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posted: 12/2/2012 5:00 AM

Valuing a collectible from the 1888 presidential campaign

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  • This silk handkerchief was made during Benjamin Harrison's successful run for the presidency in 1888.

      This silk handkerchief was made during Benjamin Harrison's successful run for the presidency in 1888.

 
By Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson

Q. I had my granddad's silk handkerchief framed under glass. (I hope it was not glued down.) On the bottom is printed, "PATENTED June 28, 1888, A.S. Rosenthal & Co. N.Y." How would my piece compare to campaign buttons? And what might be the value?

A. How would a silk campaign handkerchief compare to a political button? Well, the handkerchief served the same advertising purpose, but otherwise they compare like the proverbial apples and oranges. Every sort of collectible stands on its own.

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We have just completed a national election and many collectors are interested in all sorts of memorabilia from presidential campaigns, past and present. Collectors are interested in material from the campaigns of winners -- and losers.

Vintage political campaign items include such things as parade torches, knives, match safes, posters, canes, buckles, clocks, watches, prints, models (such as log cabins), watch fobs, ferrotypes with candidates' photographs, pennants and other textiles such as bandannas. And, yes, handkerchiefs.

Political buttons are the most well-known political-campaign collectibles. These started with buttons that were sewn on clothing, and can be traced back as far as George Washington. The first campaign button with an actual photograph (the "ferrotype" or "tintype" mentioned above) originated with Abraham Lincoln in the election of 1860.

However, the first mass-produced political button had to wait for the election of 1896, when William McKinley's campaign issued a metal button covered with a paper image protected by a layer of clear plastic. Lithographed tin buttons became popular around 1916, but in recent years, the expense of making them and their limited impact on public opinion has caused campaigns to find other ways to spend advertising dollars.

In the presidential election of 1888, Benjamin Harrison defeated incumbent Grover Cleveland. Levi P. Morton was Harrison's running mate. Morton was a congressman from New York and a former ambassador to France. He is said to have been given the honor of placing the first rivet in the Statue of Liberty.

Several handkerchief designs were produced for this election, including one that features a "jugate" (the two candidates shown together, side by side) in a circle of stars. This example has sold for around $200 at auction and would be more valuable for insurance purposes.

The handkerchief in today's question appears to be a bit rarer, with its stirring representation of the American flag and its corner ribbons pledging "Aid for Free Schools," "Pensions for Soldiers" and "Protection vs. Free Trade." In collectibles such as this one, condition is everything, and silk has a tendency to be very fragile.

Luckily, this piece appears to be in great condition. A handkerchief with this particular design has sold for as much as $500.

• Contact Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson at Treasures in Your Attic, P.O. Box 18350, Knoxville, TN 37928.

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