Canada catches ‘Pin Fever’

by Richard Starnes
January 14, 2004

Photo Credit - Wes Parkes

Arthur Skolnik is a collection fanatic. He admits it. So does his wife.

Probably, she would not be averse to sticking pins in him over his obsession, which is a most appropriate reaction considering the Toronto landscape gardener has one of the three largest collections of Bonsai pins on earth.

“I have 997 and every one of them is different,” he says proudly as he glances up at the collection amassed on a floor-to-ceiling piece of felt on his office wall.

“I could pass the 1,000 milestone in a few weeks and there are only two others in the world who have reached that”

Mr. Skolnik is typical of tens of thousands of Canadians who have made a hobby out of collecting pins. They might concentrate on hockey players or the Olympic Games; beer or banks; the RCMP or the Royal Canadian Legion.

Ron Boily, president of the Winnipeg Pin Collectors Club knows the pin world as well as anyone. The retired, 56-year old photographer, has been an avid collector since the 1980s, has at least 15,000 pins displayed all over his home and understand what’s hot and what’s not. For example , sports is always hot.

“Pin Fever really started at the Los Angeles Olympics,” he says. “Whenever there is a major sporting event, thousands of people pick up pins. Our membership really spiked during the Calgary Olympics and you should have seen it when Winnipeg hosted the World Curling Championships last year. “Collectors came from all over the world to watch the curling and to trade pins. There is such a huge pin following for curling. “Certainly, you can expect the same to happen when the Winter Olympics come to Vancouver.

Mr. Boily does not confine himself to one or two subjects. For example, trading in Disney pins is big business. Workers at every Disney centre carry pins which they trade with visitors. And those same visitors trade with one another.

How do you spot a trader? “Simple,” says Mr. Boily, who’s been there, done that. “They will be wearing a pin.”

Mr. Boily carries pins from Warner Brothers, the provinces, TV stations, newspapers and other media outlets, the Canadian Football league. Sports is particularly heavy. Apart from curling and the Olympics, hockey, football, basketball and baseball attract eager followers. There are also niche collectors who concentrate on one, often obscure, subject. That’s where Mr. Skolnik comes in.

He began his journey to pin collecting fanaticism in 1980 when friends dragged him to Montreal’s botanical gardens to see a new collection of bonsai from the Orient. He astonished himself by becoming instantly fascinated and passionate about the plants. He reads books, took a course, opened his own bonsai store in Old Montreal and began to take in conventions all over North America. At every convention he picked up a bonsai pin – that’s one that carries a bonsai image, the name of the city it came from, the bonsai club or all of the above. The collection grew slowly until the Internet arrived. “That and the long empty winters – I own a landscape business, you know -0 turned it into an obsession,” Mr. Skolnik says. Making trades is a vital part of the pin collection business. Since these are not for sale, what does Mr. Skolnik do for trading? Have a third collection, of course.

“With my traders, I have something between 1,500 and 1,800 all told,” he says of a collection he values at around $10,000.