Trash or Treasure?

Campaign memorabilia a growing market


Interested in collecting political related objects in view of the tumultuous and colorful election year we have been having?

Like all types of mass-produced collectibles, the rarer the better. You will want to buy the smaller batch produced objects that may have been made for a local event, the conventions or perhaps a high-end fundraiser. The more unusual and better made with quality materials the better.

This year the marketplace is full of unique and downright weird selection of souvenirs. There are the standard bobble head dolls, T shirts and pins but also the Donald Trump fake money, the Hillary Clinton nut cracker “Its crunch time America - no more nuts in the White House,” Trump breath mints stating “We Shall Overcomb” and I saw a bust of Trump for sale at the Republican Convention made of dryer lint.

Depending on how the election goes, who knows? Controversy attracts collectors. A period of time may need to pass as opinions are formed on each of these candidates. They do not have to be popular, they just have to be memorable. In 1920, Eugene Debs was a Socialist candidate for president that ran his campaign from a prison cell. Anything associated with Debs is highly sought after.
Generally, winning candidates memorabilia does sell better than the losers. Hand-signed autographs, and photographs taken of future presidents while on the campaign trail sell for more than those from when they were in office.

Overall the market for political memorabilia has grown, and with some auction houses specializing in it. Heritage Auctions in Dallas,Texas is the largest. Recently a rare cloth banner featuring James Polk and his running mate George Dallas sold for a whopping $185,000. At the same auction, a James Cox/Franklin Roosevelt campaign pin sold for $20,000. A pin given to guests at a 1980 Reagan/Bush fundraising dinner recently sold for around $500.

With over 200 years of presidential elections, the inventory is huge. Early presidential political items were the dominant means of conveying what a candidate looked like and what his political message may be. Everything had the name and campaign slogan printed on it. Just the objects and the materials they were made of are interesting on their own: snuff boxes, buttons, sheet music, ceramics, and paper broadsides.

Karen Waterman is a fine art, antique furniture and decorative arts appraiser in the East Bay area and will answer as many questions regarding your “hidden treasures” as possible. By sending an email with a question you give full permission for use in the column. Names, addresses or e-mail will not be published and photos will be returned if requested. Send e-mails (digital photos preferred ) to


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