Magazine article Insight on the News

Political Memorabilia Is Hot as Collectors Vote with Cash

Magazine article Insight on the News

Political Memorabilia Is Hot as Collectors Vote with Cash

Article excerpt

The market in political collectibles has been booming for three years. Experts say value is determined by an item's desirability and rarity but urge beginners to relax, enjoy themselves and `buy what they like.'

It seems likely that any glove ever worn by O.J. Simpson will become collectible in the aftermath of his legendary trial. But why in the world would anyone save a glove -- a golf glove -- once worn by former President Ford? Particularly when that glove is described as "well-used, well-worn, dirty," even if it does bear the signature "Jerry Ford" on the wristband?

The solution to this mystery is that the glove in question has joined the ranks of "political collectibles." As a souvenir, it is more than just slightly bizarre; it has value. A recent auction catalog estimated the Ford glove would bring $400 to $600.

Most political collectibles are, to be sure, a bit prosaic. Campaign memorabilia can be traced to 1789, when buttons -- clothing buttons of engraved metal, not the souvenir pins of today -- were issued for George Washington's inauguration. By the 1820s, politicians were issuing these mementos routinely to promote their candidacies.

Though buttons top the political-collectible list, souvenirs take many shapes, limited only by the candidate's budget and imagination: hats, bumper stickers, key chains, jewelry, dinner plates, playing cards, records, socks, cigarette lighters and license plates, to name a few. And this stuff, designed to be tossed away when the election is over, not only retains value but also generates a market, complete with shops, shows, auctions, clubs and specialty publications.

One would think this market would be heating up with the 1996 campaigns. Normally, according to dealer Joe Levine of Presidential Coin and Antiques in Annandale, Va., that would be the case. A presidential-election year usually produces an upward blip in prices and then the market evens out, he says. But since the 1992 election, "we've had three years of unprecedented increases in prices of memorabilia. The market is just now beginning to soften a bit."

What will collectors be looking for this year? Levine says the most popular political collectible is the campaign button, particularly if it is made in small quantities for a special event. "It might be issued for a fund-raiser in a particular area, or for a small-town meeting or when a politician announces his candidacy." Buttons once were a staple campaign giveaway, but now they often come with a price: Many are produced by independent vendors who target the collector market with items that aren't commissioned by a campaign.

Most buttons have to be held a while to acquire any value. One recent button, for instance, with the motto "Elect Hillary's Husband in '92," lists for $3 in a popular price guide. On the other hand, a dual-portrait Reagan/Bush button showing the pair staring into the headlights of an oncoming vehicle, with the motto "Made in Detroit," sells for about $400. Several buttons from Teddy Roosevelt's 1912 campaign are valued at more than $6,000 each.

Presidential gift items -- tie tacks and cuff links -- are big trade items today, says Levine. "Reagan and Nixon are the most popular. They gave away better-quality items. Carter gave away schlocky stuff." People close to the president--Secret Service personnel and White House communications staffers--often are aware of the value of collectibles they encounter, he notes. …

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