Before 1908, only athletes and officials wore pins and these for for identification, rather than as souvenirs.
From 1908 to 1920, there were very few pins. Some of these were exchanged between athlete from different countries.
Pins became more common from the 1924 Paris Games. By the 1932 Games, they were readily available and, in general, their quality was such that many could almost be considered like pieces of jewellery. Pins from Great Britain, India and Malaya at the 1956 Melbourne Games were particularly noteworthy.
The 1968 Mexico City Games featured the first butterfly-clutch pin fastener, which has become the standard of Olympic pins today.
Large-scale trading of pins among spectators, who had no official affiliation with any of the teams, began at the 1976 Montreal Games. During the the 1980s and through the 1990s, pins became extremely popular with the collecting public.
Pins have become a major source of revenue for many National Olympic Committees. As a result, they are now produced in much greater quantities.
National Olympic Committee pins come in two basic varieties – generic and dated. Generic pins are those that can’t necessarily be identified as being from a specific Games because they feature only the NOC’s logo in their design. Dated NOC pins are made to commemorate a specific Games, so their designs include the year, the Games logo or the Games mascot(s).
As well as official NOC pins, “unlicenced” pins, issued by sponsors, host cities, media and so on, are also sought after by some collectors. There are also “bid city” pins which are produced by cities competing to host an Olympic Games. The first sponsorship pin was designed by Sylvania Electric Products Inc., for the 1960 winter games in Squaw Valley.