Pin Trading

Pin Trading At Disneyland

When I returned to Disneyland for the first time in 20 years, I discovered this “new” thing with pin trading.  I had been out of the park for so long that I had no idea it had been going on for years.

One of my last trips to Disneyland as a kid, you gave your ticket when you came in and by turning the turnstiles, a pin came out that was a Disney character and it was for one of the lands in Disneyland.  I still have 2 of those pins. So to discover that pin trading had become a thing at Disneyland, I was kind of excited…but a little scared.  I’m a perpetual collector.  If I like something that’s 1 of 10 or 1 of 3 even, I have to have the entire set.  I won’t stop until I get them all.  Financially, this was a scary proposition.  So that first trip back to the park, I was careful and selected a couple of pins from the Frontierland Trading Post that I liked and that reminded me of my moments in the park that trip with my family.

Since then, I have bought as many as 8 pins each trip.  After a few trips, I decided that it might be fun to start trading with cast members.  I’m not an outgoing person.  Some would even call me a little socially awkward.  Especially if I don’t know the person I’m talking to.  So I thought this might be a way to get me over that. So I looked at the park for what’s called “Mystery Packs” of pins.  They range from $12.95 for 2 mystery pins on up to $29.00 for 5 pins.  I have an annual pass with a 20% discount on merchandise but even with that, the cost of buying pins with the sole intention of giving them away was overwhelming to me.  So I bought 2 packs of 5 pins but it was a set that I liked and I wanted to keep.  I got lucky and in my 2 packs of 5 were 10 different pins of a 16 pins set…no duplicates.

I got home from the trip and decided that I really wanted to get some pins to trade with at the park.  So I looked online.  I went to the normal sites that I go to for shopping: Amazon and Overstock.  Everything on those sites was just about as much as buying at the park and with my 20% discount at the park and shipping added, some of them were more expensive.  So I went to ebay (If you know where this is going, please don’t get ahead of me).  I found store pins still on their cards for a couple dollars less or the same price as at the park.  Still no luck.

Then I stumbled into page after page of “25 Hidden Mickey/Cast Lanyard Pins” with a starting bid price of $9.00 and I thought, “This is what I’ve been looking for!  This is reasonable.”.

One issue I had was that I was new to this whole pin trading thing and I had no idea what Hidden Mickey or Cast Lanyard pins were.  So I read a couple things online and found out that there are a large number of pins that are not available to buy in stores at the park.  They are solely given to cast members with the intention of them trading these with guests in the park.  There are usually sets with several pins across a theme and guests will search the park on their trips to try to collect and trade them all.

So after I learned what these were, I set up an ebay and Paypal account, placed a bid and a couple days later, was notified on my phone that I had won the auction.  A few days later, the pins arrived.  I was excited to see what pins I had gotten.  I opened the package and looked at the pins.  There were a few that I liked and therefore kept but for the most part, I had bought these pins to trade and that’s what I intended to do with them.

I bought myself what I like to call my “man purse”…very European.  It holds things like my phone, battery charger and anything else I don’t want to carry in my pockets.  But it also has a zippered pouch with cloth pages to hold your trading pins.  I never went to the park without it after I bought it.

So I started trading pins with cast members.  I found some that I liked and some that I just thought were upgrades from what I had.  I figured they would be more useful should I come across someone with a pin I really liked and wanted.  I realized that I liked trading for anything Haunted Mansion. Then my son saw me trading and he wanted to be like dad…like most 4 year old boys.  So I got him a small pin collecting book and went back on ebay to get more pins.  I was running low and he needed some to trade too.  This time, I won 100 pins “all traded with cast members at the park” shipping from Orlando.  I won, they came, we traded. Sounds great, right?  Try again.

Recently, I was doing some research for another blog I’m working on and I came across an article about “fake” Disney pins.  I thought, “Man, that must suck to find out you had some fake pins.”.  I figured with as big of a business as this was for Disney, there must be someone trying to profit off of screwing people.  I didn’t find it surprising that there would be some fakes out there.  Then I read the article.  Not only did I discover that there were some fakes but that every ebay seller offering a large number of pins for a fraction of the price were fake.  But this is online, there’s always someone mad or that got a batch of fakes from one seller.  But unfortunately, not the case.  After several hours, several articles and several YouTube videos, it was the same thing in every single one of them. By this time I had probably bought 300 pins, spending roughly $150.00 on ebay, in exactly this manner.

So I went and pulled out all of my trading pins.  I pulled out what was in my man purse, what was in my son’s trading book and what I had in reserve for when I was running low.  I started going through the pins one by one looking for the signs I had learned in the videos and articles.  Out of all the pins I had for trading, about 10 of them were real pins.  Of course, that may not even be right seeing that I was new to the process of trying to figure out which ones were fakes.  Every other pin I had left was an obvious fake…no question. Now, I wasn’t upset that I got duped.  Yes, it sucked to have spent $150.00 on essentially garbage but what really got me mad was that I traded these pins at the park.  I helped spread this garbage around to other guests.  I only traded with cast members but they would in turn trade those pins to other guests.

What makes this even more of a shame is that ALL of those Haunted Mansion pins that I enjoyed looking around for and trading with cast members to get were fakes too.  The cast members didn’t even know they had fake pins.  I went through all the pins I had gotten from cast members by trading and about 50% of them were fake.  My son always trades for anything Winnie the Pooh, Tigger and Eeyore but I don’t have the heart to even look at his pins.  He likes them and they stay at home…and will forever.

So I started understanding some of my interactions with cast members that at the time made absolutely no sense to me.  I traded a pin with a cast member in a pin store on Main Street.  Then I looked around to see if they had any new sets or any limited edition pins that I wanted to buy.  A few minutes after I traded with her, I asked to see a limited Edition that was behind the counter and she seemed entirely mad at me.  She was short answered and gruff with me.  Being slightly socially awkward, I didn’t feel comfortable and ended up not buying the Limited Edition pin…and man I wanted that one too.  Now, I realize that she actually knew her pins and knew that I had given her a fake.

For those of you that don’t know, cast members are not allowed to say anything to a guest that gives them a fake pin.  Disney’s thinking is that the guest may not know it’s fake.  And thank goodness for that because I was one of those guests.  But now the interaction made sense. I also had a cast member start talking to me about fake pins after I traded with her and at the time I thought, that’s weird but surely my pins are real.  She wasn’t telling me that my pins were fake.  She was telling me that some people come to the park and trade fake pins.

The worst interaction for me that I thought of after the discovery that my pins were all completely fake was on my last trip.  I was in the Frontierland Trading Post.  I had just traded pins with a cast member there and a guest and his daughter asked if they could see my pins.  I said sure and his daughter saw a Cinderella pin I had that she liked and he saw a pin that he needed to complete a set.  He said he hadn’t brought his pins and asked me if I would trade with him if he bought a mystery pack from the store.  I told him, “Sure.”.  He got in line and while I was looking around, I decided to “spread a little Disney Magic”.  He was still in line and hadn’t bought a mystery pack.  I went over and not only gave him the pin he wanted but also gave his daughter the Cinderella pin she wanted.  I thought I was spreading some Disney cheer but as it turned out, it was completely the opposite.  I felt horrible remembering this interaction that at the time, I was totally proud of.  I wanted to get in my car, drive to Disneyland and go to the park for two days to apologize to any cast member I ever traded with and buy them all pins from the park to replace the fakes I had given them.

So now that you’ve taken the time to read my horror story as it were, let me tell you what I have learned about how to tell fake pins and some friendly advice about buying and trading pins.

First…and I can’t stress this enough:  DON’T EVER BUY “LOTS” OF PINS ON EBAY FROM ANYONE!!! No matter how convincing they’re listing looks.  They will all say that they’re “real” pins traded with cast members at Disneyland and Walt Disney World.  Some even try to say that some of the pins are 3rd and 4th “runs” of these pins so the “colors are slightly different”.  Remember one thing: Disney is big on quality and consistency.  If Disney were to do a 2nd “run” of a pin, the colors will be identical.  Basic rule is if it seems too good to be true…it probably is.

Second: Again, Disney is big on quality and consistency.  The edges of an official Disney pin will be smooth.  From best I can tell, the real pins are cast and put into what looks like a cement mixer along with polishing stones.  They’re tumbled with the polishing stones until the edges are polished smooth.  This is a step that the people making fake pins don’t bother to do…it makes the manufacturing process more expensive.

In this fake HM pin, there are three clues. Ezra’s eyes have no detail, the Hidden Mickey is three circles of almost the same size, and though it’s hard to see here, the design along the top is lacking detail as well.

Third: Disney is big on quality and consistency.  If you see a pin and the lines look sloppy or the details look blurred or there is just a plain lack of detail, it’s a fake pin.  Look at the eyes.  That seems to be a place that fake pins fall short a lot of the time.  Also, if it’s a “Hidden Mickey” pin, look at the Mickey silhouette.  If the proportions look off or the silhouette looks sloppy, it’s a fake.

Forth: Disney is big on quality and consistency. Fake pins are lighter in weight than real pins.  This is a harder test to use on one pin.  I think this one just comes from experience.  People who make fake pins use different, cheaper and lighter metals to cast their pins as well as a different substance to add the color.  In combination, these things end up with a lighter overall weight.  I’ve heard that if you drop a fake pin on a hard surface, you can tell it’s fake by the sound it makes but I’m not good enough to make that distinction.

In this fake pin, you can see where the waffling stops at the edge of the pin.  Real pins, the waffling will continue off the pin evenly
In this fake pin, you can see where the waffling stops at the edge of the pin. Real pins, the waffling will continue off the pin evenly

Fifth: Disney is big on quality and consistency.  Newer pins have what’s called waffling on the back.  It’s a silhouette of Mickey Mouse that’s repeated over and over again on the back of the pin.  One is right side up and right next that it will be one that’s upside down.  this pattern does not fit evenly on the back of every pin, so the waffling goes off the edge.  On a real pin, that waffling goes off the edge evenly and consistently with no change.  On a fake pin, that waffling will have in some places what looks like a boarder.  It will not continue off the pin consistently and evenly.

Two "identical" pins. The one on the right is real and the one on the left is a fake. In the one on the left, Hades is green and there are divots in the coloring.
Two “identical” pins. The one on the right is real and the one on the left is a fake. In the one on the left, Hades is green and there are divots in the coloring.

Sixth: Disney is big on quality and consistency. The only time before all this that I thought I might have gotten a fake pin, was in a set I ordered from ebay, I got a Cinderella pin.  She was wearing a pink dress and her skin was green…no kidding.  I don’t mean straight up green but her skin definitely had a green tint to it.   I never took that pin out of the bag.  I set it aside not wanting to ever trade it.  The point, colors will not be off.  Disney keeps color guides for every character in every film…ever and they can replicate them like Home Depot can match the paint in your living room.  Cinderella would never come out green and make it into the park.  Production would have stopped as soon as the first one came off the line completed.  If the colors don’t look right, it’s probably a fake.

There are other ways to tell fakes but I don’t feel qualified to explain them.  After all, I’ve just spent the last 6 months unknowingly trading worthless pins at Disneyland. So here are some links to some of the articles and videos I watched to learn what I know:

There are tons of other articles and videos out there.  Run a search in any search engine and you will find lots of resources.

My point to this story has been to hopefully inform anyone who’s thinking of starting to trade pins in any Disney park.  Have some general knowledge before you trade, don’t buy in bulk on ebay, and don’t be afraid to ask a cast member to see a pin before you trade.  This can be a fun activity to do at the park as long as you’re willing to take the risk.  I think I’ve decided to be a collector and not a trader.  Thanks for reading and have a great time in the park

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