Collecting political memorabilia – Part II

Editor’s Note: Following is part II of Michael McQuillen’s election year series. In this installment, Michael finishes covering the important definitions for the political collector.

Click here to read the first installment of this two-part story.

Terminology, in the world of political Americana, is very important, as it is in most specialty collecting worlds. token AT 3-26.jpgA word or two can make a world of difference when reading an auction description or ad in your favorite collectors’ newspaper.

Abraham Lincoln’s 1860 campaign made use of coin-like campaign tokens. This particular variety sells for around $125.

Most collectors and dealers of political memorabilia strive for clarity when offering items for sale, however a smart collector is one that makes every effort to research their area of interest, and understanding the definitions surrounding this fascinating hobby is a great start.

Recently, Antique Trader ran the initial installment of my series on Political Americana, which defined a number of terms used in this most interesting hobby. Here we will complete this look at definitions.

Political Collecting Terms and Definitions – Part II

Ferrotype – Small, usually one-inch diameter metal tokens that house a tintype picture or image of a candidate, or candidates, in the middle (frequently on both sides). Used primarily between 1860 and 1880.flag AT 3-26.jpg

This 13-inch by 17-inch paper campaign flag pictures 1900 candidates William McKinley and Garret Hobart. Retail value $200.

Flag – Historically, political candidates and advertisers frequently used the U.S. flag as a backdrop for their “product.” During WWII the federal code was amended to clearly prohibit the flag’s use for these purposes. Flags picturing candidates are actively sought today.

Flasher – Pin-back buttons, which change images when rotated or tilted from side to side. flasher AT 3-26.jpgFrequently misidentified as holograms – the two-dimensional images were used on buttons prolifically from the 1950s through the early 1970s.

When tilted in one direction this 1960 JFK button pictures Kennedy, while displaying the slogan “The Man for the 60s” at another angle. Retail value $20.

Foxing –
Another word for marks or staining that takes place on a celluloid button when moisture creeps through cracks or scratches to discolor the paper image on a button.

Hobby Protection Act –
A federal law passed in 1973 and later amended, which requires later day fake and fantasy political items to be clearly marked. The act also covers other collecting areas.

Inaugural AT 3-26.jpgMany did not expect Harry Truman to win the 1948 presidential campaign. This 1949 button from his inauguration sells for $40.

Inaugural – Any button or item that pertains to the quadrennial swearing-in of the newly elected president of the United States. Programs, tickets and invitations top the list of sought after items.

Jugate – A Latin term that in collecting refers to two political candidates being pictured together on an item. Most often a presidential and vice-presidential candidate although candidates for a higher and lower office pictured together would qualify as well.

Lapel pin –
A usually small, frequently metal pin, screw, or push-back pin designed to be worn on one’s lapel.

Limited edition –
Over the years many button manufacturers have produced campaign buttons in limited, sometimes signed and or numbered editions. A continuing debate rages in the hobby as to the desirability of some of these buttons.

jugate AT 3-26.jpgPicturing both Thomas Dewey and Earl Warren, this 1948 jugate button sells for $85.

Lithograph or litho – Buttons that consist of a metal body which has a design painted upon its surface. Litho buttons began to be routinely produced for the 1920 campaigns.

Locals –
Items that were produced for pretty much any race short of the presidency. Senate, House, governor, council, sheriff and dog-catcher would all fall under this category.

Mechanical –
Items that are designed to “do something” when a lever or switch of some kind is pressed. Bugs sprouting wings picturing candidates or a shield with flip-out images are examples of this use.

Mottling –
Another term for foxing (see above).

Multigate – An item that pictures five or more candidates for office in the same view.

Official buttons –
Buttons that were authorized and issued by a candidate, or a candidate’s campaign committee.

One-day –
Anything issued for a candidate’s single-day visit to a local. Items are usually dated for said event.

Re-pin –
In the 1940s and later, a number of original papers made for buttons that hadn’t been used were discovered and made into buttons. These later-day buttons predate the Hobby Protection Act and are collected by some. It can be very difficult for even advanced collectors to identify these buttons.

Reproduction –
Something that was manufactured after the fact from an original design.

Ribbon badge –
Simply a pin-back button that has a ribbon crimped on or otherwise attached to the item.

Riker mount –
Also known as a butterfly mount or tray. Frequently measuring 12 inches by 16 inches and 1 inch deep (as well as in larger and smaller sizes) these glass topped trays are filled with cotton or a foam-like material for the display of small collectibles.

Slogan button –
A button that has wording related to a candidate, but no picture. The 1940 FDR vs. Willkie campaign incorporated the use of hundreds of different slogan buttons such as “No Third Term” and “I Want to be a Captain too.” “All the Way with JFK” and “Nixon Now” are other examples.
stereoview card AT 3-26.jpg

The 1888 team of Grover Cleveland and Allen Thurman are featured on this 7-inch-wide view card that was made to be viewed through a stereoptican. Retail value $35.

Stereoview card – A photographic card that pictures candidates, frequently used from the 1880s until the turn of the century.

Tab –
A small lithographed flat piece of metal with a top piece that may be bent over to attach to a lapel.

Third-party –
Items for candidates representing political parties other than Republicans and Democrats. Examples include the Prohibition, Socialist and Libertarian parties.

Tin shell –
Used most often between the 1870s and 1880s, these small die-cut pin-backs shaped like eagles, shields and other subjects contain pictures of political candidates.

Token –
Beginning in the early 1800s, and continuing to the modern day, candidates are promoted on these coin-like metal pieces.

Trigate –
An item that pictures three candidates for office in the same view. A quadrigate involves four pictured candidates.

Uniface –
A ferrotype, tintype or other campaign item containing a jugate image of two candidates that are pictured in the same single photo or image (not in two side by side images).

Union bug –
Also called a union label. The official union stamp that is sometimes imprinted on a button or other item. A union bug does not guarantee an item’s authenticity, but rather, that said item was produced in a union shop.

Vendor button –
A blanket term for buttons that are mass-produced for direct sale to the public, rather than for official distribution through a campaign. These buttons usually do not attain great value.

Michael J. McQuillen is a writer, lecturer, collector and full-time dealer in the field of political Americana. He is also a regional vice-president of the APIC and president of the Indiana chapter, the campaigns of Wendell Willkie, Indiana governors and WWII patriotics and police and fire badges are among his favorite collecting areas. He can be reached at P.O. Box 50022, Indianapolis, IN 46250-0022, at e-mail: or at