You’re forgiven if you don’t recall the 1920 U.S. Presidential Election, the one where Republican Senator Warren G. Harding from Ohio thrashed Democratic Governor James M. Cox of Ohio. Harding won a landslide victory, but it is Cox and his young running mate, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who would leave a lasting impression some 100 years later.
A rare Cox/Roosevelt pin-back campaign button, a mere 1 ¼-inch, sold for an unprecedented $185,850 at Hake’s Auctions March 15. The new owner of the world-record button wishes to remain anonymous.
Known as a jugate because it features side-by-side images of Cox and Roosevelt, the button has long been considered the holy grail of campaign buttons. Any undamaged button from the 1920 presidential campaign picturing the Democratic nominees is precious, demanding values in excess of $10,000. Those buttons include the most common 7/8-inch brown-tone variety as well as the 13/16-inch “Americanize America” and the 1-inch “Cox Roosevelt Club,” both of which have sold for as much as $40,000.
But it has been the ever-elusive 1 1/4-inch variety that has long captured the imagination of serious campaign button collectors. Not since 1981 has one come to public auction, exchanging hands only in private dealings, according to political button expert Ted Hake, founder of Hake’s Auction and author of numerous books on the subject, including his latest, Button Power: 125 Years of Saying It with Buttons.
So why is the Cox/Roosevelt 1920 button so valuable?
It turns out, the Democratic Party was in rough shape in 1920 with little money and less enthusiasm for its presidential candidates. Button makers produced a few sample designs for jugates, but because of the slightly greater cost of a two-photo button compared to a simple name or slogan button, few local party organizations placed orders, and those placed were small, Hake said.
The Cox/Roosevelt button was created by Whitehead & Hoag Co., which introduced the pin-back button nationwide in 1896 and quickly cornered the market by producing as many as one million buttons per day. So extraordinarily rare is the 1 1/4-inch Cox/Roosevelt that “I didn't think I would ever hold one,” said Hake, who received the American Political Items Collectors Lifetime Achievement Award and is a member of the Theodore Roosevelt Association Advisory Board. “But now at 78, I can check that box.”
Scott Mussell, the American specialist at Hake’s, worked for nearly a decade to acquire the Cox/Roosevelt. He called working with the button an “honor.”
“As a campaign item collector alongside my father since the age of 8 this button has held a spot in my daydreams for as long as I can remember,” Mussell said. “I have just turned 37 and I shudder to think there might not be another opportunity at this iconic rarity until my retirement years.”