You attended the conventions last year in Cleveland and Philadelphia. You bought the Trump buttons. You bought the Hillary posters. Or, conversely, maybe you bought one that said, “In Your Gut You Know He’s Nuts” or “Hillary for Prison.”
So, what now? Are those items, and others like them, sound investments?
Probably not. Sorry.
It can take a long time for campaign memorabilia to gain value. Remember, at their core, political items are created to be used for advocacy and discarded. Memorable and rare items that are kept, though, can and do become collectible and gain in value.
In the campaign for president one hundred years ago Woodrow Wilson squared off against former Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes. There are hundreds of buttons that survive in quantity to this day. At the time, a celluloid or lithograph button would have been free at a political party headquarters and would have cost the campaign just a few pennies to produce.
A search of auctions today shows that those same buttons are readily available from about $10 for common designs to thousands of dollars for a rare and unique item.
Some Trump memorabilia is, in fact, ahead of the curve because of the curiosity associated with his candidacy and election. A limited-edition button showing Trump as James Bond under the title “from Russia with Love” sold for a staggering $1,265.00 in July.
You may luck out as well if you happened to be in Cleveland and bought a button that was produced showing the original inter-locking Trump/Pence logo, which was quickly discarded. An authentic version of that button that sold in Cleveland for $3 sells today for $15-$20.
Of course, vendor websites like Zazzle make the creation of buttons easy, so that design is readily available even today despite the fact that it was never officially used by the Trump campaign. That’s why it’s important to buy from reputable sources like a candidate’s website or a member of the American Political Item Collectors organization.
That’s true for Trump and it’s true for the candidates from 1916. One of the more valuable Wilson buttons is blue and yellow and says, “Man of the Hour.” The authentic version can bring up to $1,000. The Kleenex company made a series of reproductions in the 1970s as giveaways and included Wilson. The reproduction is worthless, but has been known to fool a less-than-knowledgeable buyer.
Trump buttons selling for thousands of dollars are the exception to the rule. Most Trump and Hillary buttons sold for $3 or less during the campaign and would re-sell for $3 or less today. Time will sort out what items are truly rare and what designs are particularly noteworthy and collectible.
There’s an Ohio item from 1916 featuring Hughes for President, Frank Willis for Ohio Governor and Myron Herrick for U.S. Senator. It’s not a particularly rare item, but the item sells for $40-$60 because it’s just a beautiful design that collectors seek out.
So, here’s your post-election primer.
- Stop buying 2016 campaign buttons now. Items created on-demand after the election have no chance of gaining in value and will likely hurt overall values as time passes. Use eBay or other auction sites or buy from reputable dealers to get items actually used during the campaign.
- Instead, today, you can look for what collectors call “cause” buttons. These are your “resist” items from the left and pro-Trump buttons on the right. They’re not necessarily advocating for the election of a candidate, but they’re certainly making interest groups heard on their given cause. One that stood out recently was the stylized “45” with a line through designed to be reminiscent of a Nazi swastika. Cause-related items have their own set of enthusiastic collectors and one of the hottest areas for political items is Civil Rights and Vietnam-era cause material.
- Save those tchotchkes! The $3 button today could gain in value over time, and you might not have to wait 100 years. Besides, it’s important to preserve the political history. Campaign dynamics today dictate that less of this material is created than in elections-past (with money instead allocated for the more efficient and effective TV, radio, mail and digital advertising) so it’s vital that we preserve the items that will help tell our nation’s political history to future generations.
Matt Dole is a Republican political consultant based in Ohio.