Umbrellas Double as Presidential Campaign Devices
By Tom Carrier
This McKinley-Hobart campaign umbrella, printed cotton with black portraits and text, is marked on interior “The Sprague Umbrella Co. Norwalk, Ohio.” It has six panels with paired jugate portraits divided by panels of red & blue, with a long with turned wood handle and dowel, original finish and red, white and blue streamers attached at top. This umbrella sold at auction in 2005 for $460.
It is amazing sometimes in the world of collectibles that a relatively mundane item becomes an important historical artifact simply because it lasted 100 years. Prior to 1896, hats, ribbons, clothing buttons, parade torches, lanterns and other innocuous everyday items were produced not only as functional items, but also doubled as an advertisement for a favorite candidate.
And so why not an umbrella? During the late 19th century, the umbrella was functional, but also served as a walking advertisement for presidential campaigns, too. “Campaign items such as umbrellas were most likely produced by vendors, not the campaigns themselves. These are very delicate items,” says John Olsen, an exhibitor at the American Presidential Experience in Denver, Colo., during the Democratic National Convention of 2008.
Umbrellas themselves have a very ancient history. First used in ancient Greece, it was intended to shield a person from the hot rays of the sun. In fact, the word “parasol” means to block the sun (the word “umbra” is Latin for shade or shadow). The earliest mention of a collapsible umbrella, according to a Wikipedia entry, was in China in the year 21 A.D., for use on a ceremonial four-wheeled carriage. Over time, the umbrella was used to shield a person from the rain, in photography and even as a fashion statement.
And so, in the late 19th century, the umbrella was a rather perfect way to advertise your preference for president. It wasn’t unusual to find images and names of both the presidential and vice presidential candidates added to an umbrella, along with full color national flags, slogans, and all manner of patriotic motifs.
This small umbrella was probably a political campaign souvenir. Red, white and blue stripes and stars with beaded tassels and a bamboo shaft. It sold at auction in 2005 for $381.88.
It is also normal to find an inordinate amount of wear and tear. Such items were not expected to last beyond the presidential campaign itself and they generally show it. Olsen showed a McKinley/Roosevelt 1900 campaign umbrella with the candidate’s images, names, and two Great Star pattern national flags in full red, white, and blue with 38 stars on a wooden staff that collapses. It also showed a few holes, general wear, fading, and obvious water spots. “Something in this condition would be valued at $350. If it was in mint condition it would be close to $1,000,” Olsen says.
WorthPoint’s Worthpodia features another McKinley/Roosevelt umbrella in slightly better condition auctioned by Heritage Auction Galleries in 2007 for $717. An earlier McKinley/Hobart campaign umbrella featuring the portraits of William McKinley and Garrett Hobart in panels of red and blue from his first 1896 campaign sold by Cowan’s Auction in 2005 for $460.
During the same 1896 political campaign, a simple button of celluloid over paper attached to a round metal plate or button with a pin attached was first introduced by the McKinley campaign. They have been manufactured virtually the same way ever since as a cheaper alternative to fancy and costly items such as the umbrella. The buttons also were easier to transport and had a wider distribution. But the 19th century umbrella, like the hat and the ribbon, can still tell a great colorful story as long as you keep them indoors.
• Campaign umbrella: http://www.worthpoint.com/worthopedia/small-umbrella-probably-political-campaign
• McKinley/Hobart umbrella: http://www.worthpoint.com/worthopedia/mckinley-hobart-jugate-campaign-umbrella
• Images of McKinley/Roosevelt umbrella: http://www.worthpoint.com/worthopedia/mckinleyroosevelt-campaign-umbrella-0
To watch a video of John Olsen discussing political umbrellas, click here.
Tom Carrier is a general Worthologist, with an expertise in a wide variety of subjects.
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