Sunday, December 26, 2010

The APIC and its button entrepreneurs

I wonder how many collectors today remember that the APIC prohibited members from making campaign buttons many years ago. That rule was perhaps too strict, as the organization shouldn't hinder free enterprise. Unfortunately when they dropped that rule it opened the floodgates. With many members making dozens, and in some cases hundreds, of different buttons for each election they are creating a minefield for other collectors. Most are not denying their activities, but they aren't exactly stating in their sales lists or eBay listings that they are the buttonmaker. Even the most experienced collector can be fooled on some buttons. There are just too many to track. I just found a couple of Obama buttons on eBay that were described as official. I hadn't seen them before, but they honestly did not look official. The union label was visible when the picture was enlarged, proving that they were made by an APIC member, but not the seller. Maybe they were from an official order, but I honestly don't know. I made a set of six anti-Bush buttons in 2000, and I told everyone I made them. I also took the order for an official Obama U. S. Senate button from the Illinois AFL-CIO, and I told everyone about that. It's not that hard.

The solution to this problem is for the APIC to require all members to register everything they make, both official and unofficial, so the rest of the hobby can navigate safely through the myriad of buttons made each election year. I suggested this to the APIC years ago when the ethics rules were being rewritten, and of course it was ignored. The APIC can really do more to aid collectors of modern buttons if it really wants to. Unfortunately no one seems to care.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Obama Guardian

The Obama Guardian is my own newsletter devoted to the collecting of Obama buttons. You will not find a more detailed or comprehensive newsletter devoted to any President. I keep the production values low so it is affordable to produce. Information is far more important. In the first issue I debunked the Delaware Rally button that sold for $963 in an auction, and in Issue 2 I documented 18 different Teamsters buttons. A subscription covers four issues. The first three are complete (pictured above). If you want information on subscribing contact me at

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Dem Classics: O.C.A.W. Supports Clinton Gore

Here is a rarely seen Clinton labor button, made more impressive by the obscurity of the union and the fact it no longer exists in this form. The Oil, Chemical & Atomic Workers Union began in 1918 as the International Association of Oil Field, Gas Well and Refinery Workers of America. The union went through a few name changes before settling with OCAW in 1955. In 1999, with a membership of 80,000, it merged with the United Paperworkers International Union to form Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers International Union (PACE).

Not much is known about the buttons. It came from a local rather than its international headquarters, but I don't recall the location of Local 1 - 895. The quality of this 2 1/4" cello is quite good, and the pure white background was distorted by the scan. There may be only two known in the hobby, and with the union long gone finding one now would be a matter of pure luck.

Dem Classics: ObamaLA Grassroots Button

When the 2008 campaign was in its early stages Barack Obama was the insurgent candidate challenging the party favorite Hillary Clinton. Obama built his campaign from the ground up with possibly the largest grassroots movement ever mounted for a presidential candidate. ObamaLA sprang up early in 2007, and it was the largest Obama grassroots group in California. This button was pictured on their website with the words "Coming Soon". After about a month of checking back, it was still not available. A query to the group resulted in the main organizer sending three freebies. This was one of those buttons that had blockbuster written all over it, so my miniscule supply was socked away for future use.  I did hope to buy some when they would eventually be offered for sale. They never were. The chief organizer bolted the campaign for Ron Paul; a bizarre place for liberal to gravitate; and ObamaLA morphed into LA Grassroots 4 Obama.

I contacted the group again, and was told the buttons were gone. A relentless internet search led to the address of the former head of the group. He no longer had any buttons. Maybe it was a small run. None have surfaced in the hobby since, so my three remain the total number for the hobby. One of the reasons it slipped by is few collectors were paying attention to Obama in 2007, and there was this gem right under the noses of California collectors. One had the audacity to question its legitimacy, because he never saw it. Maybe if he hadn't waited for the nomination more than a year later before looking into Obama he might have seen it lurking in his backyard.

This has to be classified as one of the top Obama buttons. First and foremost what it depicts gives it great historical significance. The grassroots movement was a major factor in Obama's victory, and this aspect of campaigning has never been better represented in button form. The quality of this button goes beyond excellent. It was obviously made by a major manufacturer, and probably one located in California. You can see from the scan the boldness of its colors. And finally its rarity elevates its importance. As stated there are only three of this 2 1/4" cello known in the hobby. I still have one extra if anyone is interested.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Reproductions: Tip #1

The most commonly seen reproductions are the ones from American Oil, which were gas station giveaways back in 1972. They are easily identified by AO-1972 found on the curl. They also have the candidate's name and date of the campaign on the curl. Sellers on eBay often show a scan of the latter and not the former. Watch out for these sellers because this is an attempt at deception. Of course, legitimate button do not have the name and date on the curl.

On any given day there are a multitude of these worthless pieces of tin on eBay. They are often sold in complete sets, but authentic buttons are not found in organized groups representing one button from each campaign. There is an obvious lapse in logic here. Many sellers claim they did not realize they are fake. I must be blunt here, but only someone lacking in brain cells would think one of these sets is the real deal. For one thing they are all identical in manufacture, despite the  fact that they span campaigns from 1896 to 1968. I can't think of anything man made that hasn't changed in some way in 72 years. Also the identical coding system and numbering should make it obvious to anyone.

The buttons in the American Oil set are lithos, a manufacturing type that was not in use prior to the 1920s. Lithos are actually easy to determine from scans. Examine the look of lithos vs. cellos, and after awhile they will be easy to spot. Also look for scratches, which is a dead giveaway for lithos. If in doubt just ask the seller. Of course if you see a McKinley button with a minimum bid of .99 and no bids, chances are it is a fake. Do not buy them under any circumstances. They are completely worthless. Reproductions are excluded from price guides, and they are banned from all political button shows.

The truth about the Dukakis Bentsen New York AFSCME jugate

Collectors of political mementos seem to be suffering from short term memory loss. The Dukakis Bentsen jugate that purports to be from AFSCME District Council 37 in New York (identified on the curl complete with street address) was well documented by me as a collector made button in my Campaign '88 column in the Political Collector during that election, but in recent years it has popped up on eBay with claims that it is some long lost gem from the past. Actually it was impossible to sell after the negative exposure I gave it, because that would have tipped off the hobby who made it. Once the dark cloud blew over it began to slowly trickle into the hobby.

I have contacted the various eBay sellers and the responses were unanimously angry. They were positive I had to be wrong, and one even claimed the union wouldn't remember anything that far back. The union officials were certainly aware of it in 1988 when I actually contacted them, and they were considering legal action over the unauthorized use of their name. When I corrected him on his clever point he ignored me. The one detail I left out of my article was the identity of the collector who made it, even though I do know who he is, and I'm not going to do that now. I never name names without ironclad proof in writing, and I was never able to obtain that level of verification. The fact remains this is an unofficial button, and collectors need to approach it with that knowledge. It's actually a striking button, but it has little market value.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Silly things found on eBay: Pelosi is Italian for Fonda patch #370444356726

Here is a negative conservative slogan that is unique, or should I say uniquely goofy. Yes, Pelosi is an Italian name, but so is Fonda. The absolute redundancy of the slogan appears to have sailed over his head, plus branding Pelosi a traitor is a bit of a stretch. The seller has sold a couple, but I honestly can't imagine anyone wearing such a patch in public.

Dem Classics: Chemical Workers For Mondale Ferraro Jugate

Look closely. At first glance it will look familiar, but as you can see it isn't the more widely seen Steelworkers button utilizing the same design. Unlike the Steelworkers jugate this button is anything but common. In fact, it wasn't even known in the hobby until 1987, three years after the election. Usually buttons from the main headquarters of major labor unions are easily found and generally flood the hobby. This one slipped by because of the union's location. Most American labor unions operate out of Washington D.C., but the international office of the now defunct Chemical Workers union was located in Akron, Ohio. After all these years only five of this 3 1/2" button are in the hands of collectors, which is very unusual for a litho. This is the Holy Grail of modern political labor buttons, and certainly no Mondale collection is complete without it.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Why I collect campaign buttons

My interest in this hobby transcends my fascination with politics. I have collected numerous things throughout my life, from coins, stamps and sports and non-sports cards to die-cast cars and lead soldiers, and not one of them can come close to offering the challenge and element of surprise inherent in this hobby. And none have managed to hold my interest for 30 years. Coins and baseball cards attract a far greater number of hobbyists, but they are too simple and redundant for my taste. They are just manufactured hobbies, in which everything originates from just a handful of sources, and collectors know exactly what awaits them every year. If the bank account is big enough there is very little that is out of reach.

In contrast campaign buttons come from thousands of sources from every pocket and corner of America, and it changes with every election. This hobby requires a lot of searching to amass a decent collection, and money isn't necessarily the prime mover. I have built up a pretty impressive collection over the past 30 years, and my personal funds have always been very limited. All it takes is a little cunning, and a lot of logic. Sherlock Holmes would end up with a better campaign button collection than Bill Gates. I am referring only to the modern campaigns. Older campaign buttons live by different rules, and it is a separate hobby unto itself.

I have been scouring the internet for Barack Obama buttons since early 2007, and I have accumulated more than 3600 different varieties. I have been uncovering quite a few previously unseen gems in recent months, and you can bet there are still many unknowns out there. This is not unique to Obama, as it happens with every election. The best Walter Mondale button was not known to the hobby until 1987, three years after the election. I have a pretty good idea of what Obama button deserves to be ranked as the best, but maybe there is a better one yet to be found by collectors. Maybe it will turn up in ten years, or maybe never. What other hobby can match the mystery of campaign buttons?

One clue that the group of buttons on eBay is common junk.

2" X 2" cardboard coin holders is almost a sure sign that nothing in the group is worth much. Expect a bunch of common lithos that can br found in very large quantities.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Ideas for Christine O'Donnell buttons.

"Christine O'Donnell, Master of Her Domain"

"Christine O'Donnell, Winner, Hands Down"

"Christine O'Donnell Can See Satan from Her House"

"Christine O'Donnell Has Classified Information on Satan"

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

If your button has pictures of dead guys it probably isn't worth much.

Of course I mean dead when the button was made. It is common for vendors to picture icons of the past on buttons of current candidates, but this is a rare occurrence on official buttons. The most common dead guys with vendors are John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan. Apparently being shot is a prerequisite.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Welcome to Dem Buttons

Dem Buttons is a blog dedicated to the collecting of modern Democratic buttons, but the topics covered will go beyond that to include practical advice on the hobby in general and sarcastic commentary wherever necessary. I am focusing on modern Democratic buttons, because that is my main area of collecting. It has been obvious for decades that the Democrats put out the best buttons. Ronald Reagan, the one great modern Republican for buttons, trounced Walter Mondale in the 1984 election, but he didn't really outdo him on buttons. And with this last presidential election the quantity and quality soared with Barack Obama, while it sunk into the abyss with John McCain. It's safe to say Obama has become the most merchandised politician in history. It is also no secret that this happens to be my party affiliation. As for choosing modern over old, I prefer to collect the campaigns I've lived through rather than the ones that are just footnotes in history books.

I have been collecting for 30 years, and I have written more on modern campaign buttons than anyone. I covered the elections starting with 1984 in monthly columns for both The Political Bandwagon and The Political Collector, and I wrote the only comprehensive how-to guide, Collecting Political Buttons, which was published by Chicago Review Press in 1988. The book has been out-of-print for years, and my updated edition is in need of a new publisher. I also currently publish a newsletter called The Obama Guardian, which is the most detailed publication devoted to the campaign buttons of any candidate. You may have seen some eBay sellers brag that they are members of the American Political items Collectors (APIC) as if that has any meaning. It doesn't, and I am not currently a member. I did belong for many years, and I was on the Board of Directors back in the 1980s. I have some issues with the organization, and I choose not to rejoin. The main advantage for joining the APIC is making contact with collectors of similar interests. I already have those contacts, so I'm okay on my own.

One of the main reasons I am starting this blog is hopefully it will lead to items for collection. The internet has become my main search tool, and this seemed like the logical next step. My primary collecting interests are Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry and Barack Obama, but I most definitely collect beyond that short list. I still sort of collect Jimmy Carter, but I'm not overly enthused about green buttons. I buy, sell and trade so if you have anything interesting please contact me at