Political Collectibles: What’s Hot

Someone once suggested to me that when an election is over, the buttons and posters and everything are all trash. I immediately countered that this may be the one area of collectibles where items from an event continue to have a value well after it has ended.

That is certainly true now that the United States has concluded its most recent election. The fact that it is historic, in that the first African-American has ascended to the office, also means that the political items associated with the campaign may, indeed, have a more lasting value than usual. Or maybe not.

You see the collectibles industry has certain criterion when evaluating what is significantly valuable and what is not. First, what is it? If it is an unusual political item beyond the normal bumper sticker, button, T-shirt, newspaper or poster, then the item is automatically desirable, and its value is higher.

1960 JFK campaign poster

This collectible, still showing its vibrant colors, is listed on GoAntiques.

Then, how many are there? With newspapers, for example, the printing of special editions means that there are so many more of them, and so individually, they may only retain a sentimental value through the years. A political button created only for the convention has a higher value than one commercially produced, for example. Severely limited and signed posters work, too. A signed football, T-shirt or baseball cap will always be limited to just a relative few.

Baseball autographed by Barack Obama

The baseball sold at auction in September for $414. Check out Worthopedia for more details.

Nelson Whitman of Capitol Coins and Stamps, a venerable political and presidential items collector with his own shop in the heart of Washington, D.C., for more than 30 years, has said that an innumerable number of Barack Obama items were produced. “I have over 400 different buttons, many posters, bumper stickers, programs, tickets and other commemoratives, and all are selling like crazy to everyone in all walks of life,” Whitman said. You can visit Nelson’s online store to get an idea as to the quantity of available Obama collectibles.

Condition of the item matters, too. To take the newspaper example above, if there is a significant issue with a high value, but sections are missing or the cover is not pristine, the value drops significantly. If it has been cut or framed, the value is diminishes as well.

Autographs hard to authenticate

And lastly, can the item be authenticated? For autographs, this is sometimes problematic. I always counsel that an autograph should be on an event program or ticket. It immediately places that individual at a known location and is therefore easily authenticated. A signed photo or any item that was not signed in front of the collector is automatically suspect. It is possible for a staff member, an autopen that signs the signature by machine or a stamp to be affixed to an item that appears to be authentic, but is not.

So, to find a political collectible that will have lasting value:

• Find something completely out of the ordinary.
• Find something where there are relatively few in existence.
• Be sure the condition of the item is as close to pristine as possible.
• Trace and document its provenance so that the item can be easily authenticated.

If you can achieve all that, then you will have a collectible that can be handed down through generations both as an item of family history and as a high-value heirloom.

1888 Benjamin Harrison campaign ticket

It should be noted that collectibles aren’t just to look at. Sometimes they can also foretell the future. Worthologist Jim Warlick predicted quietly last spring that Obama would win, as the sale of his political buttons far outstripped the sales numbers of Hilary Clinton and John McCain combined. He has even gone so far as to post poll numbers, based on the sales results of buttons. His USA Button Poll has been correct for every election since 1992 (except for the very close one in 2000). This year, his button poll was pretty close, predicting a 56-44 win for Obama. The actual numbers were 52% for Obama and 46% for McCain.

By Tom Carrier, WorthPoint Worthologist, specializes in Flags and Political Memorabilia

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