What Makes a Political Button Valuable?
By Tom Carrier
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.