EcommerceBytes-Update, Number 116 - April 04, 2004 - ISSN 1528-6703     6 of 7

Collector's Corner: Political Campaign Memorabilia

By Michele Alice

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If it appears as though the present presidential campaign began almost as soon as the last election was over, you're not far wrong. But though the campaign season seems interminable, it does have a bright side - the production of political campaign memorabilia.

Campaign souvenirs were not widely produced in the U.S. until the mid-nineteenth century, when items such as ribbons, snuff boxes, tokens, and plates began to be used as forms of advertising. Distributed at meetings, parades, and rallies, such items served to promote support for candidates and their parties.

One of the most popular of political collectibles was and is the button, and, in fact, the earliest political buttons were brass clothing buttons. It was not until the William McKinley/William Jennings Bryan campaign of 1896 that the celluloid-covered pin-back button was first used. Surprisingly, the 1896 buttons were so popular, and produced in such quantities, that they are often valued much less than many that are more modern, but rarer. (The rarest major-party button is the Cox/Roosevelt jugate (double portrait) of 1920 that has sold for up to $100,000!)

Recent decades have seen a decline in the production and/or distribution of memorabilia as campaigns have come to rely on mass media for reaching the electorate, and this has led to the relative scarcity of many contemporary items. So, while a collector might pay as little as $10 or $20 for an 1896 McKinley, he will have to pay much more than that for certain '64 Goldwater, '72 Nixon, or '92 Clinton pieces.

As with any field as vast as campaign memorabilia, most collectors are constrained by finances and/or display space. Some specialize in a single candidate or a political issue, such as women's suffrage or prohibition. Some concentrate on ephemera (posters, postcards, ballots, etc.), while others collect only watch fobs or buttons or bumper stickers. More than a few collectors focus on local, state, congressional, or third-party candidates.

So, how does one go about finding campaign items nowadays? Aside from the occasional find at a yard or estate sale, purchasing directly from an Internet or brick-and-mortar dealer, or bidding through an online auction, the best way is to contact a candidate or political party directly. Just about all of them maintain sites on the World Wide Web where you can request or purchase items, and even join up! These sites provide comprehensive links to U.S. political parties and organizations:

More Information on Political Memorabilia American Political Items Collectors. Founded in 1945, this is THE major organization for collectors. Buttons and Ballots, an online publication (1992-2001). Though no longer being published, a number of articles covering what to collect, displaying your collection, dating items, etc., are still available. Glossary of terms Well-written illustrated history History of campaign buttons Presidential Campaign Memorabilia from the Duke University Special Collections Library


"Encyclopedia of Political Buttons: United States 1896-1972: Including Prices, Campaign History, Technical Facts and Statistics/With 1998 Revised Price Supplement," by Ted Hake, Theodore L. Hake

"Political Buttons, Book II 1920-1976 (With 1991 Revised Prices for Book I: 1896-1972)," by Ted Hake

"Political Buttons, Book III 1789-1916: A Price Guide to Presidential Americana," by Ted Hake, Theodore L. Hake

These three volumes are considered the bibles of button collecting. Also of value to the general collector are the following:

"100 Years of Political Campaign Collectibles," by Mark Warda

"Hake's Guide to Presidential Campaign Collectibles: An Illustrated Price Guide to Artifacts from 1789-1988," by Ted Hake, Ted Hade, Theodore L. Hake

About the author:

Michele Alice is EcommerceBytes Update Contributing Editor. Michele is a freelance writer in the Berkshire mountains of Massachusetts. She collects books, science fiction memorabilia and more! Email her at makalice @ eBay ID: Malice9

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