Gary Sohmers knows something about the value of a campaign. The pop culture expert who spent 13 seasons appraising items on Antiques Roadshow on PBS spoke to The Observer on how we can make a pretty penny off of this election cycle’s memorabilia. The answer? Buttons!
Mr. Sohmers first became interested in collectibles from his father, a traveling salesman who would come home with little cigar boxes full of campaign buttons. Mr. Sohmers learned not only about history and politics from his dad, but economics too.
“Over time I’ve seen markets grow, shrink, and fall off the cliff, and campaign buttons mirror those trends in many ways,” he told The Observer. “The things that are popular today parallel the politics of the 20s, the 30s, 40s, 50s.”
By that he means: you’re not going to get a good price on your “Alf Landon for President” pamphlet.
Buttons, apparently, are where the big money is at. And if you want the big bucks, you go for a jugate, which feature both the presidential candidate and the VP in the same image.
“History has has shown that these are much more valuable than say, a picture of the candidate’s dog,” Mr. Sohmers said. This is because of the relative scarcity of the buttons themselves: For example, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan don’t even have an official campaign jugate, and Obama/Biden button campaign only comes out with one prototype per election cycle.
The most expensive jugate is from the Cox/Roosevelt presidential campaign of 1920, which sold on Ebay for $15,000 in 2009.
You might have to wait a little bit longer for your Obama/Biden button to appreciate in value. Mr. Sohmers, who smartly grabbed a 2008 jugate for $5 during the last race, says that it is worth around $44 now, but it should appreciate to $100 over the next several years. Eventually, he’s predicting it will be the most valuable jugate.
“He was the first African-American president, he was many ‘firsts,’” Mr. Sohmers said.
But what if Romney/Ryan wins? If they had a jugatte, wouldn’t it be worth something down the road?
“Not really,” Mr. Sohmers said. “Romney will probably have the same value as the Bushs…really no value to the products. There’s just a level of respect that is missing there.” He compared those campaigns to that of Ronald Reagan’s, whose buttons have actually grown in value. “People might not have respected his politics, but they liked him.”
Sloganeering on buttons can actually gain you some points to. The “McGovern Can’t Lick Our Dick” button from Nixon’s 1972 campaign will net you around $34.00, just because it’s so “over the top,” as Mr. Sohmers put it.
Another big seller is the earlier campaigns of nominees who went on to be President. So if you were lucky enough to grab a button from Barack Obama’s 2004 Senate campaign could net you a $125 today.
“It’s all about supply and demand,” Mr. Sohmers said. “There were very few of those made, so if you were able to get one, hold on to it.”
Besides campaigning memorabilia, the two other most lucrative collector items in politics are autographs and, surprisingly, newspapers. The problem with the first is that they are very hard to have authenticated. “Authentication for autographs just means one guy’s opinion in saying its real,” the appraiser told us. “Today, you’d need to be able to trace it back: Was there a video of a candidate signing something and handing it over to the person vouching for it? At this point, video documentation is your best best.”
And don’t let anyone tell you that you’re a hoarder just because you have thousands of newspapers announcing Barack Obama as the new P.O.T.U.S. in 2008. “You have to remember, newspapers were folding left and right that year,” he said. Even the day after his win, people were gathering up copies of The New York Times and selling them on Ebay. Today, they sell for around $100 each.
Mr. Sohmers will be in the city Nov. 17-18 at the New York Pier Antiques Show. Get your pop culture items appraised by an expert!