Pinning on political views

Area man boasts collection of campaign buttons

Area man boasts collection of campaign buttons

September 22, 2008|By CRYSTAL SCHELLE

Albert Feldstein's two older brothers liked Ike. And so did the younger Feldstein, when he decided their "I Like Ike" presidential campaign buttons would start his memorabilia collection.

Feldstein, 59, of LaVale, Md., says his collection of campaign buttons has grown to nearly 6,000 items, including those "I Like Ike" buttons supporting Dwight D. Eisenhower's 1952 bid for presidency.

"I think they're the most graphic and colorful depiction of our First Amendment right of freedom of speech," he says.

Just a handful of his collection can be seen online at the Western Maryland Regional Library Web site, The site includes buttons promoting support for presidential candidates, some of whom made it to the White House, some of whom didn't and some of whom are still waiting to see. There are also links for Maryland gubernatorial and senatorial candidates. All include a short historical summary about the buttons.

Feldstein, an award-winning amateur public historian, previously worked with the Western Maryland Regional Library based in Hagerstown on other projects. He says he found that there weren't any similar Web sites with information about political buttons, so he approached Jill Craig, digitization librarian with the library, about creating a site devoted to the historical mementos.


Craig says there are more than 700 of Feldstein's buttons on the site.

"Al has researched the history of the candidates whose buttons he has included on this online collection," she says, "and the combination of colorful buttons and the people behind them tells a compelling story of American political history."

The button collection

Among the earliest pieces in Feldstein's collection shown on the Web site are campaign ribbons for Grover Cleveland's 1892 campaign, which he says are the precursor to the buttons of today.

"The first buttons weren't used until the 1896 presidential election between William Jennings Bryan and William McKinley," he says.

Feldstein's collection includes buttons from William McKinley's victory until George W. Bush's second-term win. He also has added buttons from this year's race to the White House with buttons promoting not only John McCain and Barack Obama, but also third-party candidates and primary hopefuls such as Hillary Clinton.

Over the years, Feldstein would pick up a campaign button any chance he could.

"It was about 10 to 15 years before I realized that I accumulated enough buttons to think of them as a collection," he says.

An admitted C-SPAN fanatic, Feldstein says he is a fan of political history. And history comes in handy when putting together a vast collection.

Although many items in his collection include the image of the presidential candidate, some have sayings that were significant of the time. For instance, a ribbon-and-medallion item with a moose head stood for Theodore Roosevelt's Bull Moose Party. A Thomas E. Dewey button proclaims, "Truman was screwy to build a porch for Dewey." The reference was to the balcony that was built in 1948 on the south portico of the White House. A button that begs "No Third Term" referred to Franklin Delano Roosevelt's bid for the third of his eventual four terms as president.

"If you know the history, they're really interesting," he says of the buttons.

Collecting buttons

With any collection there's bound to be reproductions or fakes known as "Brummagem" in campaign button circles.

In 1968, Kleenex produced a series of reproductions - for Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and John F. Kennedy - as premiums. Those types of buttons, Feldstein says, won't be part of his collection because they aren't authentic to the original campaign. He won't add any buttons that have been produced online through Web sites such as

Feldstein says he's tried to make sure that all of his buttons are authentic by paying attention to the button. Most buttons made today will have a mark on the curl of the button to show that it is a reproduction.

He suggests collectors refer to a good reference book on buttons to double check if it is the real thing.

Look, he says, to see the way the buttons are made. A McKinley button that is a lithograph isn't original because lithographs weren't introduced until Woodrow Wilson's time. New collectors should also look at how well the button has aged and at the condition, he says.

Feldstein says collectors should learn about button-making history.

"Abraham Lincoln and George Washington never made buttons; not as we know them today," he says.

Collect what you like

Personally, he says, he might collect a button because of its condition, its aesthetics or how representative it is of the candidate, the campaign or the issue.

He says he makes a point to collect buttons that have been sponsored by an organization such as a union, campaign committee or special interest group.

"Having a button identified with a specific group and date are good," he says, "because that means it was an official button used during the campaign."

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