Today's hottest collectible, as you can well understand, are items related to America's never-ending WHO'S ON FIRST presidential election. Like talk-show hosts, comedians and those making a living in the news business, antique collectors love hullabaloo. In addition to rarity, age, condition, historical context, appeal and eye-catching graphics, controversy can be one of the biggest value determinants in political souvenirs. For instance: A 1904 button picturing Teddy Roosevelt having lunch with black educator Booker T. Washington so outraged bigots it was printed in few numbers. Today it's worth a hundreds. Recalling the infamous 1948 Chicago Tribune Headline, "Dewey Defeats Truman" brings to mind a now sought-after button describing under-funded and underdog Truman's "whistle-stop" (campaigning on a budget from town to town by train) status: "Confidentially, I'm for Truman." One the most valuable 1960 Kennedy/Nixon buttons reads: "Prostitutes Vote for Nixon or Kennedy ... We don't care who gets in!" In 1976, an ex-Georgia farmer running against President Gerald Ford poked fun at his own image by providing walking sticks with a peanut handles to his supporters. Those canes are more than that Carter nickname today: $100 plus.
Since the early 19th century, candidates and causes have been bolstered and bludgeoned by promotion and propaganda-especially in the form of today's most popular collecting category; political buttons. Ferrotypes, the first generation of buttons, were made by inserting an office-seeker's photographic tintype into the brass frame of a small button that could be pinned or tied to a lapel. An Abraham Lincoln example, and they do appear from time to time, can fetch over hundred dollars. Mounted paper images protected by a thin coating of transparent celluloid (early plastic), were first patented in 1893 and made their political debut during the McKinley/Bryan elections in 1896 and 1900. Buttons stamped out of lithographed (printed) tin came into wide use in 1920.
Keep your eyes open for authentic examples of these political antiques:
Non-Button Political Articles: transfer-decorated pottery, pressed glass, broadsides, clothing, silk banners, ribbons, message touting flags, parade torches, advertising displays and other hold-in-your-hand items propagandizing politicians and political viewpoints. For instance, a circa 1840 cup and saucer with a transfer decorated image of part of Henry Harrison's Ohio homestead where he was said to drink sober apple cider in preference to wine. Although we now equate the log cabin image to wood-chopping Abraham Lincoln, William Henry Harrison beat him to the punch 1840 by successfully campaigning as a humble, log-cabin-livin' frontiersman. His "Log Cabin and Hard Cider" defeated incumbent, Martin Van Buren. Bottles, glassware, ironstone cups and saucers, almanacs and metal disks bearing log cabin images from the Harrison's campaign are super collectible today.
Roosevelt and Johnson Jugates from 1912: Side by side picture buttons of Teddy & his vice-presidential candidate from the 1912 campaign are very rare.
1896 & 1900 Presidential Campaign Items: Republican William McKinley favored maintaining a GOLD monetary status. Democrats and their nominee, William Jennings Bryan argued for a SILVER status. Resultantly, a great variety of silverbug and goldbug buttons were produced. Many were cast in the realistic shapes of gold and silver tinted bugs. Seek out authentic political objects that are fascinating, graphically and historically.
1972 Nixon/McGovern Stuff: Although not yet valuable these collectibles are reflective of an era when America was more divided than at any time since the Civil War. McGovern/Shriver promotions geared toward the younger generation are bursting green with "Peace, Love, Doves and Trees." A typical Nixon/Agnew button geared toward an older more conservative audience reads "Nixon, Now More Than Ever," in traditional red, white and blue.
Anything from the 19th century, or if you're really optimistic, let's talk 18th century and George Washington, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.