Lithograph Pinback Buttons (And One Unique Contraption)

Many pinback button collectors are familiar with the birth of celluloid pinback buttons.  Two dates are typically associated with their invention, either 1894 or 1896.  One of these dates is presented on a paper insert often placed in the back of a celluloid pinback button.  The engineering process used to create celluloid pinback buttons is rather complicated.  It begins with an image on paper that is laminated with a protective celluloid (plastic) cover.  The paper image and celluloid cover are then crimped to a piece of metal that has been shaped with a die to create a concave flange and secured with a round metal ring (called a “collet”).  The trough created by the curl and collet provides a channel into which a spring pin is placed, permitting the pinback button to be attached to clothing for wearing. There are also other variations to this basic design, mostly involving the pinning mechanism.

What all celluloid pinback buttons have in common is technical complexity in their construction (with associated cost to the buyer).  It is no wonder that some celluloid pinbacks today look as good as the day they were made.  These pinbacks were very well constructed and have withstood the test of time.  As such, it seems rather remarkable to me that a simpler method to make pinbacks did not come along for almost another 25 years.  This column is about the invention of the second type of pinback button.  The technology was much simpler, and the cost to the buyer was much less.  They are known as lithograph pinback buttons.

I was able to locate two original documents filed with the U.S. Patent Office regarding inventions pertaining to lithograph pinback buttons.  History would ultimately reveal one was a smashing success, and one was (apparently) a dismal failure.  This column will feature a single lithograph pinback button/badge to demonstate both inventions.

Lithograph pinback buttons are characterized by their simplicity of construction.  Just as with celluloid pinback buttons, there are different variations in design.  The most basic design begins with a flat piece of metal (tin).  No paper is involved.  First, the sheet of tin is painted with a background color.  Upon drying, words and/or a graphic image are applied with ink.  Depending upon the particular design of the item, a third step might involve applying a thin coating of lacquer after the ink has dried to help preserve the image, in much the same way as the layer of celluloid (plastic) protects a celluloid pinback button.  Next a die stamps or cuts out the images that have been created on the sheet of tin.  This simple design technology is the basis for what the hobby calls “tabs.”  Since a tab is usually just a flat piece of metal, it is affixed to clothing (i.e., the top of a shirt pocket) by bending back the top portion of the tab.  Some well-known baseball tabs in the hobby include a tab celebrating Early Wynn’s 300th victory, a set of team tabs from the early 1960s, and the “Our National Game” player tabs of the 1930s.  An unusual variation to the typical flat tab is a set of team and player “bubble” tabs issued in the 1930s where the tabs are on the sides instead of the top.

A second variation of lithograph pinback buttons is the paint and ink are applied to tin, a die cuts out a circle around the image, and then another die creates a flange (i.e., the curl).  Finally, a spring pin is inserted under the curl for wearing.  Because no protective lacquer is applied to the ink, these pinbacks are water soluble.  An example of this type of lithograph pinback button would be the Cracker Jack pin set of the 1930s.

Finally, a third variation does involve the application of lacquer to the images before they are cut and shaped into round pinbacks.  An example of this type of lithograph pinback is the 1956 Topps pin set.  No matter what type of design technology is used, lithograph pinbacks are more easily damaged (usually by scratching) than celluloid pinbacks.

James L. Lynch was a Chicago industrialist who ran a sheet metal company.  He applied for a patent to make lithograph pinback buttons.  The title of his patent application was “Process of Making Buttons.”  The date of the original application was March 9, 1912.  Lynch finally got his invention patented on February 13, 1917.  The number is 1,215,675 from the U.S. Patent Office.  Here is the direct transcript of his patent application:

“The usual type of button as heretofore constructed has consisted of a metal base over which a printed design and thereafter a sheet of celluloid is secured, and the various elements are then permanently associated with one another in the forming of dies for the button.

By my invention, however, I am enabled to produce a button of the same appearance and durability, although at much less cost.

It is an object of my invention to produce a button constructed of metal having any desired design in any derived color or combination printed or lithographed directly on the metal itself, and with a transparent protecting coating applied to give a high gloss and approve the appearance thereof.

After the desired designs are applied to the metal, a liquid solution is applied thereto by painting, rolling, dipping, pouring, or by an air spray, which dries with a high luster and forms an elastic coating on the sheet very similar to a celluloid covering.  The button blank is then stamped from the sheet, and is then passed through suitable dies to form an inturned flange, serving as a retaining means for a pin and clasp wire, for the completed button.

By this process a button is thus formed which is exactly similar in appearance to the ordinary type of paper and celluloid covered metal buttons, but which is produced at exceedingly less cost, and furthermore, owing to the fact that in its finished condition, it is essentially an all-metal construction, it is far more durable than the other older type of button.”

While it is easy to play “Monday Morning Quarterback” 98 years after the invention was proposed, Lynch was partially correct about the value of lithograph pinback buttons.  He was correct about them being of all-metal construction, and he was correct that they are less costly than celluloid pinback buttons.  Where we could argue with Lynch is that history has shown that lithograph pinback buttons are, in fact, not “far more durable than the other older type of button.”

Lithograph pinback buttons went on to become a staple of the industry.  They are still made today.  Mr. Lynch undoubtedly prospered financially from his invention.  Nearly one-hundred years later, collectors of pinback buttons have to worry about reproductions and fantasies.  It should be duly noted that these hobby concerns apply only to celluloid pinback buttons.  It would be virtually impossible to reproduce lithography on metal unless one had access to the original design technology.

Mr. Lynch obtained another patent on a second invention pertaining to lithograph pinback buttons.   I was able to obtain an obscure specimen of it for this column.  While his first invention was a commercial success, the second one apparently was a dismal failure.  Furthermore, in the patent application process, Lynch made a statement that confirms what many hobbyists have long suspected about the object of their collecting interest.

On November 27, 1911, six months before filing his original patent application for lithograph pinback buttons, Lynch submitted another patent application entitled “Attaching Means for Buttons and Badges.”  The patent on the invention was granted on November 26, 1912, patent number 1,045,160.  The following is a direct transcript of his patent application:

“In many labor organizations, the various unions recognized the members of the union to obtain a monthly button or badge evidencing the continued good standing of the member in such union.  Such buttons or badges are required to be worn or exhibited during the month upon the clothing or cap of the member, and at the end of the month a new button or badge is issued and the old button thrown away or destroyed.  This entails considerable waste, as the entire structure is discarded….Furthermore, the frequent attachment and detachment of such device to the clothing soon injures the garment, rendering the same unsightly.  The object of this invention is to afford an attaching device adapted for use in connection with a button top, to removably engage the same upon the clothing without the necessity of removing the attaching means or pin from the clothing and enabling any desired button top of a standard size, to be immediately secured in place in lieu thereof, if desired.  It is also an object to the invention to afford an exceedingly strong and secure engagement of the button with the garment, preventing the disengagement therefrom except with intent.”

The following shows a scan of both the front and back of Lynch’s invention.  It happens to be a Boston Red Sox pinback.  I believe it was either a salesman’s sample or a demo of the construction process.  I recently acquired this pinback to illustrate its most unusual design features.  Mr. Lynch’s patented invention has two parts, and both are unique.  I have never before seen either part.  While a picture is worth a thousand words, I will try to describe it verbally.



The top half is, by far, the more intriguing.  It is an engineering marvel.  It is a single piece of wire.  If you were to stretch it out, it probably would be eight inches in length.   The wire is thicker than in any other pinning mechanism that I have ever seen.  The two ends of the wire culminate in the same place.  The engineering design is so tight that upon casual inspection it almost looks like one continuous piece of metal, with no beginning and no end.

One end of the pin has been sharpened to a point, the end that pierces the garment.  From the point, the wire extends about 1.50” until you come to essentially a double loop.  It is this loop that provides the tension in the spring pin (just as in a conventional safety pin).  The wire then extends at a 45- degree angle downward, followed by another 45-degree bend downward in the wire.  Now it is perpendicular to the pointed end of the wire.  Following a slight (about 1/8”) bend backwards (creating a “notch”), the wire now heads back 180 degrees to the main part of the pin.  Then there is a very tight complete reversal in the direction of the wire, creating the illusion of two parallel wires.  The wire then doubles back yet again, heading toward the pointed end.  The final part of the wire creates an oval-shaped loop, which serves to house the sharpened end of the wire (and protect the wearer from being impaled).

By design the wire has so much tension in it that the pinning mechanism is more difficult to engage than a conventional spring pin.  It was Lynch’s intent that once affixed to a garment, the pin would remain there.  As such, the pin is not particularly easy to open or close.  The pin was engineered so precisely that the blunt end of the wire abuts part of the loop.  By any reasonable standard, this is the most elaborate and sophisticated pinning mechanism yet invented for pinback buttons.

The bottom half of Lynch’s creation is also no “plain vanilla” fare either.  The badge has an unusual diameter for a pinback (either celluloid or lithograph), 2 & ¼”.  By comparison, the large PM10 pins are 2 & 1/8”.  But most distinctive is its design.  It is half-way between a flat tab and a typical lithograph pinback.  It does have a slight curl (90 degrees) to it, but the curl is not pronounced enough to create a trough.  If you tried to place a typical spring pin in it, the pin would immediately fall out.  The curl is just enough that the metal flange can be holed.  At the 12:00 position is such a hole.  The badge is affixed to the attaching spring mechanism by inserting the tip of the “parallel wires” into the hole, then sliding the badge down to the point where it rests in the “notch.”  The depth of the notch is such that the badge hangs straight and is not pinched by the wire, and thus dangles freely beneath the attaching mechanism.

Lynch customized the design of the badge to complement the design of the pinning mechanism.  There would be no way to wear the badge without his pinning mechanism.  To the best of my memory, I have never seen a holed lithograph pin/badge before.  I have seen holed celluloid pinbacks before, but the hole was usually at the 6:00 position.  They were typically football pins, and beneath the pinback dangled some metal football-related adornment.  I have seen these pinbacks minus the adornment, and I have seen adornments that had become separated from the pinback.  It would be possible to re-create such a pinback by uniting the two parts that were originally not joined together.  The hobby is divided on the integrity of pinbacks that have been so altered.

But what would/could you salvage from one-half of Lynch’s invention?  Probably nothing.  Either you would have a badge with no way to wear it, or you would have an attaching mechanism with nothing to hang beneath it.  As such, Lynch followed the marketing principle of product differentiation.  Quite literally, his invention differentiated itself from every other product in the pinback market.

So what are we to make of Lynch’s invention a century after its birth?   I conclude it was a commercial failure.  Recall from the patent application that this product was designed to reduce wear and tear on clothing from the continuous attaching and removing of pins.  Perhaps the market concluded that doing so did no serious harm to a garment.  As such, the invention was likely regarded as a solution to a non-problem.  I can think of no other viable explanation for why there are no other known surviving specimens of Lynch’s patented idea.

I should note that I might have previously seen one other Lynch badge (but not the pinning mechanism).  It was long ago and my memory is not clear.  I do recall seeing a lithograph pin for the 1926 Army-Navy game played at Soldier Field in Chicago.  I remember it was orange in color.  I recall looking at it in bewilderment.   I was struck by the fact that it did not have a curl deep enough to hold a typical spring pin.  In short, there was no way a person could wear it.   I can’t remember if it was holed or not.  If any reader has this pin, I would enjoy hearing from you.  The reverse of this Red Sox badge states “J.L. Lynch, 77 W. Washington St, Chicago, ILL. Pat’s applied for.”  In the middle is the union logo for the Amalgamated Sheetmetal Workers International Alliance.

As a final note, I am intrigued by the dates of these two patents.  Lynch first applied for (and received) the patent on his attaching mechanism.  This patent took one day short of a year to be granted.  The patent on the lithograph pinback button took nearly a full five years to be granted, first applied for in March, 1912 and finally approved in February, 1917.  When I was researching this column I was tempted to call Lynch the “father” of lithograph pinback buttons.  I now believe he was but one of several individuals who contributed to creating this type of pinback.  The five-year time period between the original application and final approval suggests that at that time the U.S. Patent Office was also evaluating related products submitted by other inventors.

This blog is about baseball pinback buttons (plus an occasional column about other sports).  I debated whether I would have written a column if this badge were not sports-related.  I probably would have, but the fact this badge is baseball-related just made it a delightful coincidence.


Please forgive my exuberance in using all capital letters for the title of this post.

In my book I make the point that mystery often surrounds baseball pinback buttons.  We can hold in our hand the end-result of someone’s decision to have a pinback button be produced, but we often never know the who, what, when, where, why, and how behind the little trinket.  This is especially true of pinbacks not issued in sets.  They often defy explanation.

This is the story of solving the mystery of one pinback that has intrigued me for a long time.  The particular pin in question is one that is well known in the hobby.  It is a pinback of Jackie Robinson, 1.50″ in diameter (a most unusual size for a baseball pinback button).  There is a youthful looking image of Robinson on the pin, with the inscription “Jackie Robinson Tells His Story to the Brooklyn Eagle.”  At the bottom of the pin is an individual letter that is seemingly unrelated to the picture of Robinson or the words on the pin.  In a previous post (“The Pinbacks of Jackie Robinson”) is a picture of the pin.  This particular specimen features the letter “J.”  The size of the letter was large enough to be noticed, but not over-powering in its presentation.

It is very unusual (but not unheard of) for a pinmaker to place any extraneous information on the front of the pin, as pertaining to the maker of the pin, for example.  Such information is usually placed on the curl or on the reverse with a paper insert (if at all).  I could not decipher the meaning of this free-floating letter.  It is one of the more flagrant mysteries among baseball pinback buttons.  The pin itself is very scarce.  It rarely comes up for auction or for sale.  I have seen two versions of this pin: one with the letter J and one with the letter N.

I reasoned there could only be two possible explanations for the two versions of the pin.  One pertained to the pinmaker.  I thought the pinmaker might have made two production runs, with the letters N and J simply identifying the run.  Perhaps the two runs differentiated the time or place of the pin’s distribution.  The pinmaker’s name was presented on the curl.  I googled the company and unbelievably discovered it was still in business.  I wrote a letter to the company and asked what it could tell me about the story behind the two different letters on the pin it had made.  I heard nothing for weeks  Finally I received a letter from an employee who had been with the company for over 50 years.  He told me the company stopped making pins many years ago as part of their line of promotional products.  Furthermore, all the files pertaining to pinbacks had long been destroyed.

My last hope was the Brooklyn Eagle archives at the Brooklyn Library.  Previously I had researched their microfiche files for a post I had written on The Deer Club.  The library had converted the Brooklyn Eagle into microfiche starting with the inception of the newspaper in 1841 up until 1947.  The library ran out of money to finish converting the remaining issues into microfiche (the newspaper folded in 1955).  I did a manual page-by-page search of the newspaper for 1947 hoping to find a reference to the Robinson pin.  I found nothing.  I donated $100 to the Brooklyn Library to help fund the continuation of the microfiche project.

About 1-2 years went by when I received an email from the Brooklyn Library stating that the complete run of the Brooklyn Eagle was now available on microfiche.  While I was pleased that the project was now complete, I really did not have the enthusiasm to do another year-by-year, issue-by-issue, page-by-page search of the newspaper.  The process was very laborious.

Recently I was scrolling through some old emails and found the one from the Brooklyn Library.  Just for fun I clicked on it.  Much to my surprise, the site now included a search function.  I entered “Jackie Robinson tells his story” and was taken to eleven specific issues.  The year was 1949.  There was a ten-part series on Robinson’s story, beginning August 15, 1949 and ending August 24, 1949.

I clicked on the August 15 issue.  Beneath the first installment of the series was an advertisement by the Brooklyn Eagle.  My eyes were transfixed as the ad showed a picture of the Robinson pin.  The ad read:

“The lucky letter is R!  Look at your Jackie Robinson button.  If it has the letter R imprinted just above the name ‘Brooklyn Eagle’ it’s a lucky button.  You may exchange it for our autographed baseball of Jack Robinson.  Bring all lucky buttons with the letter R to the Circulation Department, Brooklyn Eagle, 24 Johnson Street.  Near Buro Hall.”

There it was in black-and-white, right before my eyes!  But the ad didn’t explain everything.  Like, how would people get a button?  How many “unlucky” letter buttons were there?  I knew of two of them, the J and the N.  But something else seemed missing.  The lead line of the ad appeared to be the answer to a question: “The lucky letter is R!”  But what was the question?

I clicked back and found a reference that preceded the first installment of the series that was published on August 15.  In the August 12, 1949 issue of the Brooklyn Eagle was an ad run by the newspaper.  This ad was the Rosetta Stone to deciphering the Jackie Robinson pin!  My mouth became dry when I read the ad:

“Button button, who’s got the lucky button?  Thousands of these buttons are being given away on the streets of Brooklyn daily.  Be sure to save yours because a number will be imprinted with a lucky letter just above the name ‘Brooklyn Eagle.’  The lucky letter will be announced in this space on Monday, August 15.  Bring your original lucky button to the Circulation Department of the Brooklyn Eagle and receive an autographed baseball by Jackie Robinson.”

To further taunt the reader, the picture of the Robinson pin featured a question mark in the position where the letter would appear.  The final reference pertaining to the mercurial Robinson pin appeared following the third installment on August 17.  It was a photograph of three people, each wearing the lucky R Robinson pin and holding an autographed baseball.

We now know how the pins were distributed to the public.  They were not sold at Ebbets Field, but were most likely given in batches to the operators of corner news stands in Brooklyn.  Presumably every person who bought a copy of the newspaper was offered a free pin by the news stand operator as part of the Brooklyn Eagle’s promotion.  How many news stands sold the Brooklyn Eagle in Brooklyn?  Hundreds?  The Robinson story was not a one-day event, but a series that ran in ten installments, one installment per day for ten consecutive days.  How many pins were given out (“thousands daily”)?  If the lucky letter on the pin was identified by the newspaper on August 15, what was the fate of the unlucky pins?  Were they thrown to the curb when the buyer of the newspaper realized it wasn’t the lucky letter?  Did the news stand operators fish out the lucky pins to get an autographed baseball for themselves?  How many baseballs did Robinson autograph: 10, 20, 50?  That is how many R pins would have been made.

How many letters were featured on the unlucky pins?  We know the letters that were made: N, J, and R.  These are three of the letters that are part of the first and last name of Robinson.  If the letters chosen for production spelled out his full name, there were pins made with eight other letters: A, C, K, I, E, O, B, and S.

The Brooklyn Eagle did not undertake an inexpensive promotion of its series on Robinson.  The pins required a double press run.  The first run produced the image of Robinson and the words.  The second run printed a strategically placed letter on the paper image.  Then all the paper images were laminated with celluloid and crimped with a collett to become a pinback.  This procedure was followed for as many different letters that were used: 3 (known), 11 (his full name), or 26 (the entire alphabet).

In my years of collecting I have seen two pins with the letter N and one with the letter J.  Presumably the Brooklyn Eagle destroyed all the R pins after they were redeemed.  But what became of all the other pins that were distributed, “thousands daily” for ten days?  Pins purchased at ball parks are sometimes saved as a souvenir of a memorable day.  These Robinson pins were distributed for free as part of a commercial transaction that lacked sentimentality.  Is that why so few have survived?  Was it because the value of the pin was established on the first day of the installment, thereby rendering all the unlucky pins to be valueless with nine days to go in the promotion?  Would more pins have survived if the Brooklyn Eagle had identified the lucky pin on the last day of the promotion instead of the first?  What are the odds that a lucky letter R pin was never redeemed and remains tucked away in an old dresser or shoebox?

While I feel very gratified to bring closure to the Robinson pin, it is fun to wonder what might have happened, and maybe what still is.

A One-Day Event Pinback to Replace a Pinback of A Rained-Out One-Day Event

I prefer to write about baseball pinback buttons rather than the historical events in baseball that spawned their creation.  However, I feel it is necessary to examine some history to more fully understand the pins featured in this particular column.

A leading figure in the Negro Leagues was Augustus (Gus) Greenlee.  He owned a grill in Pittsburgh and also allegedly ran the numbers racket.  In 1932 he founded the National Negro League and in the same year built Greenlee Field, the first black-owned and black-built baseball park in America.  He also helped establish the East-West All-Star game that was first played in 1933 at Comiskey Park.  The All-Star game was referred to as the “Classic” and was played mid-season.  Financially prosperous in the early 1930s, Greenlee purchased the contracts of many star players of the day.  He assembled the finest team in Negro League history, the 1935 Pittsburgh Crawfords.  That team featured five future Hall-of-Famers.

By 1937 the National Negro League began to suffer significant financial losses.  Additionally, Greenlee became increasingly less interested in baseball and more involved in his other passion, boxing.  1938 was a watershed year for Greenlee.  Deep in debt, he had an idea to generate revenue by staging another All-Star exhibition game.  Except this game would be played in New York, and at the end of the regular season.  The game was to be played on Sunday, September 18, 1938 at Yankee Stadium.  It was billed as the “First Annual Negro Baseball Classic,” and instead of East-West, the two squads were composed of National-American league stars.  Greenlee’s luck that year remained bad, as the game was rained out.

This is a pin from that scheduled game.  Not only does it represent a single-day event pin, it also presents the date and location of the game.  If the pin had not contained such specific information, the pin could have been sold as a souvenir at the make-up game.  Alternatively, as I discussed in a previous column, an overlay could have been applied to the pin concealing the date and location.  However, an overlay of the required magnitude likely would have achieved an aesthetically unappealing pin.

negro league yankee

The make-up game was scheduled one week later, September 25, 1938, and the new location was the Polo Grounds.  A new pin was created for the make-up game.  In addition to the new date and location, the design of the pin went from black stitching and red lettering to red stitching and blue lettering.

negro league polo

While the make-up game at the Polo Grounds was played, the costs of staging both games further added to Greenlee’s debt.  Later that year Greenlee Field was demolished for non-payment of taxes.  Greenlee resigned as President of the National Negro League in 1939 and also disbanded the Crawfords.  What was intended to be an annual All-Star event became a one-off.

In 1945 Greenlee re-emerged in baseball, this time founding the United States League.  Branch Rickey of the Dodgers financially supported the league, and allowed the New York team to be called the Brooklyn Brown Dodgers.  The team was managed by Oscar Charleston.The United States league lasted into 1946.  In April, 1947 Jackie Robinson debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Greenlee, beset with financial and legal problems, died in 1952.

brown dodgers

In my book I said, “If only baseball pinback buttons could talk.”  What stories these pins could tell us!

Next up:  Knothole Gang Pins

Baseball Pins Worn By Stadium Employees

One of the uses for pinback buttons is they serve as a form of identification.  When used in such a manner they are more technically referred to as “badges” rather than “pinbacks.”    This column is about pinbacks worn by stadium employees, typically ushers or concessionaires. I do not know when stadium employees started wearing these pinbacks.  Perhaps some old photographs showing stadium ushers wearing them might give us some insights as to when they were first used.  Only three of mine are dated.  The first is from Wrigley Field, dated 1939.

cubs usher

The second dated pinback is from Dodger Stadium in 1966.  It is not technically a pinback as a cord was used instead of a pinning mechanism.  I do not know if it was worn by an usher or concessionaire.

1966 dodgers

I would estimate the date of most of these pinbacks as being from the 1950s or early 1960s.  Most of them are numbered.  The number is an employee identification number, not the section of the stadium where the employee worked.  The first is a “window” badge where the employee’s name would be inserted into the clear plastic opening.

tiger usher

Some of these pinbacks are not particularly scarce.  These two, from the Indians and Yankees, respectively, seem to turn up fairly often.

indians usher

yankees usher

Other employee pinbacks are rarely seen, as these for the Boston Braves, Milwaukee Braves, and Chicago Cubs, respectively.

boston usher

braves usher

wrigley usher

I got this Dodger pinback along with some other items from the early years of the Los Angeles Dodgers.  I don’t know if it was used in the Los Angeles Coliseum or Dodger Stadium.

dodger usher

I believe this window pinback is from the early years at Metropolitan Stadium.

twins food

A large (3.00″) concessionaire pin worn at Shea Stadium in the 1960s.

mets usher

In the early 1970s baseball stadiums began to present themselves as safe and enjoyable places for families, as evidenced by these pinbacks.  They were worn by ushers in support of facilitating a courteous atmosphere at Shea Stadium, Municipal Stadium, and Comiskey Park (dated 1984), respectively.


indians crowd

comisky usher

Some pinbacks were made for very special occasions.  The ushers at Dodger Stadium didn’t just promote Opening Day, but Opening Week.

Certified large WS343

The Philadelphia Phillies hosted an All-Star game at Veterans Stadium.  This unusual pin (in the shape of a star) and ribbon were worn by ushers encouraging fans to vote for Phillies players on the All-Star game ballot.

phillies usher

This pinback is very unusual in that it was not worn by an employee of Three Rivers Stadium, but by the guest singer of the National Anthem.  I don’t know how many times per year the Pirates did not use a recording, but it must have been often enough to warrant the making of this pinback.

pirates usher

Finally, relatively few baseball teams today issue pinback badges to their ushers and concessionaires, at least with a reference to the stadium or team.  One notable exception is the Baltimore Orioles.  Their employees often wear large badges with the distinctive orange color.  This pinback thanked the fans for supporting the Orioles for 50 years.

orioles usher

Next up:  A One-Day Event Pinback to Replace a Pinback of a Rained Out One-Day Event

Baseball Pinback Buttons of Questionable Taste

In previous columns I have extolled the delicate aesthetics of some baseball pinback buttons, particularly from the early years of the 20th century.  The ability to make pinbacks at that time was limited to companies that could afford the manufacturing technology required to do so.  By the end of the 20th century the technology used to make pinbacks had became more affordable.  It became possible for small companies specializing in creating merchandising products (e.g., fliers, banners, signs, etc.) to also make pinbacks.  Today individuals can purchase the technology and all the component parts required to produce pins.

With the greater ease of production came a concomitant decline in the overall quality of pinbacks, both in terms of design aesthetics and production standards.  Society also became more permissive in what messages were deemed acceptable for public expression, including pinbacks designed to be worn on clothing.  This column is devoted to baseball pinback buttons that contain words or images that never would have been approved for production decades earlier.  These pinbacks also reflect a shift in social preference away from supporting one team (as with a booster pin) to denigrating an opponent team.  I present these pins because they occupy a place in the spectrum of baseball pinbacks, not because they are the highwater mark of the hobby.  From a construction standpoint, many are poorly made.  Most of these pinbacks do not use a straight pin (as found in almost all of the pins from the early years of pinmaking), but instead use the clutchback type of pin.  In several of these pins the clutchback was mounted upside down in its production, suggesting the pinmaker was not familiar with how pinbacks are properly made (i.e., they are most likely “homemade” pinbacks).  I will limit my narrative comments for the most part, and let the pins speak for themselves.

This baseball pinback is one of the first to use profanity.  It is tame compared to the pins that follow.  Reader discretion is advised.

damn yankees

Sucking is a popular epithet in baseball pinback buttons.

American Leagues team do it.

yankees suck

boston sucks

National League teams do it.

dodgers suck

mets suck

Teams that switch leagues do it.

brewers suck

Even owners do it.

stein sucks

There was discussion of Major League Baseball contracting.  Teams that were not very profitable, as the Minnesota Twins, were the most frequent targets of proposed contraction.  One Twins fan did not support the idea.


After the Twins won the 1991 World Series, contraction talk involving the Twins abated.


A “spoonerism” is a phonetic reversal of two consonants in a phrase.  This pin reflects a spoonerism.


This pin also reflects a spoonerism.


This pin does not reflect a spoonerism.

fuck the dodgers

Cub fans have been taking rebuke for over a century.  One Cub fan was not reluctant to return it.

dodge this

I wonder if any collector has the complete set?

26 rings

I thought adding the (infield?) flies was a nice touch.


Finally, I got this pin off of eBay.  I recall the seller being from the Boston area.

2 pounds

Next Up:  Baseball Pins Worn by Stadium Employees

Some Intriguing PM10 Pinbacks

This column is about some PM10 pinbacks that I find intriguing.  By “intriguing” I do not necessarily mean scarce and valuable, although some are.  There is something unknown about all of them that invites an answer or explanation.  Unfortunately, as is so often the case with baseball pinback buttons, we will most likely never know.

The first pin is unusual in several ways.  It is of Cincinnati Reds catcher Ernie Lombardi.  I do not know the year of issuance, but since the Reds won the National League pennant in 1939 and 1940, that time period seems most likely.  The pin is 2.125”.  As such, it is the oldest of the large PM10 pins, pre-dating the large player pins of the Yankees, Giants, and Dodgers by about 15 years.  The Lombardi pin is one of five that I know of from this team.  The exact number of these large pins that were made is unknown.  The design is unique for PM10 pins in that it features the player in action, not a portrait.  Furthermore, the player’s name does not appear in block letters, but with a signature.  Perhaps the images of the players were also used to make cards, or perhaps they originated from team-issued photographs.  I wish we knew more about the first of these large PM10 pins.


The next two pins are among the most mystifying of all PM10 pins.  They were made from black-and-white photographs that were later colorized by hand.  The pins differ slightly in design.  Each of the plns shown represents several of that design.  At the 3:00 and 9:00 positions there is either a star or Chief Wahoo.  The pins with the star design have the team name in slightly larger letters compared to pins of the Chief Wahoo design.  Rob Dewolf, a collector of Cleveland Indians memorabilia, has identified the following known player pins by each design.  Chief Wahoo: Avila, Doby, Easter, Hegan, Mitchell, Rosen, and Wynn.  Star: Avila, Boudreau, Easter, and Hegan.    The poses of the players common to both designs (Avila, Easter, and Hegan) are different.  It is not known whether the pins were issued in one year or two, the reasons for the two designs, and the exact year(s) of issuance.  I believe the pins were more likely issued over two years, but it is speculation on my part, and others feel differently.  Some pins turn up occasionally, but others are extraordinarily scarce.  Approximately sixty years after their issuance (most likely around the Indians championship year of 1948), previously unknown pins continue to turn up.



As I said in my column about the pinbacks of Jackie Robinson, it would not surprise me if a small (1.75”) PM10 pin of Robinson were to turn up in the hobby with the same pose as found on his large (2.125”) PM10 pin.  The next two pins are a case in point.  While one small PM10 pin of Preacher Roe is easily recognized (he is in his wind-up), this smaller PM10 pin of Roe features the same pose as found on his large pin.  But there is something most unusual about this small pin of Roe.  It is not 1.75”, the standard size of (small) PM10 pins.  It is 1.625”, one-eighth of an inch smaller.  I did not measure the pin incorrectly, as I measured it with three different rulers.  Furthermore, I have several other pins in this bizarre small(er) PM10 size.  All of the pins are of the Dodgers, and none of these other player pins have a known counterpart in the large PM10 size.  One can only speculate as to why a pinmaker would have used a 1.625” die and collett.  1.75” baseball pinbacks are the standard size, and occasionally we find 1.50” baseball pins.  But the 1.625” size is unique (to the best of my knowledge) to this group of Brooklyn Dodger pins.


This pin of Solly Hemus was selected to represent a group of pins of the same design made in the early 1950s.  The pins are distinctive because of their low quality of construction.  The images of the players often lack the crisp definition found in most PM10 pins.  The images on these pins often look weak or faded.  It is not uncommon to find the celluloid partially separated from the collett on these pins.  The crimping process used to secure the paper image, celluloid cover, and metal collett was apparently defective.  The metal disk behind the paper image is sometimes bent, suggesting thinner metal being used in the construction process compared to other pins.  I know of one hobbyist who believes these pins are recent fantasies because of their construction.  I am convinced the pins are vintage, but their occasional shoddy appearance serves to question their authenticity.  The pins are not limited to players on one team.  The teams most often represented by these pins are the Cardinals, Dodgers, and Red Sox.  Many pinback buttons were made by unionized metal works companies, as evidenced by the union logo or “bug” on the back of the disk, the curl of the pin, or a paper insert.  Union workmanship is typically of high quality.  I think these pins were not made in a union shop.


Of all the players featured on the large PM10 pins in the classic design with the name on top, only one player appears in two different poses.  Given their popularity, the most likely candidate would ostensibly include future Hall-of-Famers Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Willie Mays, Duke Snider, or Jackie Robinson.  The player is none of these.  The only player to appear in two different poses was Hank Bauer.  Bauer was not a star of the team and his tenure with the New York Yankees was not interrupted.  His second pin of the same design is particularly inexplicable.  Two large PM10 pins were made of Willie Mays, but both of the same pose, differing only in the NY or SF insignia on the cap.  Whitey Ford and Gene Woodling also appeared on large PM10 pins with different poses, but the second pin had their names on the bottom.  The Bauer pins are unique.


This pin of Willie Mays was issued when the Giants first moved to San Francisco in 1958.  What is intriguing about the pin is the insignia on the cap Mays is wearing.  It shows the insignia of the San Francisco Seals.  One explanation for this pin is the front office of the Giants could not agree on the new insignia for the team.  Mays was thus featured wearing a cap with the familiar Seals insignia.  I do not know if Mays posed for this picture wearing a Seals cap, or whether the insignia was photographically added to a different cap.

Mays Seals

Finally, pinmakers typically stick with the same design when making PM10 pins.  While the images may occasionally differ across teams or across years for the same team (as by the inclusion of a background, for example), it is rare for a pinmaker to alter the same image of a player using a different design.  One exception to this rule is for some PM10 pins of the San Francisco Giants.  The player pins of the Giants in 1962/63 have the name of the player encased within a white stripe situated between the 3:00 and 9:00 positions.  Nine player pins of the Giants are known with this design.  However, two players (Jim Davenport and Willie McCovey) also have pins made with a modified design.  In these pins the white stripe is situated between the 4:00 and 8:00 positions.  Furthermore, the image of the player on one pin is a cropped version of his image on the other pin.  It is not known why the pinmaker made the modification in design, and why it occurred for only certain players.


Next up:  Baseball Pinback Buttons of Questionable Taste

Boston Red Sox All-Star(?) Pinbacks

This column is about three pinbacks of the Boston Red Sox.  All are 1.75″.  They are from the late 1940s or early 1950s.  All three have the same inscription: “Boston Red Sox” on top and “American League” on the bottom.  Two of the pins present a group photo of players, while the third just lists names.  I often say many baseball pinback buttons are of uncertain origin.  These three pins are among the best exemplars of baseball pins whose uncertainty produces frustration in trying to ascertain their meaning.

The Boston Red Sox hosted the 1946 All-Star game.  I believe all three pins refer to players on the Red Sox who were named to the American League All-Star team in subsequent years.  But that interpretation is both speculative and incomplete, as will be revealed.

I begin with the “names only” pin.  The pin lists the first and last name of four players: “Walt Dropo, Vern Stevens, Dom DiMaggio, (and) Johnny Pesky.”  Dropo appeared in one All-Star game, in 1950.  As such, one might conclude this is an easy pin to identify.  Not so.  First, “Stevens” is a misspelling of “Stephens.”  Second, Pesky was not named to the 1950 All-Star team.  Third, while Dropo, DiMaggio, and Stephens were on the 1950 All-Star team, so too were Bobby Doerr and Ted Williams.  The omission of these two players, especially perennial All-Star Williams (a starter), is most baffling.

Red Sox names

The confusion does not abate with the picture pins.  The first shows three players.  Even with magnification, I cannot definitively establish the identity of the third player.  Pictured are Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, and a third player.  In no year did only three Red Sox get named to the American League All-Star team in the four years adjacent to 1950.  Here are the number of Red Sox players who made the All-Star team in those years: 1946 (8), 1947 (2), 1948 (5), 1949 (6), 1951 (5), 1952 (2), 1953 (3), and 1954 (2).  Williams and Doerr both made the All-Star team in 1946, 1947, 1948, 1950, and 1951.  The third player excludes 1947, and the “names only” pin presumably excludes 1950.  My best guess is this pin is from 1948, and the third player (from the All-Star roster) is either Stephens, Pat Dobson, or Birdie Tebbets.

Red Sox three all-stars

The third pin shows four players.  The player to the far right is not holding a bat, suggesting a pitcher.  Mel Parnell made the All-Star team in 1949 and 1951.  Because Doerr did not make the All-Star team in 1949, 1951 becomes the more likely year for this pin.  In 1951 five Red Sox made the All-Star team.  Besides Doerr, Parnell, and Williams, the fourth player would be either DiMaggio or Stephens.

Certified large WS300

So maybe these three pins are from 1948, 1950, and 1951.  Perhaps there is an undiscovered pin from 1949.  The connection to the All-Star team is based on the players named and pictured, plus the inscription “American League” on the pins.  A pin that identifies a league is usually limited to World Series and All-Star games.  However, perhaps my reasoning is off-base.  None of the three pins make any reference to All-Star game participants.  Maybe these pins are of Red Sox players who were just having good years.  Dropo was named to the 1950 All-Star team (his only All-Star year), and Pesky was named to the 1946 All-Star team (his only All-Star year).  Yet both names appear on the “names only” pin.  In addition to misspelling “Stephens” and omitting Williams, perhaps the pinmaker confused Pesky with Doerr.  That is quite an interpretive stretch, in my opinion.  If we abandon the All-Star team connection to these pins, we are left with a less confusing but also less comforting explanation of their origin.

Next Up:  Some Intriguing PM10 Pinbacks