(ATR) Trading seems to be taking a less prominent role at the monthly Olympic pin trading club meetings in Atlanta.
Speaking to Around the Rings, several participants say the camaraderie and friendships are what brings them back to The Varsity, an iconic fast food joint near Downtown Atlanta.
Scott Reed, the closest thing to an organizer this event has, said his collection doesn’t grow too much from attending the monthly meet-ups.
"I used to come here to find stuff but now I know everybody and can get it separate from here," he said.
"Now I mainly come here to socialize. I sell some stuff but that’s not why I come."
Reed added that for many of the participants, the events are their social highlight.
"There’s one guy here I don’t want to embarrass him by using his name," Reed said, "but he’s told me this is the most fun he has. There’s one guy here who's Russian. He barely speaks English but his wife said he enjoys this more than anything else all month.
"I don’t know if people sell much or trade much anymore, maybe occasionally, but it’s mostly socializing."
Husband-and-wife pin trading team Kevin and Brenda Marx say they too now come for the social events.
The couple has attended the meetings regularly since they started in 1996.
"We’ve met a lot of great people over the years," Mrs. Marx said.
"We’ve known probably half the people in this room since ‘96," her husband chimed in.
The friendship was easy to detect. Most members spent the night joking with each other, patting each other on the back and sharing the latest news and gossip about themselves and their families.
Brenda Marx also said her interests have expended as a collector since the Atlanta Olympics.
While her collection is still very Atlanta-centric, her tastes have expanded to Hard Rock Café memorabilia, other Games, and now London 2012 pins.
"I got my first one tonight," she said beaming.
Craig Perlow, an authority on Olympic pins who lives in Atlanta’s suburbs, said the club now is "really more of a memorabilia club."
"I think is a good thing because it makes for a more varied group of items that you see and people can collect."
And what keeps Perlow coming, what with his 35 years of collecting and estimated 160 club meetings?
"I just like the human contact," he said"
"It’s much better than doing eBay and sitting behind a computer and interacting with people via email. I like to talk."
A Special Month
November’s meeting is typically the biggest draw annually.
It’s the month the club holds an auction for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
Some 50-odd people were in attendance on Nov. 16.
Up for sale this year were, of course, plenty of pins as well as a 1996 volunteer uniform, a sculpture of a gymnast in action and other sundry Olympic paraphernalia.
The auction started following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Reed said.
The club was scheduled to meet on Sept. 19th. Out of a sense of patriotism, the group decided to meet and hold an auction in support of New York firefighters and police.
"We had three that year, and they all raised probably $2000, $2500.
"The next year we said it didn’t make sense to have all three again so we decided to do it every November since then."
Reed says the club raises $700-900 dollars with some years fetching $1700.
Even if collecting is now secondary, the participants have not stopped their quests for gold.
Brenda and her husband say there is one pin they are after: the one that got away.
A rare pin produced by the Macy’s department store for the 1996 Games popped up a few years ago, and they passed on the purchase.
"We had no idea at the time," Mr. Marx said.
"The person wanted $150 and we thought no way we’re spending that on a pin and we’ve never seen another.
"I’ve got on eBay any time a Macy’s pin that goes on eBay I get an email and the year since it’s been there, there’s never been one that pops up."
Still they do have a favorite pickup from the meeting, a one-year-to-go pin produced by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
They traded for the pin with an AJC staffer, "so that was pretty special" she said.
Reed said in all the time he’s been there, it’s tough to point out the most interesting item brought in.
"I’ve seen all kinds of clothes, uniforms so many unique things it’s hard to say."
What drew special attention from the crowd was Reed’s complete, framed set of IOC Session badges from the most recent Session in Durban. To get the prize, Reed traded his backup set of Atlanta Session badges.
The club’s unique offerings attract people from not just Atlanta.
"We had a guy fly in from Australia once," Reed said.
"He was planning a trip to the U.S. and planned his trip when this was going on. We had people come from Japan a few years ago."
Marital Bliss Through Pins
Most collectors were on their own, but Barbara said having her husband there helps her and offers the chance to be close with him.
"He’s a good trooper" she said.
"I go through looking for the pins and then he’s my second set of eyes.
"We go golfing and we collect pins."
Once the pins go home, Kevin frames and hangs them.
He proudly showed photos of his work, pins from the Sydney Games mounted on a matte shaped like Australia, and 1998 Nagano pins formed to resemble the Games logo.
Kevin estimates they have several thousand pins in their collection overall.
Future of the Club
Attendance has dropped off over the years as would be expected, but Reed said he doesn’t think the club will go away anytime soon.
"In ’96, this was in September after the Games, someone said we'll make it through Christmas and then die off," he said.
"I remember in 2001 someone said if we can just make it to 2002 that would be great.
"Here we are in 2011 and the crowds are still here.
"It’s amazing there was a guy here tonight who’s never been here before. Occasionally, we still get people, even 15 years later it’s the first time they’ve come."
Written and reported by Ed Hula III
For general comments or questions, click here
20 Years at #1: