Taking Stock of Election Collectibles

by ekramer on November 11, 2008

Now, that the elections are over, the remnants remain. Yard signs, button, posters and the like. Some of them may be worth thousands of dollars — someday. WFPL’s Elizabeth Kramer reports.

The phones at area bookstores have been ringing off the hook.

“We have Time and People right now and also Newsweek with him on the cover,” Cassie Bryant tells a caller.

Bryant is a Books A Million employee who has been telling dozens of callers since last week that the store does not have the newspapers they want. People have been calling looking for newspapers with the President-elect on the cover and often finding none.

The callers are hunting them down as mementoes from the historic presidential election of Barack Obama. And entrepreneurs are getting in on the frenzy. Last Wednesday’s New York Times is attracting bids of almost $100 on EBay. On Craigslist sellers of that day’s Washington Post are asking $50.

But serious collectors of campaign memorabilia say newspapers aren’t really worth that today and won’t even appreciate beyond their newsstand price over years or even decades.

Throughout the recent atypical election, serious collectors have been — well, collecting all sorts of things depicting the candidates, from the posters and pins to toys and — purses.

“Picked up a Barack Obama purse from someone out in Hawaii that was supposed to be a limited edition of about 50 purses; two little three dimensional toys, one of Obama and one of McCain. McCain says he’s ‘Armed to the Dentures with Experience,’ and ‘Vote for Me and Hope for the Best’ on the Obama one.”

Prospect resident Bob Westerman has these gems in a cabinet in his basement. All around are posters, pins and license plates from elections dating back more than 100 years. He’s been at it since 1980 and is a member of a group called the American Political Items Collectors. His most valuable piece is a pin from 1899 for William Jennings Bryan, who was a three-time Democratic Party presidential nominee around the turn of the 19th Century. The pin is worth about $5,000. Westerman says limited edition pieces with city and date references are worth more.

Westerman and other Louisville collectors also buy original handmade pieces and others created by artists in limited editions — like that purse with President-elect Obama.

One artist who’s been successful among collectors is Brian Campbell, who creates pins from his acrylic paintings. Westerman has a box packed with Campbell pins, one with Sen. John McCain in an uncomfortable embrace with President George Bush and another depicting “Arizona McCain” in a pose mimicking an “Indiana Jones” movie poster.

One recent purchase has a simple image: an arm held high with a fist tightly gripping — a plunger.

Brain Campbell says the pins aren’t promoting a candidate or really towing any party line.

“The pins themselves will kind of tell a story and you’ll see that pin 30 years from now and ‘What is this guy holding a plunger?'” Campbell says. “And somebody will tell the story of ‘Joe the Plumber’ that we heard more about then than maybe we wanted to.”

Buyers wanting that pin or others can get them through the network of dealers. Most of them are elected officials or political junkies like Westerman.

And Westerman has some advice for anyone collecting items from this year’s campaign. He says, where investing is concerned, look for rare pieces — those that have pics of the presidential candidates with their running mates and those made by artists and crafts people.

And what does Westernam think will be valuable?

“There’s some things, I’m sure, from this election haven’t even crossed my mind as what might be a collectible,” Westerman says. “But, you know, 30 to 40 years from now — you know, it’s ‘Golly, I didn’t even know those existed at that time.'”

Westerman says save what most collectors save: those pieces that you personally like and that have meaning to you.

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