Overprints and Overlays

Overprints and Overlays

Overprints and overlays are two methods of modifying pinback buttons originally designed for a different purpose or occasion. I have only seen them used with celluloid pinbacks. The difference between overprints and overlays is in relation to the plastic (celluloid) cover over the paper image on the pinback.

Overprints involve printing new words on the paper image prior to lamination. There are two ways to identify an overprint. One is you happen to know of the original pin and can thus discern the modification. The second way requires high visual acuity: some of the new (overprinted) words may very slightly overlap the original image. This second method is the same approach useful in identifying baseballs that are actually hand-signed by the players versus baseballs that are machine-printed with faux signatures. In the latter case the signatures don’t overlap. In the former, it is not unusual to have certain letters in a person’s handwriting overlap a previously written signature.

With overlays the modification occurs following lamination. The surface of the pin is altered with either a paper overlay or a dab of paint (like nail polish). There is usually nothing subtle about the modification in an overlay. It is obvious the designer wanted to conceal some aspect of the original pin through use of the overlay. Overprints and overlays are used because they are cheaper than producing an entirely new pin.


Most of the overprints I have seen are related to a team participating in the World Series. The original pin is a generic team pin that is in vogue. The team wins the pennant and then a new pin is created with the overprint proclaiming the team as league champion. It is important to note the overprint is applied to the original paper prior to the pin’s construction. So the pinmaker must have a supply of generic team paper images to modify prior to production; the overprint is not applied after the original pin has been crimped with a collett.

Shown are several pairs of pins from the 1960s that were modified with overprints to recognize the team playing in the World Series. Two Pittsburgh Pirates pins were modified for the 1960 World Series. A careful inspection of the fourth Pirate pin reveals the overprinted words slightly overlapped the original image.

60 bucco

60 bucco ws

60 pirates

60 pirate ws

The St. Louis Cardinals returned to the World Series in 1964, 18 years after their championship season of 1946.   A classic pin was overprinted to mark the event.

64 cards

cards 64 ws

The Yankees played in many World Series in this era, so it is not possible to pinpoint the year of the overprint.  I think it is from their 1960-1964 run of pennants.


yankees ws

The San Francisco Giants played in their first World Series in 1962.  A team pin was overprinted to create a World Series pin.

SF Giants

giants 62 ws

The Giants moved to San Francisco in 1958, and a pin was made celebrating their arrival. In creating the second pin the date on the pin was obscured with a rather crude overprint in the form of a baseball glove.

SF Welcome

SF Welcome mitt WS067

The 1926 St. Louis Cardinals World Series booster pin is a mystery. In 1926 the Cardinals won their first pennant. A dated pin was made celebrating the event. Another pin of the same design appears without a date. The Cardinals won their second pennant in 1928. In a reversal of the typical pattern for overprints, perhaps the undated version was created to distinguish it from its original 1926 counterpart by removing the date. This is speculation on my part, as seemingly it would be just as easy to change a date (to 1928) as it would be to delete a date.

cards datedWS070

Cardinals undated


There are two types of paper overlays, partial and complete. A partial paper overlay is designed to conceal a particular portion of the original pinback. The partial paper overlay is applied by hand, and depending upon the size of the pin, the overlays can be very small requiring a high degree of finger dexterity in their application. The smallest size pinback I have seen with a partial paper overlay is 1.25”.

The Cincinnati Reds won the pennant in 1939 and 1940. A paper overlay was used to conceal the original 1939 date with the date of 1940.

Reds 39 large

reds 40 largeWS074

The Chicago Cubs won the pennant in 1938. A partial paper overlay was used to conceal the name of the Chicago Cubs, replacing it with St. Louis Cardinals four (or five) years later for the 1942 (or 1943) World Series.


Certified large WS084

cards 42 ws

The use of overlays can be potentially helpful in dating original pins. The Dodgers played in the World Series three times in the 1940s: 1941, 1947, and 1949. The St. Louis Cardinals played in four World Series in the 1940s: 1942, 1943, 1944, and 1946. I originally believed the Dodger pin was from the 1947 World Series.

41 dodgers ws

42 cards ws

It was subsequently modified with a partial paper overlay, concealing the Brooklyn Dodgers and replacing it with St. Louis Cardinals. Since the Cardinals next played in the World Series in 1964 (17 years after 1947), in all likelihood the Dodger pin is in fact from the 1941 World Series, not 1947, and the overlay was for the Cardinals appearing in the World Series the following year.

The 1¼” Cardinal pin (“St. Louis Cards N.L. Champs”) involves the overlay being placed perpendicular to the sweet spot on the ball instead of between the seams.

cards small partial

Some pinbacks were modified with paper overlays that completely covered the surface of the pin. It is thus impossible to know the identity of the original pin. In fact, the original pin may not have been baseball-related. Two such pins are shown, both involving the St. Louis Cardinals.

cards small complete

Certified large WS095

It is not a coincidence that most of the partial and complete paper overlays were from the WWII era. There were wartime restrictions on the use of metal, and metal for pinback buttons was a very low priority. The paper overlays, while not aesthetically appealing, served their purpose in an efficient manner.

Finally, shown is a 6” pin celebrating the St. Louis Cardinals being World Champions in 1964. As such, the overlay was applied after the World Series. The circumstances behind the 1964 National League pennant race played a role in this pin. The Cincinnati Reds and Philadelphia Phillies finished one game behind the Cardinals in the National League pennant race that year. I was told the original pin proclaimed the Reds as the 1964 National League champions. When the Reds didn’t win the pennant, an entire batch of pins was rendered useless, thus warranting a complete modification achieved through the complete paper overlay. Other pins have been made erroneously celebrating a team winning the pennant that were not subsequently modified. However, I believe what warranted this pin being modified was its size. A 6” pin is considerably more expensive to make than a 1.75” pin, so the only way the person who commissioned the making of this pin could recoup part of their expenses was to apply a complete paper overlay to the original pin. I have never seen a 6” pin celebrating the Reds winning the 1964 pennant. I would love to know what is beneath the overlay.

1964 cards ws

Instead of modifying a pin with a paper overlay, a more primitive modification is simply to apply a tab of paint to the surface of the pin. The Chicago Cubs won the National League pennant in 1929. A pin was made celebrating the event.

29 cubs

The Cubs won the pennant again three years later in 1932. The dated 1929 pin was modified by painting over the date.  [A ball attached to this pin has a hand-written date of 1932 on it, although it is possible other specimens of this pin could have been used yet again for the 1935 World Series.]

Certified large WS100

The Cincinnati Reds won the National League pennant in 1939 and 1940. A dated 1¼” pin was made celebrating the Reds in 1939.

reds small 39

A modified version of this pin was created by applying a small tab of paint that concealed the date. Presumably the painted version of the pin celebrated the 1940 National League pennant.

reds 40 ws

Perhaps the vendors sold out their painted modification of the pin, because there is also a dated 1940 version of the pin.

reds small 40

Given the advances in the modern technology of pin-making, overprints and overlays are no longer cost-efficient, and as such we are unlikely to witness their usage again.

Next up:  The 6″ 1940s Pins of the St. Louis Browns and Cardinals


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