By Linda Shrieves | Sentinel Staff Writer
Posted September 7, 2004
As the GOP convention roared through New York last week, a bidding war broke
out on eBay.
Someone paid $17.49 for a pin featuring John Kerry and South Dakota Sen. Tom
Daschle. A half-dozen others elbowed one another for the chance to pay $12 for
an American Federation of Musicians pin showing Kerry playing a guitar.
Meanwhile, Republicans bid up to $10 on a bottle of "W Ketchup," the
tongue-in-cheek alternative to Heinz. They vied for a 4-by-7 foot Bush yard sign,
and a handful bid on a deck of cards featuring 52 reasons to re-elect George
And people of every political stripe are bidding up the price of
Bush bobbleheads, a Bush jack-in-the-box, and the latest sensation,
the Bush yard gnome.
Long after the chads have been hung, the bumper stickers have faded and the passions
have died down, there's one thing that lasts: campaign memorabilia.
Though die-hard collectors are more interested in lapel pins than condiments
or bobbleheads, it might be wise to hold on to those wacky novelty items. "We
still sell Goldwater aftershave 40 years after the fact," says David Lindeman
of Anderson Auction Co. in Troy, Ohio.
Blast from the past
One of the hottest items of this election season has been the Electras
LP, an album recorded by John Kerry and his teenage band mates
at St. Paul's School
in 1962. Allegedly only 500 albums were pressed, making the 42-year-old album
quite valuable. On eBay, bidders paid more than $1,200 for the record.
Similarly, a flight helmet created for George W. Bush's landing on the aircraft
carrier U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln is on sale for $1,000, but so far, there have
been no takers.
When it comes to election-related memorabilia, the most valuable collectibles
Pins are just more accessible and easier to store," says Lindeman. "You
can save a lot more pins than yard signs."
And those $3 pins might one day add up to big bucks.
When an Oregon woman decided recently to raise money for her daughter's college
tuition, she reached into the attic for a gift from her grandmother: a 1924 election
button featuring the faces of Democratic presidential candidate John William
Davis and his running mate, Charles Bryan.
The two lost in a landslide to Calvin Coolidge, but their button was a winner.
After the Internet dust settled, the rare button sold for $56,000.
The art has been better
Today's official memorabilia pales with that from previous decades.
At his home in Clearwater, collector and author Mark Warda keeps
a mannequin dressed in "I
Like Ike" stockings, a Nixon dress, a Lyndon Johnson apron and even an Adlai
Nowadays, buyers are lucky if they can snap up sunglasses with "Bush-Cheney" emblazoned
on the lenses. "Right around 1968, that was the last election I remember
seeing ties and well-made unique political buttons," says Michael Flanary,
a veteran collector who teaches history at Denn John Middle School in Osceola
" Now, because the parties are putting all their money into TV ads, you
don't have the really good stuff that used to be made."
Although sales sometimes spike around the conventions -- particularly
among people who are amateur collectors -- Flanary waits until
the conventions are over. Then
he searches for buttons that aren't mass-produced.
A Kerry-Edwards-Castor button," he says dreamily, thinking about a coat-tail
button featuring Florida U.S. Senate candidate Betty Castor. "Oh man, that
would be a definite button to get."
Humor with a jagged edge
To every thing, there is a season. And in election season, Americans can count
on mocking bumper stickers and biting political humor.
Nowadays, because the political parties are cranking out generic
pins and bumper stickers, the funniest and most unusual items
are produced by people independent
of the party machinery.
The urge to create has spread all over the country.
Seventeen-year-old Nicky Greenside owns an Internet company that
makes custom dartboards. Usually his biggest sellers are dartboards
containing a photograph
of customers' bosses. But last fall, he ordered a bunch of dartboards emblazoned
with images of Kerry and Bush.
The news is not good for Bush supporters.
I've sold only two Kerry dartboards," says Nicky, who lives in California
and plies his trade on eBay. "And I've sold tons of Bushes."
Likewise, in Athens, Ohio, college professor Sam Girton was struck
that most political cartoons made Bush look a bit like a gnome.
Inspired, he hired Marvel
Comics artist Sandy Plunkett to draw a few sketches, then found a ceramics
factory in Ohio that could produce the $29.95 gnomes.
He quickly discovered he had a hit.
Eighty percent of the buyers are anti-Bush, and a large percent of them seem
to be buying it as a gag gift for that hard-core Republican or hard-core Democrat
they know," says Girton. "But I know Bush supporters who've been
buying my gnome because they say he's cute."
Girton started selling the gnomes last week and sold 300 in four days. Now
he's preparing to get the factory cranking out more. "I could cut my costs in
half by going to China," Girton says, "but I like to tell everybody
that Bush is bringing jobs to southeast Ohio."
Likewise, the George in the Box sells equally well among Democrats
and Republicans. Created by a Virginia company that specializes
in collectibles, the George in
the Box debuted last year. Inspired by jack-in-the-boxes, a small Bush pops out
to the tune of "Hail to the Chief."
Republicans say, 'I love it, it's so cute,' " says Sara Hunt, whose husband,
a devoted Republican, keeps one on his desk. "And Democrats look at it as
a gag gift."
Other entrepreneurs, such as Dan Schuler, an emergency medical technician in
Washington state, decided to back up their political opinions with their creations.
So Schuler, 29, a former graphics artist, designed a bumper sticker featuring
John Kerry as "Buckwheat" from Our Gang. "Osama say O-Tay," reads
Reaction has been mixed, Schuler says. "I get a lot of chuckles and the
shaking of the head and the eyeroll," he says. "But I don't think people
take it too seriously."
But the funny stickers and pins may have staying power -- even if they seem like
I collect a lot of 'anti' buttons," says Warda. "There are some really
clever ones. Back in 1968, there was a Goldwater button that said, 'In your heart,
you know he's right.' But one of my favorites was 'In your guts, you know he's
Linda Shrieves can be reached at email@example.com or 407-420-5433.