Political collectors come to town

July 20, 2000

Political collectors come to town


photo: RYAN ANSON / staff photographer

Political CollectorsJim Gifford of Akron, Ohio, carefully took the 1-inch button from its case and gently ran his fingers over the fine brass work and the ferrotype or tin-type photos.


Rob Payne of Ranson, W.Va., looked at the button and commented on its perfect condition - stunning considering it's 136 years old.

The condition and the subjects - Abraham Lincoln on one side and Andrew Johnson on the other - insured the button would get top dollar at Thursday's action of the Mason-Dixon American Political Items Collectors Millennium Extravaganza at Hagerstown's Ramada Inn.


The estimated price?

About $3,000, said Gifford, one the top political memorabilia auctioneers in the country.

The Lincoln button was just one of the many items for sale or display. Most of the items carried a less-expensive price tag. Even buttons from William McKinley's 1896 campaign were expected to go for between $6 to $8.

Billed as a national show of the American Political Items Collectors, the Mason-Dixon event attracted more than 500 collectors from across the country and even from the Netherlands. It's the 28th year the Mason-Dixon chapter has held a convention, the 10th straight in Hagerstown.

Everything from the politically simple to the sublime is on sale today until 6 p.m. by the more than 200 dealers are at the Ramada Convention Center's Grand Ballroom. The event is open to the public and admission is $5, for which a visitor could get back in for Saturday's sale from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

In addition to the sale, the convention features two of the premier Kennedy memorabilia collections in the country.

"This should be seen," said Bob Atwater of Galena, Ill., as he gazed over the Kennedy collections of Chris Hearn and Harvey Goldberg.

"They are all pieces of history and need to be shown." Atwater said, who has a collection of McKinley and William Jennings Bryan memorabilia.

On display was everything from buttons touting John, Bobby and Ted to press passes to photos, including two large plastic likenesses of Jack and Jackie that tapered down to bottle stoppers.

For Goldberg the two capstones of his constantly changing collection are two items from Jack Kennedy's 1960 presidential campaign against Richard Nixon.

One is a "flasher" button that changes messages when tilted. One message is "John F. Kennedy," the other is "Man for the 60's." The button is important to Goldberg because it's the first he acquired, getting it from the Hillsdale, N.J., Democratic headquarters when he was a teenager.

The other capstone is a collection of pins used on election night to designate staff at Kennedy headquarters. The collection includes a photo of Pierre Salinger talking with Jack Kennedy that's autographed by Salinger.

Goldberg's collection was of special interest to Bob Warren of Davis, Calif.

Amid the memorabilia was a swearing-in photo of John Kennedy, with Warren's dad, Chief Justice Earl Warren, administering the oath of office. Warren noted the photo in Goldberg's collection isn't the one normally seen.

Warren was among about a dozen political collectors from California who traveled to Hagerstown for the convention. Warren has been collecting political memorabilia since 1978 when he came across two or three of his father's California campaign buttons.

"They were worth about $1 each then and they're still worth about $1 each," Warren said.

While some collectors purchase memorabilia as an investment, most do it out of an interest in history or politics, said Payne, president of the Mason-Dixon chapter of the American Political Items Collectors.

Payne's political collection focuses on one of West Virginia's favorite sons, John W. Davis, who ran for president in 1924.

For such collectors, merely having an item usually doesn't satisfy their curiosity. Many want to know the history behind the buttons, who wore them, where they were worn.

"A pin is just pie metal and celluloid. The story behind it is what's important," Goldberg said.

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