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S.L. trader working to pin down the collectibles

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For several months, Mark Stewart has been organizing an extensive network of operatives, recruiting only fanatics about the cause, particularly those with connections in government, media and large corporations.

Sound like trouble?

Relax. The Salt Lake man is a pin trader, and though his mission has all the markings of zealotry, it's also as harmless, even as fun, as sticking a metal likeness of a bowl of Jell-O to a lapel.

The idea is simple. At least it seemed simple when Stewart first thought of it: Photograph, document and catalog all pins created for the first Winter Games of the new millennium.

Several months, three catalogs and nearly 2,500 pins later, Stewart describes the project as a "monster that just keeps growing."

Fortunately, Stewart is not alone in taming the beast. His network, the extent of which even Stewart has lost track, is busy compiling photos and information on some 40 to 50 new pins per week. The information is then sent via e-mail to Stewart, who publishes it on his 1,200-page Web site and in his newsletter, Pin Fever Times.

Among the volunteer recruits is Ron Toth, a fellow pin dealer and expert tracker. While Toth says he is proud to be a part of Stewart's project, when he talks about the catalog he uses terms like "supreme" and "rarified."

Toth says he is still finding previously undocumented pins from the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles.

However, the 2002 effort is far from futile, Toth says. The guide will serve dealers, avid collectors and hobbyists alike. "It will become the supreme reference for these Games."

The catalog has already served to create a lasting bond between those cooperating to compile it. "It takes a village to build a pin guide," Toth says.

With the Games less than two weeks away, the village has a lot of work cut out for it. Stewart estimates 2,500 to 3,000 new pins will surface by the end of Salt Lake's Games.

But if Stewart's estimation is accurate, the guide is not even halfway complete. Stewart is well aware of the magnitude of the task, and his determination to complete it has not diminished, he says. "A part-time hobby is now a full-time, life-consuming project," he said.

One of the most significant challenges Stewart faces will be documenting the seemingly infinite number of "knock-off" pins associated with the Games. Knock-offs are unlicensed copies of officially sanctioned pins. Though technically illegal, knock-offs are found often, Stewart says.

"What they think is a rare and valuable pin turns out to be 50 cent trinket," Stewart says. "It hurts the hobby."

However, when each successful pin spawns 10 to 12 forgeries, the task of finding and documenting the origin of each forgery takes on all the intricacies of mapping the route to a needle in a haystack.

Still, Stewart is optimistic. His goal is to have 90 percent of the pins documented by September.

"I might be dreaming," he says. If so, at least the dream is an enjoyable one for Stewart. He describes the effort as a labor of love, though it could also prove lucrative.

Stewart also plans on putting the catalog on CD-ROM and then selling it to pin dealers and collectors.


E-MAIL: joliver@desnews.com