Start free trial

Home > News, Articles & Multimedia > Blog Entry > What Makes a Political Button Valuable?

What Makes a Political Button Valuable?

by Tom Carrier (01/22/09).

By Tom Carrier
WorthPoint Worthologist

Common or scarce? Political buttons were created for campaigns, for issues, even for special events—or sometimes just because. With so many different kinds of political campaign buttons available since they were first created in 1896, and more than 3,000 for the Obama campaign alone, how can you know which ones to collect? I spoke with Mark Evans of Collectors Archive of Avon, New York, a long time political collectibles dealer, about the tried and true method of determining what is collectible.

“An awful lot of it is supply and demand and the graphic appeal of the item,” Evans says. “There is a wonderful button of Teddy Roosevelt with draped flags in his Rough Rider hat when he ran for Governor in 1898, but it’s very common. There were thousands and thousands of them made.” But, because of Teddy’s outsized personality, collector’s demand for this particular button has pushed the value for this relatively common button higher.

A more recent example of this phenomenon is the “In Your Heart, You Know He’s Right” campaign button of the Barry Goldwater presidential campaign of 1964. The satirical buttons of this campaign, such as “In Your Guts, You Know He’s Nuts” or “In Your Heart, You Know He’s Right – Far Right” also have values much higher than the supply.

With 3,000 buttons for the Obama campaign alone, how do we determine what is valuable as a collectible? Look for buttons that were used for a one day event, Evans says. Buttons of this sort were made in much more limited quantities, usually by local clubs or commercial companies and so their value remains high. Also, look to a candidate’s initial runs for political office. A Joe Biden campaign button for president in 1988, for example, now sells for $20 to $50 when just recently it was only about $2.

Matched pairs are also collectible. This is a commercially produced button series where both the president and vice president candidates are each produced on a separate button. Collectors go out of their way to find the mates, producing an instant collectible.

“Another factor,” Evans says, “is how well a button is made.” Evans shows a 1980 campaign button for Ronald Reagan where the graphic, while interesting and unusual, was poorly made. Spots, or foxing, started appearing on the paper reducing its value considerably. On the other hand, an interesting or unusual illustration, where the colors are bright and the quality is good, will only increase in value as a collectible over time.

So, to find value in political buttons, it is more than supply and demand. An unusual or catchy campaign slogan, buttons used for one-day events, early campaign buttons of elected presidents and vice presidents, matched pairs of candidates produced commercially, and unusual buttons that are well made. These are all factors in finding continued value in political button collectibles.

Still, there is one last thing to remember when collecting political buttons that tends to make all the difference. “As a collector, you should collect what you like,” Evans counsels. Hard to do in politics, but this is really the last word in collectible political buttons.

Watch a video with Tom Carrier talking to Mark Evans about political buttons here.

Tom Carrier is a general Worthologist, with an expertise in a wide variety of subjects.

WorthPoint: Get the Most from Your Antiques & Collectibles.

18 Responses to “What Makes a Political Button Valuable?”

  1. [...] What Makes a Political Button Valuable? – WorthPoint [...]

    • Lisa Walker says:

      What would Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon’s campaign buttons be worth?

      • Tom Carrier Tom Carrier says:

        Lisa:

        Most political buttons from the 1970s and forward have a relative value of no more than $10, no matter the campaign.

        There are always examples such as how many were produced, whether they are made differently, or whether the button is so much different than most that were being produced.

        But, utlimately, most buttons from Nixon to today fall into the under $10 range. Without photos to determine whether your buttons differ from most others, I can be sure that yours will no doubt fall into this broad category.

        Thanks for visiting WorthPoint.

        Tom Carrier
        Worthologist

  2. Marc Sigoloff says:

    The total number of Obama buttons is really under estimated here. There are probably 30,000 plus thanks to sites like CafePress and Zazzle. I personally have more than 3400, and the number of known buttons I don’t have is huge.

    • Tom Carrier Tom Carrier says:

      Marc:

      The number of Obama buttons in circulation at the time referred to only the ones used during the primaries up to the 2008 Democratic Convention.

      Naturally, once the general election began and he was the nominee (and because of the historical significance of his candidacy) the number of political buttons would have increased exponentially, as you pointed out.

      And because there are so many, it is even more important to follow Mark Evan’s advice more closely.

      Tom Carrier
      Worthologist

  3. I thought an error in a political button is valuable as it is in a coin, but that isn’t the case is it? I have a Strom Thurmond 1948 Dixiecrat presidential campaign button that is off center. I was under the impression it would be worth more than the centered ones but I have been offered less for it. How much would you say an off-centered one and a centered one would be worth?

    • Tom Carrier Tom Carrier says:

      Carol:

      Except Strom Thurmond didn’t win. That also helps make a difference. That’s not always the case, however. Barry Goldwater and George Wallace still sell well even though they both lost. But, they are also symbols of the underlying political philosophy they both were associated with; far right conservative for Goldwater, state’s rights for Wallace.

      In the case of your Thurmond button, it’s possible (without seeing it) that it is one of the more common buttons issued for the campaign and hence wouldn’t be considered a rarity, just made incorrectly. After all, Thurmond’s campaign didn’t alter history in any way, so it may not be particularly collectible in any condition.

      The value of one collectible hinges on different criteria. For an early book it may not be the content, but the paper itself; for flags it isn’t condition, but how the stars are arranged; for glassware, it isn’t the item, but the color; for political collectibles, it’s more the personality of the candidate that appeals to collectors. Hard to say sometimes.

      Still, it’s important that you asked, just to be sure.

      Thanks for visiting WorthPoint.

      Tom Carrier
      Worthologist

    • Since your question wasn’t adequately answered I will be happy to. The hobbies of campaign buttons and coins are very different, and the rules of one don’t apply to the other. Off-centering on buttons is just viewed as a form of “damage”, much like scratches or spots. It diminishes the value of any button, whether it is rare or common. With a rare button, it might be worth adding to your collection in case you can’t find a better example. With a common button it is better to pass and just wait to find a good one. If it is worth $10 in mint, I wouldn’t bother with an off-center variety even for a $1. There are some Strom Thurmond buttons that are worth a lot of money, so the fact that he lost is not relevant to this situation. You might have the common one that would be worth around $10 in mint condition. Is it just a name button?

      There are certain manufacturer’s errors that do increase the value of a button. If there is a misprint in the lettering or the picture, and it is corrected, the error could bring high prices. A well known example is the Tigereye Barack Obama that pictured Larry Craig rather than Larry LaRocco. The Craig error version would certainly sell for more, particularly since fewer were made.

      A better example is the original Bill Clinton Announcement button. The union label was mistakenly left off the original batch, and the campaign refused them. They were returned to the manufacturer and destroyed, but one survived. The corrected version that was used at the event sells for up to $150, but the one without the union label can be considered priceless. A Clinton collector did offer $1000 for it.

  4. Since your article is dated a few months after the general election the fact that you were referring to only the primaries would not be evident. There are other significant things to look for that weren’t mentioned. Labor union endoresments has been one of the dominating categories of Democratic buttons since the campaign of Walter Mondale. Coattails are also good if they are rare and not collector made. Then there are the Democratic National Convention buttons, if they came from official sources, such as the Mile High Stadium jugate, the Heartland Rural Council jugate, the ACORN Voters, and the square Illinois delegation button. My newsletter The Obama Guardian goes into far more detail about Obama buttons than you will find anywhere else.

    • Tom Carrier Tom Carrier says:

      Thanks for the update, Marc.

      Actually, the original interview with Mark Evans was conducted at the American Presidential Experience exhibit at the 2008 Democratic Convention in Denver, Colorado. At that time, it was estimated that there were about 3,000 primary campaign buttons in circulation.

      The article was included on the WorthPoint website well after the interview was conducted.

      Tom Carrier
      Worthologist

  5. Found a Political Button; JFK, It flickers with two pics. Thinks it worth the trouble to find its worth?

    • Tom Carrier Tom Carrier says:

      Rosemary:

      You have what we call a ‘flasher’ button. Most were made by a company called Veri-Vu which is no longer in business. Yours is relatively common and is collectible as long as it is good condition and the button itself can ‘flash’ and has no discernible scratches or marks. They are still widely available from $8 to $25, depending on where it can be found.

      Hope this helps.

      Tom Carrier
      Worthologist

  6. Good Morning,
    I collect antique sewing buttons, and in a recent purchase, there was a political button included. It is a mayoral campaign button for John F. Fitzgerald. Was wondering if it had much value? I know very little about political buttons. Thanks, Laura

    • Tom Carrier Tom Carrier says:

      Laura:

      You sent me some terrific closeups views of a 1906 mayoral campaign political button of John F. “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, a maternal grandfather of John F. Kennedy and father to Rose Kennedy, his mother. Prior to winning that 1906 election as Boston’s mayor, he was also a member of Boston’s Common Council and US Congressman.

      Many will remember John F. Kennedy relaxing on the family yacht known as the “Honey Fitz” named for his grandfather when he was president of the United States.

      The images you showed me of his mayoral campaign were very clear and quite in good condition There are several in WorthPoint’s set of auction records showing it has sold most recently at Ebay auctions for $127 and $132.

      Hope this helps.

      Tom Carrier
      Worthologist

  7. Hello, I have a “write in Coumo” pin, that is all metal the kind that you push the bcck to affix the graffic is the american flag it is 1 inch I have kept it in the “National draft Coumo for President Committee envolope since the spring of 92. I was a visiting student at Emerson and I was sent thease by Mr Krone and gave them out to fellow supporters when the Gov spoke at Harvard. I looked on ebay but dont see any. Do you have any idea what it’s worth. I can send pics It’s red , white and blue and is mint never been pushed back Thank You, Matt

  8. Joanne says:

    I have 3 campaign buttons. The first is “Kennedy for President”. This second is “Nixon” and the third is “LBJ for the USA”. I have had them all these years and have them on a padded cardboard in a plastic bag. I think they are in good condition. Do you think it is worth looking into the value of the buttons? Thank you

  9. roger says:

    yeah, i have a 1960 kennedy johnson oin says ‘new leadership’ on top and below says kennedy johnson.
    i have a 1976 president ford pin. i have a 1976 ford dole pin. i have a 1976 ‘gerald r. ford in ’76′ pin.
    i have a 1960 kennedy red white and blue pin.
    i have a 1936 ‘Landon’ ‘knox’ pin with elephant in middle seperating the two names, says gop on the elephant.
    i have a 1960 kennedy johnson, looks like you pin it on from the top its 1/2 in x 1″1/8 or 1/4 width.
    Are these worth anything. ?

  10. Tom Carrier Tom Carrier says:

    Roger:

    Except for the Landon Knox pin that has sold at auction recently for $15, the others have a value of between $3 to $10 with the Kennedy ones having the higher value, depending on condition.

    None of the buttons are particularly scarce, but in good condition can help with building a nice political button collection.

    Hope this helps.

    Tom Carrier
    Wortholgist

Want a picture icon with your comment? Sign up with Gravatar to get one.

Leave a Reply