Collecting US presidential memoribilia

By Geoff Harris

At the tail end of one of the most important US elections in generations, we thought it timely to look at collecting presidential memorabilia.

A good place to start is the website of Steve and Lori Ferber, which is easy to use and reasonably priced.

The stock is regularly updated, but highlights include a paper dress supporting Richard Nixon for $225 (£173.45), or if that seems a bit extravagant, an evocative portrait of JFK and Jackie Kennedy from the early 1960s, taken by the famous photographer Karsh (a snip at $49.95, or £38.50). Our favourite item for sale, however, has to the Ultimate Donald Trump Golden Chair, yours for $1895 (£1460). It really is as tacky as you would expect.

The mostexpensive autograph on the site is one from Bill Clinton, signed to mark the 50th anniversary of the end of the Pacific war. You can expect to pay a lot more for autographs from iconic US presidents such as Lincoln or, of course, George Washington.

Another great site to visit is the American Political Items Collectors’ Association. “The APIC has been the premier hobby organisation in the US since 1945for those of us who collect and preserve the items that tell the story of our colourful and vibrant history,” says the president, Cary Jung. “Members collect a variety of materials including campaign buttons, paper items, textiles, jewellery, and three-dimensional items, such as vintage campaign torches and other political novelties.”

Another must-visit site is Presidential which has been established since 1988. “Presidential memorabilia has been cherished by collectors since the first days of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln,” the organisers explain. “We have live inventory tracking on all the products listed so you can see what is available in real time. We have also created an infrastructure that allows collectors such as museums, facilitators of presidential libraries, and even mom-and-pop collectors or the average person to sell or purchase items that otherwise would be very difficult to find. In today’s market, the short list of examples that collectors gather comprise everything from artwork to flags, coins, campaign buttons, clothing, postcards, automobiles, stamps, presidential signatures, maps, historical prints, newspapers, glassware, antiques, and inaugural medals. Unlike the stock market, items from past presidencies increase their value year after year, making them not only fun to collect, but also a good investment.”

When it comes to collecting advice, Mark Evans, a director of American Political Items Collectors, reckons it all comes down to scarcity, as with anything else. Widely available items, such as campaign buttons, will obviously be worth less than one offs, such as the Richard Nixon dress we mentioned earlier.

According to another collector, Dr Lori Verderame, politically themed toys are also really popular and increasingin value. “Political campaigns have moved away from the functional item giveaways promoting their candidates of the past like William McKinley baby soap and John F. Kennedy cigarette lighters in favour of campaign toys,” she explains. “More recently, collectors, political operatives, and even kids have coveted items like Barack Obama and Mitt Romney bobbleheads, George W. Bush jack-in-the-boxes, Donald J. Trump colouring books, Bill Clinton soft plush pillow dolls, and blue pantsuit-clad Hillary Clinton “Ready for Action” action figures.”

She also cites the popularity of politically themed games. “Games like ‘A House Divided’ congressional Monopoly board game or Trump cards where players try to guess which printed card statements are fake news attract young and old alike to compete this election season.” The mind boggles.

Geoff Harris

I am a journalist and photographer and currently work as the Deputy Editor of Amateur Photographer (AP) the oldest weekly photographic magazine in the world. Before that I served as the editor of Digital Camera, Britain's best-selling photography magazine, for five years. During my time as editor it became the UK's top selling photo monthly and won Print Publication of the Year at the 2013 British Media Awards. As well as being lucky enough to get paid to write about photography, I've been fortunate to interview some of the greatest photographers in the world, including Elliott Erwitt, Don McCullin, Martin Parr, Terry O'Neill and Steve McCurry. This has been a wonderful learning experience and very influential on my photography. Beyond writing, I am a professional portrait, travel and documentary photographer, and reached the finals of the 2016 Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year competition. I am a Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society and hope to take my Associateship whenever I can find the time. In addition I write about well being/personal development and antiques collecting for a range of other titles, including BlueWings, the in-flight magazine of Finn Air.

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