Vintage buttons
  • 1968 Dick Gregory for President campaign button
  • George Wallace ’68 “Stand Up for America” campaign brochure
  • " />
    Auction Finds

    Campaign T-shirts & political buttons

    I was meeting with a handful of people this week in a shop that sold President Obama campaign memorabilia in the back. Here, people who walked in off the sidewalk could buy T-shirts, hats, pinback buttons and refrigerator magnets, books, shawls, yard signs and much more.

    One of the people at the meeting mentioned that he had been inspired to check out the value of campaign T-shirts after hearing my friend Rebecca and me give a session on historical treasures in the home at this year’s Black History and Culture Showcase. He’d learned that presidential candidate Thomas E. Dewey in 1948 was the first to use a T-shirt in a political campaign.

    Campaign T-shirts, buttons

    President Obama T-shirts ready for wearing or hoarding as memorabilia.

    That was both news to me and intriguing – especially since I was in a place with lots of T-shirts and it was hours before Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney were to debate each other on national TV. In fact, a debate watch party was planned right next door.

    His statement got me to wondering about the history behind campaign T-shirts and buttons (which are a lot more collectible and collected than shirts). I recalled that someone’s campaign-button collection – safe and secure in plastic sleeves – came up for auction recently, and it was quickly and readily snapped up. Bidding, as I remembered, was pretty fierce.

    I’ve picked up a few local and national campaign buttons in box lots, but I’ve never been much of a collector myself. I basically bypass them when I see them on the auction table.

    Campaign T-shirts, buttons

    Buttons from several national Republican campaigns that were part of a box lot at auction. Included is a spoof button of the ornery TV character Archie Bunker.

    I learned in my research, though, that the Dewey T-shirt – the earliest example of a tee used in a campaign – is in the Smithsonian Institution. The Republican governor of New York, he was running against Harry Truman in 1948 and lost. Dewey also used buttons in his two campaigns as the Republican nominee for the White House in the 1940s.

    During Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 1952 campaign, supporters sported T-shirts with the slogan “I Like Ike ” Folks watching television saw supporters wearing them, according to the 2009 book “Historical Dictionary of the Eisenhower Era.”

    Campaign T-shirts, buttons

    A T-shirt from Jesse Jackson's first presidential campaign in 1984.

    I doubt if a lot of people have political T-shirt collections (or do they? Somebody somewhere collects a little bit of everything), because I haven’t seen any tossed by family members on any auction table. I have at least one tee – from Jesse Jackson’s first presidential campaign in 1984. A size medium (I guess that was my size in those days), it’s been tucked in a drawer for the past 28 years. I have no idea what I’ll ever do with it.

    Dewey’s political T-shirts – with the slogan “Dew it with Dewey” and in a child’s size – came around the time when these garments were still hidden beneath a man’s shirt. The U.S. Navy selected them as its undergarment of choice around the turn of the 20th century, and the Army followed in the 1940s.

    Many of the soldiers brought the shirts – called skivvies – home with them after World War II. One website noted that some college football teams also wore them under their uniforms.

    Campaign T-shirts, buttons

    Campaign buttons from Philadelphia elections that were in a box lot at auction.

    In the 1950s, they were popularized when movie-goers saw James Dean’s white T-shirt in “Rebel Without A Cause” and Marlon Brandon’s torn one in “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

    The arrival of the tees could not match the history of the buttons, though. The first wasn’t exactly the campaign button we’re familiar with but a regular brass button sewn on a coat and bearing the slogan “G.W.- Long Live the President.” It was worn by George Washington and his supporters at his 1789 inauguration.

    The first button with a candidate’s face on the front was used by Abraham Lincoln in 1860 – thanks to new photography methods. They were sold at campaign rallies and through retail vendors.

    Campaign T-shirt, buttons

    Two buttons from Abraham Lincoln's 1860s campaigns: At left, an 1864 button from the Button Museum collection; at right, an 1860 button being sold on an online retail site.

    The buttons were first used on a large scale in 1896 during the presidential campaigns of Republican William McKinley and Democrat William Jennings Bryan. Here are some Lincoln and McKinley/Bryan buttons from that era. Here are some political buttons from the Button Museum in Chicago.

    If you are interested in collecting political buttons, there are some things to consider. Forget about the millions of buttons that will be printed of your favorite candidates. They’re not now and will likely never be worth much (just like all those newspapers of Obama as the first black president or the assassination of John F. Kennedy). The fewer the number of items made the better.

    The American Political Items Collectors offered these examples of things that are prized: campaign textiles, flags, jugate pinback buttons (with two candidates facing each other on the front), three-dimensional and mechanical items, china, “colorful” campaign buttons.

    As you can see, T-shirts are not among them.

    Campaign T-shirt, buttons

    President Obama campaign buttons and refrigerator magnets. The magnet lying on the table at the right, one person noted, is what most folks would like to hear Obama say every now and then.


    Tagged as: , , , , ,

    Leave a Response

    Please note: comment moderation is enabled and may delay your comment. There is no need to resubmit your comment.

    bbc galapagos las islas que cambiaron el mundogalapagos cruise reviewsbest cruise ships galapagos islandsbest family galapagos cruisebest time to go to galapagos and machu picchubest time to go to peru and galapagosbiotech bedrijf galapagosbiotechnologiebedrijf galapagosbudget galapagos boat toursbudget galapagos cruise pricescaracteristicas de las islas galapagos antiguascaracteristicas de las islas galapagos flora y faunacaracteristicas de las islas galapagos mas antiguascaracteristicas islas antiguas galapagoscaracteristicas islas mas antiguas galapagoscelebrity cruise galapagos machu picchucelebrity cruise lines galapagos islandscelebrity cruises galapagos machu picchucelebrity cruises galapagos reviewscelebrity cruises galapagos xpeditioncelebrity xpedition galapagos 2014celebrity xpedition galapagos cancelledcelebrity xpedition galapagos cruisecelebrity xpedition galapagos cruise 2014celebrity xpedition galapagos excursionscelebrity xpedition galapagos machu picchucelebrity xpedition galapagos price