the others.
- Sharks usually have a few "wow" pins, but you'll never get a trade for them unless you give them far more than they're worth. Sharks tend to use the Minimize / Maximize Ploy in their trading....they overstate the value of their pins and understate the value of yours.
- One of the most unscrupulous practices in my opinion is where Sharks tell you that you have nothing they want. "But if you just go into the pin store and purchase this pin for me," they'll say, "I'll make the trade with you." So you end up paying $7-$15 to trade for a lanyard pin that you can buy on eBay for $2-3 or find on a Cast Member's lanyard. Sometimes, they'll ask for two or three new pins for their one. While this isn't illegal, it's certainly "stealing candy from a baby."
- Sharks sometimes work in teams...face it, these folks see each other almost every day, so it benefits them to help each other.
- Occasionally (but normally not), Sharks even use kids to do their trading...they'll send their child to you to try and trade your valuable pin for their piece of junk. Don't give in to their big eyes and scam smiles...they're being taught by their parents to be scammers. To me, it's child abuse.
Pin Trading Nights and Pin Events
On the positive side of Disney Pin Trading are Disney's spectacular Pin Events. We attended our first one at Walt Disney World in 2005 and I have to tell you that we had a blast! Disney knows how to throw a party, and they do with with pizzazz and glitz.
The cost of attending (preregistration is a must) is offset by the Event Gifts you receive (lots of pins), meal vouchers, game vouchers (for more pins) as well as the opportunity to bid on extremely rare pin sets. It's sort of a lottery system that takes place weeks prior to the event, where you turn in a list of pins and sets that you want, in order of your priority to receive one. I admit that in recent years, Disney has neglected to offer super-rare sets in their mix, but you can still find some cool pins. If you do plan to attend an event, you can get all the details through Dizpins or through Disney. But here are some tips that should help:
- Register early. There's usually a special Early Bird pin given to those who register by a certain time.
- Get in line early on the first day, unless you want to be 400-feet away from the doors when they open...or better still, get your registration packet the night before...then you can walk right in on the opening day.
- Plan to spend your days there...there are lots of workshops, auction, games and opportunities to get pins that the general public won't have access to for a while. When I was there, Disney broke out a bunch of new lanyard pins weeks before they were to be put into general circulation.
- Bring lots and lots of pins to trade. There are bunches of pin trading boards -- refreshed regularly by Disney -- where you can spend 60 seconds looking over literally thousands of pins. I found several very rare pins on the boards...some put up there by other traders!
- The auction, while fun, is for the mega-rich. People pay stupid prices for prototypes and one-of-a-kind pins. We saw one family where the teenage boy easily spent $6,000-$7,000 on pins within an hour's time...like I said, people with more dollars than sense. But I had to admit that it was fun to watch people be stupid with their money.
- There is a HUGE pin trading area. Please Note: There ARE Sharks there you'll have to watch for, but there are also some very nice regular traders who bring suitcases of pins and pin sets to trade. If you're looking for that "Holy Grail" pin, you've got a good chance of finding it there.
- Sundays are public days...much busier and the special event-only pins are removed from circulation.
- You'll get to meet lots of people who collect pins...some, maybe even from your hometown!
Can't be at Walt Disney World or Disneyland for a pin trading event? Disney offers gatherings of pins traders periodically; check odpt.com (Disney's official pin trading site) for dates and times. A lot of locals come out to these, and the Sharks ARE out in force there...but there's plenty of other folks as well to meet, to fellowship with, and to trade pins with. There are also such events in Anaheim as well.
Outside the Parks - Life in the eBay Kingdom and On Trading Boards
EBay is a wonderful place to find Disney pins, but there are a few tips to keep yourself from getting taken. (Read my other articles to protect yourself from unscrupulous sellers.)
- Learn search techniques. Narrow your search to specific pins you're looking for, then BE PATIENT. You don't HAVE to have the pin RIGHT NOW...watch for price trends. Some pins DO command prices over $100 (in July 2006, I sold one pin for $656!), but sometimes people just get into bidding wars and drive the price of pins to crazy prices.
- Check eBay often. People run 1-day, 3-day, 5-day, 7-day and 10-day auctions. You don't look and you may lose that one pin you've been searching for for months.
- On the other size of the ditch, though, is this: You snooze, you lose. I don't know how many times I've "intended" to bid on something, but waited too long and either forgot or got busy...and then kicked myself for it selling for a price less than I would have been willing to pay. Use your Watch list and don't get shut out of bidding...using eBay's Toolbar is a great way to have eBay inform you with a pop-up when auctions are getting reading to end.
- Make full use of Combined Shipping! As a seller, I offer combined shipping. But to get that, a buyer needs to pay for everything all at once. I encourage buyers to wait until they're done shopping with a seller, then ask for a combined invoice. The trade-off is good for both people: Buyers get more for their money, and sellers aren't hit with multiple PayPal charges (which are huge, frankly).
- GET EDUCATED. I have a VERY strict policy about using words like "Hard-To-Find," "Rare" or "Very Rare" in my auctions...too often, I see common pins being listed as RARE!!! MUST HAVE!!! when they can be picked up for $1. Not everyone is ethical in their descriptions. Personally, my reputation is more important than making a sale.
- Watch for surges in auctions from the Orlando or Anaheim areas. About a year after pins are released in the parks -- if they are "retired" -- many of them (including unsold sets) are sold at discounted prices to Cast Members. CMs are not supposed to make a profit off of these items, but Disney has turned a blind eye to Cast Member practices of selling these discounted pins on eBay. When you see some of these pins and sets showing up, be patient...people go CRAZYWEIRD on bidding when they first see these sets, but if you are patient, you'll find that there are plenty of these items (usually) to go around, and the price drops dramatically. The same thing applies with Cast Member pins (pins only sold to Cast Members or given to them as awards). The "I Worked on the 50th Anniversary" Disneyland pins are a good example: When they first came out on eBay, they were going for hundreds of dollars...not any more. Remember the PS3? The day they came out in stores, they were selling routinely for up to $3200 dollars on eBay! Within a week, the price had dropped back to under $1,000.
- BE CAREFUL OF SCRAPPERS!!! I can't emphasize this enough. Don't get taken, and if you think about it, write The Disney Company and ask them to stop their Chinese connections from selling "seconds" and "overruns" to unauthorized persons.
Education is always key. Dizpins and PinPics (as well as other sources) will provide valuable information on pins, their rarity, what is real and what's a fake, including 10s of thousands of pictures so you can not only see what you want to buy, but also see what you want to avoid.
Enjoy Yourself...Remember, This is a HOBBY
Finally, let's remember that Disney pin collecting is a HOBBY...it's supposed to give you great enjoyment and relaxation. It's supposed to be FUN! Take an attitude check, periodically, to see if you have pins or if the pins have you (meaning, you've become obsessed). At one point, I had to totally sell off my collection to prove to myself that I wasn't being obsessive over it (you know the feeling...having a rotten day if you lost that eBay auction for one of those pins you "just had" to have?). Disney Pin Collecting can be a blast...and you can do it without going to the poor house if you use common sense.