Twelve-year-old Matthew Spitler looked at the thousands of badges on sale at the 36th Annual National Trade-O-Ree and opted to be prepared for his future.
“When I get older, I can have a stand of my own,” said the youth who came with other Scouts from Illinois to the Jan. 17-18 event at the Grapevine Convention Center. “I have half a binder full already.”
Matthew was one of about 500 people who came to buy, sell and trade Scout memorabilia at the event that is billed as the top event of its kind this year. One reason the Grapevine trade-o-ree is popular is because of its proximity to the Boy Scouts of America headquarters in Irving.
Ron Aldridge of Denton, a vendor who helped organize the event, said trade-o-rees are a way of honoring scouting and its memorabilia and preserving its heritage.
It’s also big business.
Patches he had on display included one selling for $7,500 and another for $5,000.
“It’s a hobby and a fellowship, but it is also an income,” the collector said.
Aldridge, who is executive director of Argyle United Methodist Church after retiring as CEO of Health Services of North Texas, said selling Scout collectibles can be a lucrative endeavor for someone with experience.
“I can pay more knowing someone who might need what I am buying,” he said. “And, as a collector of over 50 years, I know what things are really worth.”
The show featured other items, such as belt buckles, uniforms, pins, medals, books and puzzles.
Aldridge, an Eagle Scout, said one of the strangest offerings he’s seen is tins of sardines made for Jamborees. The only drawback is the really old cans sometimes explode.
“We have weird things like that,” said Aldridge, 70, a collector since he was 15. “I once traded toilet paper with a wrapping that said National Jamboree. Some people had taken home the wrapping as a souvenir.”
A common denominator at trade-o-rees is the opportunity to buy, barter and trade.
Roy More is considered one of the premiere collectors in the world. More, who lives in Michigan, owns The Scout Patch Auction, which specializes in rare Scouting memorabilia.
His business ranges from nickel and dime stuff to high end “sophisticated buyers.”
“I made $750,000 on a single sale to a broker,” said More, who started in his basement and now has a warehouse.
Many customers get involved for nostalgic reasons, he said, and become almost obsessed with completing a full series that has special meaning to them.
Some of the best items are found when someone empties out his or her house and finds items that wind up in a yard sale. Usually, the owners have no idea of the worth.
“You can find memorabilia for pennies on the dollar,” More said. “And some items can go for more than the price of a car or a house. They’re still setting price records all the time.”
Not everyone has a nostalgic link to the past. For some, it’s the social experience.
Debbie Hite of Abilene became intrigued while dating someone who attended trade-o-rees. They lost interest in each other, but she’s didn’t lose interest in trade-o-rees.
“It just took me over. It’s like an addiction,” said Hite, whose frequent appearances at similar events have led many regulars to call her “mom” and her to call them “my boys.”
“I just have a ball with it,” she said.