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posted: 10/24/2012 7:49 AM

Lisle's John Huff enjoys collecting political memorabilia

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  • Lisle's John Huff estimates his diverse collection has 5,000 pieces, ranging from local to national elections.

      Lisle's John Huff estimates his diverse collection has 5,000 pieces, ranging from local to national elections.
    Courtesy of Joan Broz

  • Huff says some of the hardest political memorabilia to find comes from the presidential campaigns of Harry Truman. The easiest to find comes from Richard Nixon's campaigns.

      Huff says some of the hardest political memorabilia to find comes from the presidential campaigns of Harry Truman. The easiest to find comes from Richard Nixon's campaigns.
    Courtesy of Joan Broz

  • Huff's collection includes plenty of political pins and buttons.

      Huff's collection includes plenty of political pins and buttons.
    Courtesy of Joan Broz

  • Huff's collection started with a pin from the 1960 Republican convention in Chicago touting Barry Goldwater for vice president.

      Huff's collection started with a pin from the 1960 Republican convention in Chicago touting Barry Goldwater for vice president.
    Courtesy of Joan Broz

  • Lisle's John Huff has been collecting political memorabilia for more than 50 years. His eclectic collection includes campaign buttons, posters, matchbook covers, jewelry, autographed photos and even some bobbleheads.

      Lisle's John Huff has been collecting political memorabilia for more than 50 years. His eclectic collection includes campaign buttons, posters, matchbook covers, jewelry, autographed photos and even some bobbleheads.
    Courtesy of Joan Broz

 
 

Collecting political items is all about the thrill of the hunt.

It doesn't matter if you live in a red state or a blue. It doesn't even matter who wins the election, as long as you can chase the buttons, pins and other memorabilia that mark the campaign.

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Even the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., gets in on the action, Lisle resident John Huff said.

"The institute sends two people to each convention to gather political memorabilia for its own permanent collection," said Huff, a collector for more than 50 years.

With each election adding another layer of red, white and blue souvenirs, Huff's eclectic collection includes campaign buttons, posters, matchbook covers, jewelry, autographed photos and even some bobbleheads.

Among his most unusual items are two cans of Barry Goldwater juice, a "Don't Bug Me" button from then-presidential hopeful Richard Nixon, and a 3-foot-long orange 1964 ballot that listed all 177 members of the Illinois House of Representatives.

Some collectors specialize and collect only buttons or posters, but Huff said he can't limit his collection. He finds all his politically-related items interesting and appreciates the history each piece brings to the whole. Every piece has both a personal and a historic story.

Take, for instance, the single button that started Huff's collection: a Barry Goldwater for vice president pin from the 1960 Republican convention in Chicago.

The personal story is that Huff's brother, Bill, gave him the button; the historical story is how the senator from Arizona redefined his party and went on to run for president in 1964.

Among the hardest items to find, Huff said, are those from President Harry Truman's campaigns, since each run featured a tight budget with limited handouts.

Among the items easiest to find, Huff would list pieces in support of Richard Nixon, since he ran in a total of five presidential campaigns: twice as vice president with President Dwight Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956 and then three times for president, winning two terms in 1968 and 1972.

Through his collection, Huff learns a lot of interesting historic facts.

"The first buttons ever issued were actually brass to commemorate the inauguration of President George Washington in 1789," Huff said. "The actual inscribed buttons were used and sewn on clothing."

President Abraham Lincoln items might sell for a few hundred dollars, but those are hard to come by because both political and Lincoln collectors seek them.

The holy grail of memorabilia collecting is a political lapel button from 1896 called the McKinley Gold Bug. It refers to the battle between having a gold or silver standard for U.S. currency and asks, "What kind of bug are you?"

During the same 1896 political campaign, a simple button was first introduced by Republican William McKinley supporters made of celluloid over paper attached to a round metal plate or button with a pin. Democratic opponent William Jennings Bryan also had many different buttons.

Another rare button is the candidate jugate button of McKinley and his running mate, Garret Hobart. "Jugate" refers to buttons that show head-shots of both running mates.

In the 1900 presidential campaign, many buttons were manufactured by companies that linked their product to the candidate, such as advertising chewing gum.

Buttons became popular because they were cost-effective to manufacture, easy to transport and capable of wide distribution. A lithograph process that printed directly on a tin shell could produce large quantities with less quality. This technique is used often to print just the name of the candidate on a solid background.

Huff estimates his diverse collection has 5,000 pieces, ranging from local to national elections. His collection could be considered a political history book of objects even though he has no rare items.

Huff advises new collectors not to "collect for the monetary value, because you will get burned."

Rather, he encourages new collectors to read about the hobby and enjoy its diversity. As a board member of the Lisle Library, he knows the library has several books on political memorabilia.

Huff also encourages membership in the Chicago chapter of the American Political Items Collectors that meets quarterly at the College of DuPage. The national organization's website is APIC.us.

Among recent changes in the hobby is the price tag most political items come with. Nothing seems to be free.

The golden-age of collecting was during the 1950s and 1960s when buttons, posters and other political items were available at no cost. Each item proliferated name recognition and advertising wherever it was worn or displayed.

Most people start a collection with just a few buttons. The aim is to have fun while learning a little history about the objects. To recognize counterfeit reproductions, look for cheap metal, bad printing or a reproduction number on the back or on the button's edge, Huff said. In the 1960s and 1970s, several companies used reproductions as giveaways.

As with most collectibles, the adage, "Collect what you like," holds true.

"The one thing the world follows is our presidential elections," Huff said. "It is an interesting collection to have."

• Joan Broz writes about Lisle twice monthly in Neighbor.

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