Political history: Collection on display at Blount museum
By Linda Braden Albert | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Presidential campaign memorabilia from George Washington to Barack Obama is currently being displayed at the Blount County Historical Museum. Avid collectors Andy Simon and David Duggan, president of the museum board, have loaned the artifacts to the museum through the end of November.
The exhibit includes political pins, clothing buttons, ribbons, tokens, plates, ashtrays, pipe heads, posters, photographs, license plates — anything that could possibly promote a candidate for the nation’s highest office. All political parties are represented equally.
Duggan said, “What we’ve tried to do in this display is include some of the different types of things from different eras.”
Simon said the first political button was produced in 1888.
“These didn’t become popular until they were able to put pictures on metal, called lithography,” he said. “The first lithograph button came out in 1896. The quality of the workmanship was unbelievable. Now, unfortunately, political buttons are becoming passe and more time is spent on the television and Internet, telephone calls and radio.”
Duggan added, “It’s hard to find political pins anymore because the campaigns just don’t make them like they used to. They still have some, of course, but back in the 1950s and ’60s, it wouldn’t be unusual for a given campaign to make hundreds or even thousands of different types of pins. Nowadays, you might find five or 10 varieties of pins actually released by the campaign” rather than those mass-produced by companies for sale. Simon said these have nothing to do with the campaign itself, which is what true political campaign collectors seek.
Political items didn’t exist in the first six or seven presidential campaigns, Simon said.
“George Washington created some buttons for his own clothing when he was inaugurated. Some other manufacturers copied his idea. The first two inaugurations, there were buttons for clothing made,” he said.
Washington did not want people to campaign, nor did he want political parties. Instead, he wanted the voting public — white males who owned land — to pick the best available person for president. Simon said. “So, there was no campaigning. There is one button in there that shows Andrew Jackson’s name on the back of a button. When you had a clothing button, you would wear it, but you would turn it over to show people who you were interested in.”
William Henry Harrison, the nation’s ninth president, had the first campaign manager, Simon said, using images of a log cabin and hard cider as campaign symbols in banners and posters.
Smoking memorabilia has been quite popular, Simon said. “It was a good way to get their name out to the public whether it was cigars or pipes or ashtrays, cigarettes, lighters, matchbook covers — anything.”
Be a collector
Simon didn’t begin collecting political pins until a friend who did so asked him to be on the lookout for the campaign pins at flea markets.
“He finally said, ‘Look, you’re getting me a lot of good pins, why don’t you start collecting them yourself?’” Simon said. That was in 1975. “He gave me about 10 buttons to start my collection. Then he and I started traveling together, we’d go all over the country to shows, and we still do. It’s fun having friends who collect.”
Duggan began collecting in 1972 as a high school student after seeing a teacher’s collection of political pins.
“But mostly at that time, I collected just based upon when there would be a campaign,” Duggan said. “I would go to the local party headquarters and just pick pins up because I didn’t have any money to spend on them. So I’ve been going about 40 years now, but it’s only been in the past five years I’ve very actively gotten back into the hobby. In the intervening time, I mostly collected during the campaigns.”
Simon, Duggan and several other collectors have formed an East Tennessee chapter of the national American Political Collectors Organization. The meetings are held at members’ homes, restaurants, etc. For information about joining, contact Simon at 567-0176 or Duggan at 984-6551.