JFK still winner in this election

Andrew Leckey

March 17, 1992|By Andrew Leckey | Andrew Leckey,Tribune Media Services

In this presidential election year, here is a popularity poll that may surprise you:

John F. Kennedy is incredibly strong, as are Harry Truman and Theodore Roosevelt. Richard Nixon is steadily gaining steam. Yet it would be awfully difficult to overcome the attraction of one-time Democratic presidential candidate James Cox and his running mate, Franklin D. Roosevelt.

These are the current stars of campaign memorabilia, a colorful world of vintage buttons and banners that is fast gaining real financial value.

In general, the value of political items has increased more than 60 percent the past five years. Many choice examples have appreciated 10-fold, though most other mass-produced selections are worth little.

It takes 20 years for value to become clear. Performance of items from within the past dozen years would, much like a penny stock, be difficult to predict.

The significance and popularity of the candidate emblazoned on the item makes a difference. No one's seeking out Thomas Dewey, Lyndon Johnson or Gary Hart buttons these days.

"I've always been interested in politics and history, and first got into collecting when I picked up Nixon and McGovern buttons in 1972," said Edward Gillette, a 33-year-old attorney from Kansas City, Kan.

"Because Truman was from this area, I've collected more than 100 buttons and actually turned down an offer of $12,000 for one that had been pulled from his campaign because it didn't have the union 'bug' on it."

A Cox-Roosevelt jugate (the term for a button bearing the portraits of two candidates) representing that unsuccessful 1920 ticket commands $30,000 or more because few of them were made. An 1860 Abraham Lincoln "ferrotype" photo badge goes for $600.

Oliver Stone's film "JFK" has focused even more interest on the already-popular Kennedy items, which are available from $1 to $1,000 or more. A 1956 Kennedy for vice president button has jumped to more than $850.

The American Political Items Collectors, based in San Antonio, has 2,500 members. It costs $25 annually to join the APIC, P.O. Box 340339, San Antonio, Texas 78234.

"You don't have to be extremely well off for this hobby, since the items were made in vast quantities to be thrown away and many are extremely inexpensive," said David Frent, a consultant and appraiser in Oakhurst, N.J.

Novice collectors must keex in mind that all items are not alike.

"Button condition is everything, with mint being an absolutely perfect example with the image centered properly on it and not running off the rim," said Richard Friz, author of The Official Price Guide to Political Memorabilia, published by the House of Collectibles and distributed by Ballantine Books.

"Too often, beginning collectors bite off more than they can chew, trying to collect something from every campaign rather than specializing, and they also often pay too much because they didn't consult price guides."

Many collectors recommend Hake's Guide to Presidential Campaign Collectibles by Ted Hake, an illustrated price guide published by Wallace-Homestead Book Co., Radnor, Pa.

The Hobby Protection Act requires that reproductions be labeled as such and not sold as the real thing.

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