William Jennings Bryan Items from the 1908 Democratic Convention

By Tom Carrier
WorthPoint Worthologist

WorthPoint was a sponsor of the American Presidential Experience in Denver, Colo., earlier this year. This travelling road show of the American presidency was set up just outside Invesco Stadium in Denver as part of the 2008 Democratic National Convention. Inside were exhibits such as a full-scale replica of the Oval Office, the C-SPAN rolling studio, and campaign memorabilia of the past. One of the exhibits was a collection belonging to Mark Evans of Collectors Archives that featured the political items of the 1908 Democratic National Convention which was held, as it happens, in Denver as well.

That year, William Jennings Bryan was nominated for president rather overwhelmingly, but he left the nomination of his vice president completely up to the convention. The convention chose John W. Kern of Indiana as the vice presidential nominee. So, the Democratic ticket of Bryan and Kern was set for 1908 at a time when colorful and elaborate convention badges were the norm.

John Olsen, curator for the exhibit and WorthPoint Worthologist for political buttons, shows off some of the more unusual convention badges, such as the delegate badge for the Maryland delegation. In gold and black—colors from the Maryland state flag—a bow tie made from a small silk American flag with a pin featuring the coat-of-arms of Maryland in the center. It also features a black and gold rosette at the top with an American flag in the center. The gold filigree along the sides and bottom with the words “Delegate, National Democratic Convention, Denver, July 7th, 1908” sewn on silk really emphasizes the extravagance of only one of the many convention badges.

Alongside the convention badges were individual ones created specifically for Bryan Clubs. These were local organizations created to promote presidential candidates of the time. The badge for the Lincoln Bryan Club of Denver is an elaborate red, white, blue and silver silk oversized delegate badge complete with a very detailed button featuring William Jennings Bryan and the issues of the day added to the ribbon.

The centerpiece of the collection was the oversized photo image of William Jennings Bryan as a political button in perfect condition. “That button in that condition is worth easily over $2,000,” Olsen says.

In addition to the delegate buttons and pins are the tickets. Yes, everyone needed a ticket to attend the convention, even the delegate. A different ticket was issued for each day of the convention. Today, the specially manufactured elaborate credentials serve the same purpose, except the tickets of 1908 came with a coupon or stub. You presented the ticket and, like the movies today, the coupon was torn off by the convention staff as you entered the convention floor. “Now, (a) convention ticket would be more valuable if it had its original stub attached to it,” Olsen says. A complete ticket with stub in good condition would be worth about $50, but one without would be worth about half that.

While Bryan lost the election in 1908 to William Howard Taft, the items from his campaign and the 1908 convention that nominated him remain very popular and valuable political collectibles. It just goes to show that even in defeat, you can still be called on to serve your country as a valued collectible.

Watch a video of Tom Carrier talking with John Olsen about the 1908 National Democratic Convention by clicking here.

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

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