The Orlando Sentinel
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 W. Bush.
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.
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 are pins.
“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.
Today’s official memorabilia pales with that from previous decades. At his home in Clearwater, Fla., 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 Stevenson scarf.
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 County, Fla.
“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.”
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 Schuler’s sticker.
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 yesterday’s news.
“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 nuts.'”
(c) 2004, The Orlando Sentinel (Fla.). Visit the Sentinel on the World Wide Web at www.orlandosentinel.com. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.