Politically Collect: Souvenirs from the Presidential Campaign Trail
Political memorabilia used to mostly mean campaign buttons, posters, and broadsides, newspapers featuring election results headlines, and in later years, bumper stickers. But today’s most-collectible political paraphernalia ain’t your grandparents’ election souvenirs! In fact, it’s often downright politically incorrect.
That’s not to say that folks back in the day didn’t seek out some pretty outrageous, outlandish, and/or oddball political collectibles, because they certainly did. Hands down the most gruesome item of political significance sold on eBay for $5,000 on June 13, 2018: LARGE PIECE OF MARY TODD LINCOLN’S DRESS WORN DURING LINCOLN’S ASSASSINATION.
Don’t look for Jackie Kennedy’s pink suit to show up on eBay, though; it’s been donated to the National Archives but won’t be available for viewing until 2103, if ever.
A WorthPoint search for “political memorabilia” (without quotation marks) yields 467,124 results. The priciest item of all, appropriately enough, is related to the USA’s first President. GEORGE WASHINGTON: U.S. PATENT SIGNED was sold by Heritage Auction Galleries on May 21, 2011, for $179,250.
The most expensive political item sold on eBay to date was an original PRESIDENT JOHN F KENNEDY JFK DEATH CERTIFICATE. The framed document (and its steel security case) brought $65,000 on June 8, 2007.
At the other end of the spectrum is a collector’s item related to a somewhat less popular president. PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON INVITATION 5/11/74 granted the invitee admission to the Preferred Guest Area for a rally at Vance Air Force Base near Enid, OK, during which Nixon told what The New York Times called “a friendly crowd” that he had no intention of resigning.
Despite the invitation’s note citing “Plenty of Free Parking,” it was evidently not a highly-coveted invitation — even three decades later —because it sold on TIAS for $1.50 on December 1, 2004.
Elephants vs Donkeys
Of the two major parties, the Republicans arguably have the grandest memorabilia. Delegates to their national conventions were identified by elegant beribboned medals: NATIONAL REPUBLICAN 1895 RIBBON sold on eBay for $31.81 on May 23, 2008, while 1944 REPUBLICAN NATIONAL CONVENTION CHICAGO MEDAL (worn by the HONORARY ASS’T SG’T AT ARMS) sold on eBay for $37.88 on January 6, 2014.
As might be expected, early Democratic memorabilia tends to be a little more “of the people.” A POLITICAL WM BRYAN FOR PRESIDENT MECHANICAL POSTCARD (see top photo) features a picture of a donkey with a real piece of string for its tail along with the words “PULL FOR YOUR CANDIDATE.” When the string is pulled, up pops an image of three-time Presidential aspirant William Jennings Bryant, a.k.a. The Great Commoner, who ran for that office in 1896, 1900, and 1908. This whimsical piece of political ephemera sold on eBay for $89.99 on June 2, 2011.
Presidential Family Jewels
Campaign jewelry has been a thing since as far back as the 1840 Presidential campaign of William Henry Harrison. An 1840 WILLIAM HENRY HARRISON SULPHIDE BROOCH features the Whig candidate’s log cabin motif, with its cider barrel and flag, plus his slogan “HARRISON & REFORM”. It sold on eBay for $350 on February 3, 2013, while a MINT ULYSSES U. S. GRANT 1868 FERROTYPE BROOCH PIN rival sold on eBay for $641.11 on February 22, 2011.
During the 1950s and ‘60s, the era’s fashionable circle pins let people know you liked Ike. Somebody got a bargain on this lot of 4 EISENHOWER IKE BROOCHES, which sold on eBay for just $11.07 on April 19, 2018. Made using a variety of faux gemstones, this collectible costume jewelry usually sells individually for more.
Circle pins also touted NIXON, PAT FOR FIRST LADY, the GOP, and “Jack Kennedy”. In fact, a MATCHED PAIR OF JOHN AND JACKIE KENNEDY RHINESTONE BROOCHES set with aurora borealis jewels sold on eBay for $85.99 on October 13, 2013.
Political bracelets were popular as well. During the 1950s and ‘60s, charm bracelets, in particular, were made for Eisenhower, Goldwater, Kennedy, and Stevenson. Clearly, both parties like their bling!
Perhaps the most significant piece of political jewelry ever created, however, was neither for a Presidential candidate nor worn by a registered voter. An original vintage WOMEN’S RIGHTS PIN FEMINIST SUFFRAGETTE BROOCH STERLING depicting a barred prison door with a heart-shaped padlock sold on eBay for $1,000 on May 2, 2018.
Known as the Jailed for Freedom Pin, it was made for and given to suffragettes of the early 20th century who went to prison for the cause. Sterling reproductions by the Museum of Fine Arts sell on eBay for $26-$121.99.
They Go High, We Go Low
But that was then, and this is now. Like politics itself, contemporary political collectibles have become considerably less highbrow. Oh, sure, you can still find fine and precious rarities such as GEORGE WASHINGTON’S MECHANICAL PENCIL, which sold on eBay for $13,000 on January 13, 2018. Or JOHN F. KENNEDY WHITE HOUSE PRESENTATION TABLE, sold on eBay for $11,000 on May 11, 2018.
For higher-end and/or genuine vintage and modern-day collector’s items, serious collectors should turn to APIC, the American Political Items Collectors. Since 1945, this has been THE organization for aficionados of political memorabilia. But for the fun stuff, one need look no further than eBay and WorthPoint. And it’s easy to see where we’re headed: basically, straight down the toilet.
It started out, as do so many falls from grace, with alcohol. From 1956 to 1988, Jim Beam Decanters were produced in two-party pairs. A complete set sold on eBay for $399 on November 17, 2010. Tobacco factored in, too: DONKEY JIM BEAM LIQUOR DECANTERS, ASHTRAYS sold on eBay for $89.95 on February 24, 2008.
Then came the paper products. And we’re not just talking HUGE LOT PRESIDENT PAPER DOLLS GEORGE WASHINGTON TO OBAMA 20 MINT BOOKS. Sure, those dolls depict First Families in their skivvies, but that’s still keeping it comparatively classy. At least they have proper wardrobes!
But the you-know-what hit the fan with RICHARD NIXON HUMPHREY 1968 TOILET PAPER (sold on eBay for $28 on September 9, 2019). In addition to two kinds of Nixon TP, there exists toilet paper featuring Spiro Agnew (it’s rare), Gerald Ford (even rarer), Jimmy Carter, Ronald Regan, Bill Clinton (three kinds), Hillary Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump (two designs, one of which features his tweets). Altogether, there are 652 WorthPoint search results for “president toilet paper.”
But wait, there’s more! You can also find toilet brushes representing George Bush, Hillary Clinton (who’s also available as a nutcracker), and Donald Trump.
However, only The Donald can make your bathroom great. The DONALD TRUMP TOILET ROLL TALKER features eight different Trump quotes, one of which is activated each time you pull on the paper roll. #45 is also unique in having a Presidential plethora of items that, ahem, seemingly break wind, including a Christmas ornament.
Speaking of Donald Trump dolls, the one that trumps them all is unquestionably HE WHO RULES THE EARTH MOON & STARS OOAK A DONALD TRUMP CARICATURE BY VERSHELST, which sold on eBay for $1,895 on September 16, 2018. On a literally smaller scale, THE BEST DONALD TRUMP TROLL DOLL is “enigmatic guerilla artists Monkeybump’s “brilliant, happy Donald Trump Troll Doll called T.O.T.U.S.— Troll of the United States.” Only 45 were made, and #31 sold on eBay for $730 on June 1, 2017.
Other kitschy political collectibles worth noting are the 1993 Bill Clinton Draft Evader Doll (which stops drafts beneath doors and windows); the Bill Clinton corkscrew; Ronald & Nancy Reagan bedroom slippers; Presidential matryoshka (nesting dolls); and the Barack Obama Chia Pet.
The WorthPoint Election Poll
Let’s close with an informal, strictly unofficial political poll. Based on their respective number of collectible items in WorthPoint search results, which of the two major parties is liable to prevail at the polls on November 3rd? Here’s the score:
- Democrat memorabilia: 34,774 results
- Republican memorabilia: 31,932 results (28,663 separate results for “republican memorabilia -irish”)
Now get out there and VOTE!!!
Betsie “eBetsy” Bolger is a freelance writer/editor, former eBay Education Specialist, and Top Rated Seller on eBay. She sells new, estate, vintage, and artisan jewelry for a client’s account as well as Converse sneakers, vintage jigsaw puzzles, limited-edition Teddy the Dog merchandise, and select consignment items in partnership with her husband. Betsie is also a longtime WorthPoint fan who previously wrote WorthPoint’s commercial spots for eBay Radio. Find her via ebetsy.com, acquisatory.com, and TexAnnasAllStore.com.
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