Corrections or additions?

This article was prepared by Fran Ianacone for the May 18, 2005

issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

For Sale: Political Memorabilia

We all know people who collect things: Pez dispensers, Beanie Babies,

matchbooks, shot glasses. But there are also people who collect

political memorabilia – big time.

"If you’re a history buff," says Tony Lee, president of American

Political Items Collectors’ Big Apple chapter, which has about 500

members, "this falls right in your frame of reference. Lots of

different types of people collect political campaign memorabilia,

ranging from amateurs to real historians, professors of history, and

politicians. People find it interesting to capture a great piece of

history. You might look for a presidential candidate who was running

on the day you were born, or compare campaign messages from 1916 to

1944 – whatever year happens to appeal to you. It tells a real story

of what was happening in the country at that time. For those who like

U.S. history, however, there’s really very little to collect. You can

either collect autographs, which are pretty expensive, or campaign


The Big Apple & Mid-Atlantic APIC chapter hosts its Spring Country

Show on Saturday, May 21, at the Titusville United Methodist Church.

More than 100 collectors are expected to display, trade, and sell such

novelty items as paperweights, rulers, even sheet music.

If you think collecting political memorabilia is just for old

fuddy-duddies obsessed with the past, you couldn’t be more wrong.

American Political Items Collectors, or APIC, founded back in 1945, is

a national organization that boasts roughly 3,000 members today,

dedicated to preserving political history. APIC members collect,

preserve, and study political Americana of all types, including:

buttons, ribbons, posters and banners, glassware, canes, autographs,

photographs and prints, ballots, jewelry, torchlights, books,

pamphlets, and handbills.

At the collectors event, says Lee, "You can find pretty much anything

that was put out for a campaign at one of these shows. Anything that a

candidate can put their name on – we collect. This show is an

opportunity for folks to get together and bring objects to show, to

trade, and even to sell."

Lee predicts that the items on display will be all over the board.

"You can go through the room and see political effects back to George

Washington, and all the way up to Hillary for President in 2008."

Is this stuff valuable? A George Washington inaugural button is a

functional button with a shank that was sewn onto clothing. It’s worth

about $2,000. No word in yet on the worth of the Hillary button.

"It’s like a big swap meet," says Lee. "Everyone there will be willing

to trade. And they will all be willing to talk your ear off about

whatever candidate they really like. This show presents a great

opportunity to add to your collection and either be introduced to – or

introduce your kids to – the hobby of political collecting."

Kids interested in history? You’ve got to be kidding. "Actually, we

have a lot of kids, seven, eight, or nine years old, who want to

collect Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan items – candidates who ran for

office before they were even born! When I started collecting,

everybody wanted to collect Teddy Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt.

The interest level of political collectors changes and evolves along

with political history."

The reasons people begin collecting are as varied as the items

themselves. "In my case," says Lee, "my brother, Sandy, was in

Washington, D.C., during the protest marches. He would come home from

college and give me the buttons. I took all of those buttons to school

and showed them to my freshman year history teacher. The next day, he

gave me another box of older buttons that he, or his dad, had sitting

in a drawer. From that moment on, I guess I was a collector."

Lee, who by day is publisher of the Wall Street Journal’s Online

Vertical Network, where he has been since 1997, lives in Titusville

with his wife, Jane, and their two daughters. Lee grew up in Texas and

graduated from Denver’s Regis University with a double major in

political science and communications. He received a masters in

journalism from Northwestern in 1982.

According to Lee, back before candidates started spending the bulk of

their money on TV advertising, all political buttons were made by the

candidate’s campaign officials, who might make special buttons to

appeal to different audiences. A button meant to appeal to the

Democratic Women of Somerset County might be different in size and

color than one for a college club.

Later, independent vendors stepped in to make the buttons and sell

them at campaign rallies. Oftentimes, the vendor would make the button

on behalf of a local group in support of a candidate, but the

candidate would have no idea this was happening.

"There are still manufacturers in this country who will create

customized buttons, especially for conventions," says Lee. "Buttons

are pretty inexpensive to make so they can take risks and make unusual

things and see how they do. I was at the Republican National

Convention in New York last summer, and there was a huge range of

buttons in all sizes, shapes, and colors for sale. Remember the huge

protest marches that went on before the convention? Pretty much every

group you could imagine was represented there."

And they all had signs and buttons.

Says Lee: "The history of U.S. politics is politically incorrect.

Candidates have run for everything from the Black Panther party to the

KKK party, the Communist party, Socialist party, you name it. Every

possible viewpoint is expressed in political buttons. It’s always been

that way, pretty much. During World War II, there were buttons with

very derogatory comments on them about the Germans and the Japanese.

People expressed themselves through the buttons that they wore. That’s

why I say it is really a microcosm of U.S. history."

Attendees can get free appraisals at the show. And unlike the Antiques

Roadshow on PBS where the appraisers encourage the owners to take an

item home and store it safely, most people who come to APIC shows want

to sell their items. "We’ll take a look and tell them what it’s worth

and if they’re interested, we’ll do an auction right there on the

floor. So they get a chance to sell it if they don’t want to keep it.

That happens a lot," Lee says.

Asked for a favorite piece in his collection, Lee admits, "I don’t

have one favorite piece, but I do have favorite candidates – Al

Landon, who ran against Franklin Roosevelt for President in 1936. A

lot of his items are brown and yellow and resemble sunflowers –

because he was from Kansas. He lost very badly to Roosevelt, but his

buttons look great."

– Fran Ianacone

Political Memorabilia, Saturday, May 21, 9 a.m.,

Titusville United Methodist Church, 1450 River Road, Titusville.

Second annual political memorabilia exhibit and show presented by the

American Political Items Collectors organization, a national

non-profit hobbyist association dedicated to preserving political

history. 609-730-9490.

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