Disney pin collecting may seem like a relatively recent phenomenon, driven by the lucrative souvenirs-and-trinkets racket at gift shops in Disneyland and Walt Disney World. But Disney pins date to 1930 with the issuance of the first Mickey Mouse Club pin. Cohn & Rosenberger was given a license to produce Disney pins in 1931, Brier Manufacturing got a piece of the action in 1935, and even Tiffany created Disney tchotchkes.
The aspirations Disney had for its knick knacks is evident in that first license given to Cohn & Rosenberger, which was founded in 1901 and opened a major factory in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1929. In the 1930s, Cohn & Rosenberger marketed cloisonne pins of Mickey, Minnie, and Donald as “Kiddie Jewelry,” even as it was on its way to becoming the largest costume-jewelry firm in the world, thanks to innovations such as the figural Coro Duettes, many of which were designed by Adolph Katz. In 1943, Cohn & Rosenberger officially changed its name to Coro.
Disney pins and jewelry from the pre-war years ranged from belt buckles and bracelets to necklaces and rings. Some were merchandised on in-store displays while others, such as those made in 1938 by Brier for "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," were attached to individualized cards. Plastic pins were introduced in 1940 following the release of “Pinocchio,” as were wood pins for “Fantasia.” Coro made pins in the likeness of Hop Low, a character from “Fantasia,” which were given to those who contributed funds for United China Relief at the beginning of World War II.
Cloisonne pins returned in 1975, when Howard Eldon, Ltd., was briefly hired to supply pins to Disney theme parks and third-party gift shops in the United States. Originally only six styles were available (Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy, Goofy, and Pluto), but the line expanded the next year to include characters from “Snow White,” “Pinocchio,” and “Cinderella.” The cast of characters depicted on pins grew even greater in 1982 with the opening of EPCOT, and ramped up again in 1984 when the summer Olympics were held on Disney’s home turf in Los Angeles. In 1985, pins depicting 60 different characters from seven themed sets were produced with Coca-Cola for the 15th anniversary of Walt Disney World.