Creative campaigns: Political collectibles are history in the making

Money and resources concentrate on television advertising and increasingly the Internet. Mail-outs and postcards are still used; but since 1968, political buttons (and expensive limited production posters) are mostly made for collectors. Probably the most popular contemporary political items are bumper stickers and yard signs.

Over recent decades I believe some of the cleverest pieces with the best visual attraction and future historic value are the political toys. They are relatively reasonable in cost today (particularly if purchased at flea markets,) but will be tomorrow’s treasured displays.

During the 19th and first half of the 20th century, political campaigning embodied the entire economic and social life of their age. Inventive pieces were produced in a multitude of novel forms and materials. When hard rubber, celluloid, aluminum and photography became commercially available, they were quickly adopted for electoral purposes. There was a commitment to creativity, style and wit. The industrial revolution combined with American participatory democracy to flood the market with items used in day-to-day living from thimbles and watch fobs to clocks and apparel. At the time, they were given away or sold at a nominal price. Today, many are quite valuable.

The object of my new book Warman’s Political Collectibles was to discuss, evaluate and fully illustrate with color photographs the major categories of campaign material. Almost every area of collector interest includes political items. It is virtually impossible to have a specialized collection of Americana without including campaign material. Postcards, sheet music, photography, textiles, medals, toys, ceramics and even jewelry and clocks are just part of the enormous variety of items available.

In your flea market and garage sale explorations, you may have ignored increasingly valuable political memorabilia. The trick is to be perceptually vigilant. For example, antique photography has become one of the fastest growing areas of collectors’ interest; but would you would you be able to recognize presidential candidates from the 1860 to 1900 era. My chapter on photography pictures them in their actual campaign brass framed ferrotypes, carte-de-visites, and cabinet photos. Would you recognize microphotographs or photomechanical pieces? There are sections illustrating political stereographs, glass plates, panoramic photos, private albums, coattail photos and many other varieties.

Other chapters concentrate on coins and medals; textiles and clothing; paper items; kitchen and grocery items; jewelry and ladies pieces; toys and handmade items; clocks, lamps and automobile items, and office and school supplies. In each chapter the wide variety of examples are displayed in beautiful, clear color photographs. Of course, there are also two chapters on political button, tabs and flashers that most people do immediately recognize as obvious examples of political campaign pieces. But, would you know which are the more valuable? Chapter 13 deals with the universal problem for all collectors: fakes and reproductions. Fortunately, this problem is relatively rare for political items, but can fool the uninformed button purchaser.

One final advantage of being a collector of political campaign material is the great pleasure in knowing the history of this great country.

Visit for Warman’s® Political Collectibles digital downloads

Author Dr. Enoch Nappen is a political science professor at New Jersey’s Monmouth University and is active in the American Political Items Collectors Club.

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