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Campaign Collectibles

With Election Day just around the corner, the buttons candidates are freely handing out now could become valuable down the road. The Saturday Early Show's Tony Hyman looks at collectible election pins.

Today's elections focus on electronic media. From the Revolutionary War to World War II, however, political parties sought name recognition with banners, parade torches, hats and buttons. It is the buttons, though, that are the most popular with collectors.

The first pin-on campaign items appeared around 1840. Painted glass set in a brass frame was an inventive way to get out a candidate's message. Today a portrait of President Benjamin Harrison on one of these pins can bring up to $1,500.

Find out about other collectibles described by The Saturday Early Show's Tony Hyman in the Collectibles Archive or visit Tony Hyman's Web site.

If you think you have a collectible worth a lot of cash, send an email to with "What's It Worth?" in the subject line. Or write to "What's It Worth?" The Saturday Early Show, 514 West 57th St., 6th floor, New York, N.Y. 10019.

During and after the Civil War, political pins were made with tin type or paper photos in brass frames with a pin on the reverse. These pins are very scarce and are worth $200 and more.

In 1896, the company Whitehead and Hoag revolutionized advertising by printing pictures on paper, adding a clear celluloid overlay, and encasing them in a metal frame with a pin back, just as many buttons are manufactured today.

In 1920, some made buttons by printing directly onto metal. These "tin litho" buttons are very durable and are common today.

All pre-1940 presidential campaign buttons, including those for third-party candidates have some value: Buttons picturing a president and vice president together are the most prized. Presidential candidates alone are the next in value, and the least precious are those with only names or slogans.

Almost no collector interest exists for slogan buttons made after 1952 including items touting Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter or Bush.

Local election pins for posts ranging from senator to dog catcher draw little collector interest. But buttons for local campaigns for folks who later became president can be valuable. A "Reagan for Governor" button can fetch about $10 while a "Truman for Judge" pin is a collector favorite and may sell for $1,000 or more.

Cause buttons may cover issues such as civil rights, labor unions and prohibition. Top cause pins are the pre-1920 "Votes for Women buttons, worth up to $1,000, and Vietnam protest buttons, ranging in value from $1 to $50.

Death memorial items featuring even popular presidents such as Lincoln and Kennedy are only of moderate value. Thank-you notes from Jackie Kennedy and invitations to inaugurations or White House balls after 1950 are common. Frame them or put them in a scrapbook because collectors have little use for them.

If you have a pin you think is valuable, don't wash, clean, mend or polish it. Leave that to an expert.

For information about buttons and other political items, Hyman recommends Ted Hake. He is the author of The Encyclopedia of Political Buttons and four other books related to buttons and political collectibles. Contact Hake by email at or write him at P.O. Box 1444, York, PA 17405.

To learn more about pins and buttons, visit his Web site at

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