Why MEARS? This is the first question I am asked about why we decided to venture into the pinback button-grading arena. On a personal level, I am quite fascinated by the hobby of pinback buttons and its potential. And, with the experienced gained during the past 5 years evaluating bats and jerseys, we felt we were able to leverage our experience and the MEARS website. Pinback buttons span the collecting spectrum of sports, history, politics, music, entertainment, movie & TV, and many more subjects. My decision was finalized when I made a trip to the Smithsonian Institute and viewed political pinback buttons on display from many of the presidential campaigns. If the Smithsonian thought enough to display these items, then maybe I should develop a holder and grading criteria to protect and accurately grade and identify these artifacts. Also, similar to other collectibles, pinback buttons are found in various degrees of condition.

When condition becomes important to collectors, there becomes a need for third party authentication. To be a successful grader, a company should have a standardized grading criteria complete with terms and definitions, a standardized grading process that allows collectors to follow the steps applied to the evaluation, and a holder used for encapsulation which protects your item. MEARS is applying the processes and procedures created in our game used department to our new pinback button line and we have designed a holder which is the hobby’s first of its kind. Additionally, MEARS Online will host the hobby’s first pinback button population report, backpaper example database, complete checklist of graded items with images, and regularly scheduled articles to support the new product line.

As the person that wrote the hobby’s first bat and jersey grading criteria and having participated in the grading of over 7,000 game used items, I felt I was qualified to try to tackle the concerns associated with trying to create the criteria needed for grading and slabbing pinbacks. In addition to grading the actual condition, the pinback buttons must first be determined to be authentic, and then the button itself needs to be identified for year of issuance, manufacture, size, process, whether or not a back paper is present, purpose of issuance, and many other factors which are important to identify the pinback for the purpose of classification. Below are some points to consider for the classification process:

Pinbacks Classification Points to consider

1. Main Category: Baseball, Football, Basketball, Boxing, Movie, TV, Cartoon Character, Comic Strip Character, Historical, Political, Advertising, Promotional

2. Date: list exact date, or range of era

3. Process: Tin Litho, Celluloid, Ambrotype,

4. Size:

5. Purpose and style: Jugate, Coattail, Campaign, Re-Election, Memorial, Marquee, Photo, Team, On Site Super Bowl, On Site World Series, On Site All Star Game, Commemorative

6. Printed Text

7. Manufacturer

8. Back Paper: yes, no

9. Back Paper Description

10. Back Paper Condition

11. Pin Type: Straight pin, spring, Stick

12. Set Number

13. Number in set: List exact number or undetermined

After identifying the points of classification, then the evaluation of condition must occur. Below is some condition factors to consider:

Condition Points to consider

14. Front Scratching: yes, no

15. Condition of Accoutrements: Ribbons, Charms

16. Front Oxidation: yes, no

17. Front Other Condition:

18. Front overall condition: poor, good, very good, excellent, near mint, mint

19. Reverse Scratching: yes, no

21. Reverse Oxidation: yes, no

22. Reverse Other Condition:

23. Reverse overall condition: poor, good, very good, excellent, near mint, mint

Holder Design

The holder itself was finalized after four years of research and development. One of the first things you will notice is the width and girth of the holder. Our research and development team realized that current pinback button holders on the market were designed for coins with a converted use for pinbacks. Upon research, we found this created a very major problem. Pinbacks by design are thicker than coins due to the spring or straight pin attachments on the reverse. When forced into a coin slab, the pin is compressed. To shut the converted coin holder, pressure must be applied. Upon removal, 100% of the samples we studying were found to press against the top of the holder and leave an impression. In many cases the lithography was scratched and removed.

The MEARS holder is 300% thicker than the current holders on the market. The depth of the MEARS holder was determined after measuring 1200 pinback buttons which dated from 1896 to present. We sampled both tin litho and celluloid samples. By taking such a large sample, we determined what the proper depth of the holder should be. By design, our holder will accommodate any pinback button produced from 1896 to present.

We are issuing two holders, small and medium. With the use of an archival gasket, the MEARS holder can house any pinback button measuring 5/16″ to 3″. By charting the standard sizes per industry standards, we have created holders, which will accommodate 17 different sized buttons. If you have a button that measures 3″ or less, we can slab it.

Since these holders are going to be used to house your prized possessions, MEARS was very concerned about the materials used. Therefore, each of holders will be manufactured from a surgical grade polycarbonate material. These archival materials have been tested within the medical field and used for replacement joints. Long term testing has found no negative affects of plastic reactions or breakdowns. This will insure your pinbacks are protected for years to come.

Finally our holder labels are 33% larger than our competitors, which allow for easier viewing and the addition of more information.

In an article soon to follow, I will publish our grading guidelines. The final grading criteria is not set in stone as I want to give the collecting public a chance to share any thoughts and concerns regarding the grading of pinbacks. I will publish an article within the next 7 days about grading and at that time welcome feedback.

The actual holders will be unveiled at The Premier Collectible Conference & Exhibition April 17-20, 2008
. If you are in attendance, stop by the MEARS booth to inspect the new holders and we are giving out free Abraham Lincoln pinback buttons.


Troy R. Kinunen