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London 2012: Olympic pin badge collectors reveal addiction

Part of collector Robert Wilson's Team GB collection
Image caption The rarer the pin badge, the more prized it is

Pin badge collecting may not be a hobby immediately associated with the Olympics, but a gathering of "pinheads" in Stratford revealed their addiction is fuelled by a passion for the Games.

The meeting, held in a room overlooking the burgeoning 2012 site, was organised by London Pins, a website for pin collectors and traders interested in Olympic pin badges.

About 50 or so people arrived during the first hour and their chat was punctuated by the clinking of metal as collectors unwrapped display wallets and boards dripping with badges.

Image caption Anthony Drexler admits he is completely addicted to collecting

But it soon became apparent that any money changing hands would be frowned upon - the aim of this exercise was to get mutually beneficial swaps.

"Collecting is addictive, like a drug," admitted Anthony Drexler, 40, from Hertfordshire, who has 5,000 pins at home. "There are certain pins you want, when you get them, you get a rush."

He first got interested in Olympic badges while working as a journalist for the Athens 2004 Olympic Games Organising Committee.

"I got given one pin in Athens, I saw it was part of a series," he said. "I've now got 5,000 pins."

But his interest is only in Olympic pins as "I want to feel involved with the Games".

It turns out that this is a global hobby, with people now turning up at the Olympics simply to swap pins.

The badges range from those exclusively issued to athletes or produced by sponsors, through to mass-produced official pins which can be bought. And then there are the fakes, as well as the unofficial pins.

The general consensus is that it took off in America during the 1980s. The London Pins Olympic pin history states that the 1984 LA Games boasted "perhaps 17,000,000 pins in over 1,300 designs", where pin trading was "a major event".

London 2012 Games organisers Locog have said that they will be "producing 2,012 individual pin designs" by the time the Games begin.

The first pins can be traced as far back to Athens in 1896, where small coloured cardboard discs were issued to the athletes (blue), judges (pink) and officials (red).

By 1904, the badges were made of metal and by the 1924 Paris Games, the introduction of the Olympic village meant athletes and officials could mix more easily. London Pins states that this "led to the swapping or trading of pins as a form of friendship and goodwill between nations".

Scientist Robert Wilson, 45, from Enfield, was keen to stress his "passion for the history of the modern Olympic Games".

"I have been to four summer Olympics and was a member of the British Olympic Association for 22 years," he said.

He collects Team GB White Shields - they are a rarity, only issued to members of the Olympic team.

Image caption Robert Wilson carried the Olympic torch in 2004

But his Olympic interest also resulted in him carrying the torch four years ago for the Beijing Olympics, having won the opportunity through a competition in The Times.

His part of the route, through Fleet Street in London, was disturbed by clashes between pro-Tibet protesters and police.

"The police pushed me back on to a bus live on TV for safety after I was surrounded by protesters," he said, adding that he still had his torch at home after his incredibly memorable experience.

"The power of collecting comes when the Games arrives - the key word is fellowship," he said. "But it's also a definitely a power thing for business. Sponsored, corporate badges get huge publicity from it."

For him, Olympic pins are badges of national pride and identity. "It's like saying who you belong to - we have such pride in our athletes," he said.

Paul McGill, 44, a computer programmer from Surrey, is the man behind the London Pins website and the organiser of the gathering.

He states on his website that "ever since the Munich Olympics in 1972, I've had a fascination with the Games. Back in '72 I had an Esso sticker book, in '76 and '80 it was scrapbooking."

Collecting is a huge part of his life and as well as collecting Olympic pins, he also collects Disney pins, coins and stamps.

Image caption Sarah and Paul McGill collect together

"Running the website is my second job," he said.

He also admitted that he finds his hobby incredibly addictive, adding: "I got two pins today, I never thought I'd get them, I'm over the moon. Here's one of them - it's only for Olympic Delivery Authority staff."

He added they were constantly on the lookout for fakes. "China's terrible for them," he said. "You have to look for quality and markings on the back."

His wife, Sue, added with a smile that collecting "keeps him out of trouble".

Their daughter Sarah, 12, is also a collector.

Image caption Unofficial merchandise is also collectable

"We started off with Disney pins and then my Dad got into Olympic pin badges and it just grew on me. Now the Olympics is going to be in London, it's a lot more popular so I can get more involved," she said.

Sarah was a rare female face at the gathering, but those there insisted that women were also definitely fans of collecting, especially in the US.

Moham Banerji, 63, from Berkshire was happy to own up to the addictive nature of collecting, adding that he used to collect National Olympic Committee pins.

"I think the thrill is in the chase," he said of his hobby. He started collecting while working in sales and marketing in Sydney during the Olympics.

"I only collect ones you can't buy. If you write to a company that produces pins and your letter hits the spot, you can get a pin sent to you where others have failed."

He added that collectors did occasionally resort to buying badges online that they really wanted, but that trading was still the best option.

Image caption James Beckford and Moham Banerji collect pins you cannot buy

James Beckford, 27, has only been collecting for six months.

"We both like sponsored pins," he said of himself and Mr Banerji. "I got my first badge from BP, where I work, and I didn't realise at the time how big the trading community was."

He also admits he is completely addicted.

"It's all about the thrill of completing your collection," he said with a satisfied smile.

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