Antique Detective: Tips for presidential campaign collectors

Just as there are winners and losers in campaigns you may be surprised to learn that collectibles depicting the losers are often winners. One example is multicolor jugate, circa 1908 button depicting William Jennings Bryan, democratic presidential candidate and his running mate John W. Kern. It could sell at auction for $500 or more. Another winning-loser would be a button showing James M. Cox , the democratic nominee for president, with Franklin D. Roosevelt for vice president. While they both lost the election a button with their likenesses can sell for $10,000 -$150,000.

According to Ted Hake, who specializes in political item auctions says, “an election year creates an interest in our political history and in collecting.”

Political items can be a serious investment. Hake’s first purchase was a McKinley “Protection To American Industry” papier mache parade horn, circa 1896. He didn’t pay much but today it could sell for $2,000, one could be found.

CLUES: Items were made in so many categories that even a beginner can specialize. A good category for beginners would be buttons. Winners, losers, slogans, third party, jugate (items with two candidates likenesses) and specific event buttons are affordable. The specific event buttons were made in a small quantity and can be rare and costly. These would be for a one-day appearance while on a tour. Among the most valuable of these are the ones with a date and place.

Least expensive are name buttons that have a name, nickname or initials. Slogan buttons can show the humorous aspects of politics, such as “Mondale Eats Quiche.” During the Franklin Roosevelt-Wendell Wilkie campaign, one pin, referring to Eleanore Roosevelt, stated “We Don’t Want Eleanore Either.”

There is nothing new about celebrities supporting their favorite candidates. When Thomas McGovern ran for president in 1972, Barbra Streisand, James Taylor and Carol King’s likenesses were on a pin supporting him. Those could sell for $200 or more these days.

Posters and banners have always played an important role in political campaigns since the mid-19th century. Made to be disposable when all the shouting was over, few early examples have survived. Some from the 19th to early 20th century can sell for more than $1,000. If a more recent candidate is still popular with collectors, such as John F. Kennedy, or the controversial Richard Nixon, items can sell for more.

According to Hake the “big five,” most popular presidential subjects, still available, are Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy.

Best advice? Start scooping up anything and everything relating to the coming presidential election and stash it away. It could send your grandchildren to college in another 20 years.

Photos courtesy of Hake’s Americana, Geppi’s Entertainment Auctions, 3679, Corncord Road, York, PA 17402