Pin and bear it

People have lined up at 2 a.m. at Disney/MGM Studios to get them. They've caused shouting matches at the Magic Kingdom, fist fights inside Epcot.

What's the red-hot collectible that's causing Walt Disney World guests to act so crazy? Limited edition Beanie Babies? Pokémon holofoil cards? Front-row seats to "Lord of the Dance?"

Would you believe pins?

But not just any pins. These are Walt Disney World Resort exclusive cloisonné collector pins. Sold only on Disney property, these pins have suddenly become "the" collectible to trade on the secondary market and will be a commodity much on display as the annual Disneyana convention kicks off in Orlando this weekend.

Originally sold for $6 and up at the parks, many of these pins are currently reselling among collectors for 10 times their original value. Several -- particularly the ultra-exclusive cast-member-only "Official Pin Trader" pin -- regularly command $200 and up on eBay. The cast members' pins can only be purchased by people who actually work at Walt Disney World. These particular pins are so hard for members of the general public to come by that some employees have actually had their clothing torn by crazed collectors as they attempted to steal a pin right off a cast member's body.

This puts Mickey in a real quandary. The Mouse originally started this pin-trading thing just to give WDW guests something fun to do during the resort's millennium celebration. (Disney executives had noticed that Disneyland Paris guests and cast members regularly traded pins. They hoped that a similar program might catch on at the company's stateside parks ... as well as make a few bucks for the Mouse.)

Never in their wildest dreams did Disney's merchandising staff imagine that the WDW pin-trading program would be so successful. Introduced in October 1999, this program generated $17 million in pin sales during its first three months in the parks. By last April, that figure had jumped to $39 million. The result is that last month, Disney put the word out to the pin-collecting community that this phenomenon would no longer be just a millennium event. Pin collecting now will be considered a Disney tradition. Which means the Mouse intends to ride this cash cow as far as it will carry them.

This brings us back to Mickey's pin problem. Disney officials are said to be concerned by some of the tactics the hard-core collectors are using while pursuing pins on property.

Translation: Mickey is uneasy now that the sharks are cutting in on his turf.

Stories abound of thuggish adults conning kids into trading away their one-of-a-kind pins for less valuable fare. Cast members also talk of collectors so intent on cornering the market on one particular pin that they try to buy up every available copy on property.

Disney tried to rein in these aggressive collectible speculators late last year by instituting a new property-wide policy concerning pin sales. WDW guests were no longer allowed to purchase unlimited numbers of pins. They are now restricted to buying just two copies of any one pin per day.

Zealous collectors found the Mouse's attempts at restricting pin sales laughable. Many got around Disney's restrictions by using disguises (for example, wearing a baseball cap and a jacket while buying the first set of pins, then returning to the same shop a half hour later -- sans hat and coat -- to buy a second set) or by finding resort sales personnel willing to overlook this supposedly strict sales policy.

Not exactly playing by the rules, is it? Well, these same speculators grouse that the Mouse isn't playing fair, either. After all, why is it wrong for these collectors to jack up the prices of the pins they're reselling when Disney has deliberately driven up the price of pin-related merchandise here in Orlando?

Want proof? The official Disney pin-collector shoulder bag sells for $50 at Disney World. Yet this very same bag sells for $5 less at Disneyland.

What gives? Pin enthusiasts suggest that the reason Disney's pin-related merchandise is cheaper in Anaheim is that the Mouse just introduced these items to its Disneyland Resorts back in March. Once the pin-collecting craze catches on in California just as it has in Florida, the Mouse is sure to raise the price of the merchandise to Orlando levels.

Asked to explain the discrepancy between prices at WDW and Disneyland, Disney retail representatives went mum.

In fact, they got so quiet, you could hear a pin drop.


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