Adam Gottlieb has a busy schedule. On weekdays, he visits elementary school students, passing around his extensive collection of political memorabilia for young politicos to admire. Weekends are set aside for flea markets and antique stores.
“My best find ever was at a tiny rural street fair,” remembers Gottlieb, 44. “I bought a very rare Teddy Roosevelt button, six inches across, for $30.” Gottlieb has been collecting Roosevelt items since a fourth-grade field trip in 1976 to Oyster Bay, the 26th president’s “summer White House” in New York. After that trip, Gottlieb saved his allowance in a piggy bank designated specifically for political items. He now estimates his collection at more than 2,000 items, 300 of them Roosevelt-related.
He’s scooped up buttons, ribbons, photographs, signed letters, presidential documents, books and newspapers. But his most prized possessions are those linked to California, where he is on the communications staff of the state energy commission.
“I have items from Roosevelt’s 1903 visit to California, a parade that he attended in Los Angeles and a menu that he ordered from in San Francisco,” Gottlieb says.
He’ll have a chance to show off his collection Aug. 5-7, when hundreds of political collectors convene in Las Vegas for the biannual Political Memorabilia Show and Sale, sponsored by the American Political Items Collectors. Yes, there is a niche market for everything.
APIC hosts small events across the country, but the Vegas show is the granddaddy of them all. More than 100 political dealers will be on hand this year. And in a take-off of the popular television show Antiques Roadshow, experts will appraise and auction off anything that attendees bring to the event. Many of those items, says Gottlieb, will come from people who aren’t collectors but just cleaned out their attics and stumbled across what they hope is a political treasure.
Marsha Dixey of Heritage Auction Galleries will help to oversee the auction. “With the prevalence of the Internet, most transactions now occur online. So when there is a live floor, like there will be in Las Vegas, things can get interesting,” she says.
Dixey remembers an auction in 1986, when Malcolm Forbes, founder of Forbes magazine and an avid political memorabilia collector, purchased a James Cox/FDR campaign pin from 1920 for more than $30,000 after a long bidding war.
The items for this year’s event, shown at www.ha.com, are as diverse as soda cans of “Goldwater” featuring presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, thimbles for Herbert Hoover, potholders for Calvin Coolidge, pewter shank buttons for George Washington and baseball mitts for Mitt Romney.
Gottlieb, for his part, has come a long way since his days of diligently earmarking his allowance for Roosevelt items. “I’m definitely looking to buy. I’m throwing my hat in the ring, so to speak. Did you know that Teddy Roosevelt coined that phrase?” he asks, chuckling.