After the 2016 election cycle, many people have buttons, posters, T-shirts and hats from the campaigns they supported lying around with no idea what to do with them now. Members of the political collecting community say you can preserve campaign materials for the future or use your interest to delve further into history.
Adam Gottlieb, a political collector, said that he was inspired to start collecting after visiting Sagamore Hill, former President Teddy Roosevelt’s summer home in Oyster Bay, N.Y., when he was in fourth grade. When visiting, Gottlieb said he saw Roosevelt’s personal library, the trophy animals he had shot and his Rough Rider hat firsthand – and was hooked as a history buff and Teddy Roosevelt enthusiast.
“I read all the books in the library about (Roosevelt), and my mom and dad would go out and buy (me) books about him. One day my dad brought home a photograph of him on a naval ship, and that was my very first item,” Gottlieb said. “So, long story short, I discovered that there were these things called buttons, and I bought my first button at maybe 10 years old and started collecting and learned about the APIC after going to a museum exhibit in Brooklyn with my mom.”
The American Political Item Collectors is an organization focused on the collection and preservation of items from political campaigns and the presidency. While Gottlieb joined because he was passionate about Roosevelt, the 2016 election could offer another in for “political junkies” and “armchair historians” to join the hobby.
For example, he said, people who were avid Bernie Sanders fans could be interested in button collecting from his campaign and others.
“Bernie Sanders is a good example because there was a lot of creativity,” Gottlieb said. “Deadheads for Bernie, environmentalists for Bernie, all these buttons came out in the last election that there’s no way of cataloging them; there’s really no way to note all of them.”
Pins with limited runs, like delegation buttons and those from specific campaign events, tend to be the most valuable items in the political collecting scene, Gottlieb said. Like any market, items with a high demand but low supply go for the most money. For example, a baby blue 1980 “California Delegation for Reagan” button sold for as high as $1,800, he said.
Of course, there are other criteria that determine whether your political objects will be valuable: Campaign winners tend to be more popular than losers; certain presidents like John F. Kennedy, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan have higher interest; and campaign items like buttons and posters are more valuable than shirts, hats or newspapers.
If you want to preserve your items, keep them as close to original condition as you can, Gottlieb said. This means keeping items out of sunlight and not adding or removing any parts.
“You don’t want to laminate a poster; you don’t want to glue down a ribbon; you don’t want to take out the pin from a button. That automatically cuts their worth in half,” Gottlieb said.
But even if you have items with a higher value, Gottlieb said, don’t expect to make too much money off of selling your old political memorabilia. Get involved in political collecting and go to shows if you’re interested in the history and politics behind the items, he said.
“Whether you’re someone with a marginal interest, someone who’s looking to start a collection or someone who’s a veteran collector: You’re not alone. There are other people who are passionate – some would say crazy – as you are,” Gottlieb said. “It’s the only hobby I know where you can hold political history in your hand.”