1. Home
Send to a Friend via Email
Political Collectibles -- History of Campaign Buttons
Guest Author Ron Wade
More of this Feature
History of Campaign Buttons
Lithograph Buttons
Getting Started
About Ron Wade
Related Resources
Collecting a Piece of History
Political Memorabilia Links

From Other Guides
PoliticalFest Photo Gallery
Hail to the Chief

Elsewhere on the Web
Ron Wade Buttons

In a time when people think of a Nixon button as being an antique, you might expect that political campaign buttons or pins are a modern device, conceived by some media representative to boost name recognition. As a result, it comes as a surprise to many that George Washington wore the first political button in 1789 at his first Inauguration in New York. He, and many present, wore buttons, but these buttons were clothing buttons made of brass and proudly reading "G.W.-Long Live the President", modeling the phrase "Long live the King." Clothing-type buttons continued to be used by citizens in a very young United States, oftentimes with the name of a hero like Andrew Jackson conservatively placed on the reverse side of the button. Since most campaigns for the Presidency didn't involve active campaigns, as we know them today, political memorabilia for the early Presidents consisted of the buttons and silk ribbons.

It wasn't until the first "modern-style" election in 1840 that America saw a candidate actively admitting he even wanted the office with William Harrison's log cabin campaign. Literally hundreds of objects featuring the log cabin design were used to influence voters throughout the growing new country. The log cabin campaign belied the fact that Harrison wasn't born in a log cabin at all, but to considerable wealth. That didn't matter since the idea "sold" him as someone befitting to be elected President and he was.

It wasn't until the 1860 campaign of Abraham Lincoln, along with other major party nominees for President, that the likeness of a President was available for use on campaign buttons and devices. All because of the advent of the tintype or ferrotype photo process.


Extremely Rare 1864 Political Campaign Pin for President Abraham Lincoln's
re-election campaign during the midst of the Civil War. 1" x 1 1/4" with
hole at top from which wearer used a ribbon to wear on lapel. Has some lightness -
Valued at $650.

For the first time a voter hundreds of miles away from Washington could actually see what a candidate for President looked like. The 1860 ferrotype buttons for Lincoln are easily distinguishable from his 1864 re-election buttons as his famous beard was by then on all official photos of the Civil War President. And calling these "buttons" is stretching it a bit since most of these were made of a metal ring surrounding a round tintype picture with a hole punched in the top, from which a ribbon was used to hang the picture on a supporter's lapel.

What we now know as a campaign button didn't come about until 1896 with the patent by the now famous Whitehead and Hoag Company. The device was made of 4 pieces sandwiched together -- a piece of metal on which was placed a printed image with a slogan or photo of 1896 candidate for President William McKinley or his Democratic opponent, William Jennings Bryan. On top of that printed image was a thin piece of see-through celluloid and all of this was placed together by a machine with a small metal pin attached on the reverse. The 1896 discovery of campaign buttons was so popular that now, some 106 years later, buttons from the McKinley-Bryan race are still fairly common and can be bought for as little as $10, although most buttons are much more than that.

1896 "McKinley and Hobart" sepia celluloid photo stud Valued at $45.
"McKinley and Tanner" which says "Illinois 1896" below photos on
flag background 7/8" celluloid button. Valued at $45.
Next page > Lithograph Buttons & Condition > Page 1, 2, 3, 4,

Images Courtesy of Ron Wade, (c)2002

Subscribe to the Newsletter
Name
Email

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.