“I DON’t buy handbags. I don’t buy shoes. You girls have your own thing. We guys have ours. And yes, we hide our purchases — just like you girls do!”
The guffaws that accompany the good-natured confession by the genial-looking, bespectacled gentleman in blue denim, complete with a lanyard stuck with striking-looking pins around his neck, pierces through the buzzing din in the newly-renovated Hard Rock Cafe, Penang.
“Patrick should know,” jokes a jovial-looking man in a jaunty cap called Rizal Fauzi (or Fauzi as he’s better known), referring to the denim-clad man, who I duly learn is Patrick Cheah, the Pin Master, a volunteer curator of pins who’s assigned to Hard Rock Cafe Penang, Hard Rock Cafe Kuala Lumpur, Hard Rock Cafe Kota Kinabalu, Hard Rock Hotel Penang and Hard Rock Hotel Desaru Coast.
Penangite Cheah, together with Fauzi, who hails from Perak, along with a kindly-looking older gentleman called Durai Rajah and his wife, Sarojini from Johor, as well as chatty KL-lite Jay Joshua make up my lunch companions today at the annual Hard Rock Cafe, Penang Pin Fest.
The festival, now in its fifth year, brings together avid collectors of Hard Rock collectible pins from around the country.
Today’s event, which has attracted collectors from as far afield as Johor, Negri Sembilan, Melaka, Perak and Kedah, enables them to mingle, trade and buy coveted pins from each other, as well as take part in a raffle draw and silent auction.
Funds raised from the day’s proceedings will be channelled to Hope Worldwide Malaysia to sponsor an outreach programme for the indigenous community in Grik, Perak.
My new friends, Cheah, Fauzi, and Durai are seasoned collectors, with thousands of pins between them. The 29-year-old Jay meanwhile, is still considered a rookie, with 200 pins to his name.
“Come on guys, who’s going to start the bidding,” a woman hollers raucously to mark the start of an auction of Hard Rock limited-edition pins, mini pin collections, and other Hard Rock goodies, before proceeding to cajole the crowd to part with their money for a good cause.
Around us, groups of families and friends are perched around wooden tables strewn with bags of pins and those still wrapped in their plastic, eyes transfixed on the action taking place near the stage.
Whoops of delight accompany a raised hand, as a smiling gentleman manages to secure his coveted pin. Like a cat who’s got his cream, he ambles back to his seat in a dimly-corner of the café before sitting down and admiring his “conquest”, surrounded by his equally chuffed entourage.
As Hard Rock Cafe’s resident band, Splitfire from Indonesia takes to the stage to rock the afternoon, and other diners start tucking into the light buffet spread which has been prepared for the afternoon, I turn my attention to my fellow companions and ask: “So what’s this thing with Hard Rock pins guys?”
People collect items for various reasons. Whether it is fridge magnets or old coins, stamps or action figures, or even vintage vinyls, the attraction can be down to the fact that these items are visually pleasing or simply pique the interest.
After the first Hard Rock Cafe was opened in London in 1971, the first Hard Rock Cafe pins were released and sold in 1985.
Since then, a wide range of Hard Rock pins have been available in each Hard Rock location, with special varieties of pins created to commemorate landmarks, holidays, and personalities.
“They’re just so beautiful la,” exclaims Fauzi, who’s a manager in the private sector, when asked why he collects pins.
The 51-year-old bachelor has been collecting Hard Rock pins for six years and is incredibly proud of his large collection.
Enthusiastically, he points to a pile of bags to one side of the table and proudly declares that they house just some of his prized pins. ‘I didn’t bring everything,” he adds, grinning conspiratorially.
The collecting bug started from young, confides Fauzi. As a school boy, he loved to collect school badges.
“I liked the fact they came in different designs and were small enough for me to carry everywhere. Later, when I started working, I moved on to conference pins, which were made for jackets. Then the Hard Rock pins came in. I don’t only collect; I also trade and sell.”
The gregarious Fauzi can’t recall what his first piece was but is sure it was bought in Penang.
“I have so many that eventually everything becomes a blur,” he confesses with a chuckle, before adding: “I know I’ve spent a lot of money of pins. My Desaru Coast one cost me RM500. I guess that’s why I’m not married — too much money on pins!
Reaching for a suitcase on the floor and rifling through its content, Fauzi pulls out a small box and gingerly opens it for me.
“This is the Desaru pin,” he says, before allowing me to admire its design closely. “You see the word ‘team’ there? That’s what makes it different from what you get at the retail shop. This kind of pin is only given to a member of staff so the value doubles or tripled. So it’s pretty special.”
The most expensive type of pin, elaborates Fauzi, would be the grand opening pins. Because grand openings happen only once. Next would be the grand opening staff pin, which cannot be bought in the shops. The anniversary pins come next, with limited edition creations being the most valuable.
“I like to collect the Wing Guitar series,” shares Fauzi, before adding: “If you’re serious about starting a collection, be disciplined and just focus on pursuing one or two series’ pins because there are just so many themes and series out there. There’s no way you can amass a collection of everything. You’ll just end up with an empty wallet at the end of it all!”
THE PIN MASTER
A knowing guffaw ensues among the men in the group before the Pin Master himself confesses: “I have about 4,000 pins currently in my collection, some of which I’ve framed up in the house. The last “hot” series that Penang had was the Dragon and Dagger, issued the year before last, I think. Penang was selling at RM105 per pin. A total of 93 Hard Rock Cafes participated in this series. I spent nearly RM20,000 just to collect one series!”
Does your wife mind you spending so much on pieces of metal, I couldn’t help blurting out.
“Oh, I always under-declare how much I spend! Ask any collector here la… we all do it!” replies Cheah, eyes dancing mischievously under his glasses.
But he swiftly adds: “But I’ve slowed down lately because with school-going kids all… I just have to be more selective.”
These days, shares Cheah, he’s more into the exclusive grand opening pins.
“Sometimes you can easily pay up to RM500 a pin,” he says, adding: “There are two types of pins; one issued for sale to the public, and the other issued for staff. The staff pins are expensive. Also, hotel staff pins are much lower in value compared to the Hard Rock Café staff pins.”
Noting my perplexed expression, the father-of-two elaborates: “Hotels have more staff so the pins produced are more too. Compared to Hard Rock Cafés where there are less staff, which means more limited amounts of pins are produced. The more limited something is, the harder it is to attain and thus the higher the value can be.”
The Penangite’s passion for collecting Hard Rock pins was triggered by the acquisition of his first pin. It was a KL New Year pin.
Recalls Cheah, a HR manager for a company in Bayan Lepas: “Cut a long story short, I was at the Hard Rock Cafe in KL to purchase a T-shirt as my flight had been terribly delayed and I’d been told that my bags would only arrive the next day. I’d just checked in to Concorde Hotel, which happened to be next to the Café.”
Continuing, he adds: “So of course, I needed to buy something to wear. When I bought the T-shirt, I was given a pin for free. And it was this pin that started it all.”
Asked how he got to become a Pin Master, the affable 44-year-old smiles before recalling: “I applied. It was seven years ago and I saw the vacancy for this position in the Hard Rock website. I had to write a 5,000-word ‘piece’ on why I wanted to become a Pin Master!”
His reasons must have been pretty solid for him to be chosen, I jest. And Cheah beams before replying: “One of the things I wrote was that I wanted the position not only because of my passion for pins, but also for my love of meeting people around the world who share my love for the brand.”
Fans of Hard Rock pins are not simply attracted by the musical ephemera or souvenirs connected to the artists.
At the end of the day, as Cheah would attest, it’s all about what the act of pin collecting entails: travelling, meeting fellow collectors, and no doubt, the thrill of the acquisition.
Is there one pin that he covets most? I ask, curious. To my surprise, Cheah shakes his head. “I have everything that I’d possibly want — for now. I’m one of those people who believe in the adage that it pays to wait. In fact, those words are written at the back of my name card.”
Prodded further, he eventually concedes that he has his eye on the Hard Rock Cafe Piccadilly London pins.
The outlet, which recently opened had issued its grand opening pin and according to Cheah: “…Piccadilly London pins have the nicest designs, complete with the royal coat of arms, Buckingham Palace…”
FAMILY AND BROTHERHOOD
Having listened in rapt attention to Fauzi’s and Cheah’s pin tales, I turn to the remaining two collectors at the table, Durai Rajah and Jay Joshua.
The former, a music teacher with a penchant for collecting real guitars as well as guitar-shaped Hard Rock pins, started his collecting journey since 2014.
“It was just by coincidence,” recalls the soft-spoken Durai. “It so happened that one of the parents of the students that I teach music to went abroad and gifted me with a Hard Rock pin — a guitar-shaped one because they knew I love guitars. From then on, whenever the parents went overseas, they’d make it a point to come back with something for me.”
His first pin, recalls Durai, was a guitar-shaped one from Vietnam. Then someone gave him another — this time from Brazil.
His wife, Sarojini, who travels a lot, started getting into the game and would also source for Hard Rock pins for her husband.
“I have thousands of pins now,” declares Durai, adding: “I got a friend to design me some really nice frames so I could put my collection in there.”
Pride lighting his face, Durai shares that he has in his possession the Eric Clapton collection, Bob Marley, Pete Townsend, Bruce Springsteen, Elvis and Freddie Mercury.
Nodding enthusiastically, Joshua beams when he pipes in: “My friend Durai here really has an impressive collection and he’s so knowledgeable about them. He’s my mentor!”
As for his story into this pin-collecting journey, I duly learn that this young medical doctor was enticed by the hobby primarily from his love of travelling.
“In fact, my first pin was from Ibiza, Spain, where I’d gone for a holiday,” enthuses the 29-year-old. “It so happened that I overheard a couple of pin traders having an animated discussion over some pin and my interest was aroused. The pin was the talk of the town, so to speak, so I decided I wanted to buy it too. It cost me Euros 15 then.”
It was a limited edition David Guetta (French record producer and songwriter) pin, of which only 100 had been produced. Jay was the 99th person to own it!
After that, Jay, who used to collect Marvel cinematic universe figurines, started to discover more designs. Either through his travels, trawling through the Internet or from friends. And slowly got hooked.
“I like challenges. And this I get with this pursuit. With Hard Rock pins, the main challenge is how to obtain a limited edition rare grand pin. Normally the European collectors will have these in their possession. Not us in Asia. But it’s not impossible.”
The KL-lite shares that he’s not one to go for series. He prefers unique pieces, and preferably from locations that aren’t easily accessible. Limited edition pieces are definitely on his list.
“I do my research by browsing the Hard Rock Pin catalogue, an online portal maintained by the Pin Masters and containing more than 84,000 pins from around the world. From here I also learn about the culture and history of the pins,” elaborates Jay.
The Hard Rock pin-collecting community is a large, thriving one, he adds. “It’s a great platform for socialising and networking. And you get the chance to build a great understanding between traders across the globe.”
Nodding, Cheah chips in: “In Malaysia, the pin-collecting community is still considered small — but it’s growing. But the fact that it’s small makes it a cosy family. Take me and Fauzi, for example. We’re like brothers. So whenever we go somewhere, abroad or wherever, we’ll help each other to get the pins that the other may want.”
Collectors have a huge respect for each other’s collections. Casting a brotherly look at his mentor, Jay concludes: “With Durai too… I know he collects certain things so if I find something that I think he might want, I’d alert him. At the end of the day, with the community here in Malaysia still so small, we need to look out for each other. It’s not a race or anything. We do it for the love of collecting — and for the love of the Hard Rock brand.”