Although collectible pins have long been popular Disney souvenirs, it wasn't until October 1999 that the Walt Disney Company introduced what is now the wildly popular phenomenon of Disney pin trading.
To participate in the fun of trading Disney pins, one needs only to have something to trade, and to this end, Disney makes available a handy starter set, which comprises a trading lanyard and four pins--typically two "keepers" and two duplicates. The lanyard is worn around the neck and the pins are then affixed to the lanyard for display. It's not necessary to buy the starter set, though; lanyards and pins can be purchased individually.
Pins, and various accoutrements of the Disney pin hobbyist, such as lanyards, locking pin backs, and protective display cases, may be purchased at the countless pin kiosks and most gift shops in Disney parks and resorts. For the serious trader looking to compile a specific collection, Disney pins are also often available through outlets like eBay. Those pins the wearer wishes to keep and not trade can be fixed to the lanyard with screw-on locking backs, which hold the pin securely and prevent it from becoming accidentally dislodged while walking through the crowds in the parks or being jostled on an attraction. Pins for trading are best left with the original backs, which are easily removed.
To trade pins, one has simply to approach another pin-displaying guest or Disney Cast Member and request a trade. A guest can, of course, decline, but Disney Cast Members at the parks or resorts must trade the pins displayed on their official lanyard. In fact they are required to make up to two trades per day with any given guest. Proper Disney pin trading etiquette mandates that no one touches anyone else's pins or lanyard, and when an exchange is agreed on, the pins are handed over with the the backs on. In addition to wearing pins on lanyards, guests may wear pins on hats, vests, or sashes. Cast Members may wear their pins on a hip lanyard, which is a square of canvas clipped to a belt.
In the years since Disney pin trading was first introduced, there have been thousands of pin designs produced, including several limited-edition pins made available either alone or as a sets or part of a series. Pins that form part of a set should be traded as a set.
The pins themselves come in many styles, shapes, and sizes featuring nearly every conceivable aspect of the Disney experience, from the major attractions to fairly obscure Disney characters to Mickey Mouse with Major League baseball team logos. Some pins feature special design elements such as a dangle, a fastened rubber element, movable pieces that slide or spin, or even flashing lights. Pins commemorating holidays are very popular with Disney pin trading enthusiasts who spend a particular holiday in the park. Each pin bears a back stamp, which provides information about that particular pin's copyright, manufacture, and other details. If the pin is a limited edition, the edition size and sometimes an individual number will appear on the back. If the pin is a "surprise" or "mystery" pin, the back stamp will mention this as well.
Certainly of special significance to pin traders is the coveted "Continuing the Pin Trading Tradition" pin, which cannot be purchased but is obtained only by award. Cast Member Leaders at the Disneyland and Walt Disney World Resorts bestow this pin on guests who "demonstrate positive Disney Pin Trading etiquette and promote Disney Pin Trading"--making it a capstone for any collection.