Political Pinbacks and Buttons

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Political Pinbacks and Buttons
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The collecting of political memorabilia is a rapidly growing hobby in the United States. Within this growing hobby political pins are most commonly collected because of their countless variations, accurate depictions of a campaign and its time, its long history, as well as its portrayal of our material history. According to Worthpoint, "the central database on the world's collectibles," there are approximately 10,000 political button collectors in the U.S.A. and growing. As Squidoo put it, political buttons represent socially who people are the moment they put their button on.

In this guide you will learn about the evolution of political pins and the meaning of key words (illustrated for you through images), important knowledge to have as a political pin collector.

Although the political pin we know today wasn't around until the 1890's, the first political pin was worn by George Washington in 1789 at his inauguration in New York City along with the others in attendance. They were simple pins, clothing buttons made from brass that patriotically read "Long Live the President" (modeling those words from the phrase "Long Live the King," words that British loyalists said to show their loyalty to the presiding monarchy). These types of political pins were continually used until the 1860's when the ferrotype method of the photographing process was developed. The ferrotype (or tintype) process produced a high quality image, quicker and cheaper than past methods. This made it possible to mass produce these buttons, and soon people all across the country and from all walks of life could see a candidate's face. These buttons were still unlike the one's we know today; at the time buttons were constructed with a ribbon (although political ribbons first came about in the 1840's) and a lapel pin that were attached to a hole in the picture (as seen in image one at the bottom of the page). Then in 1896 a patent from The Whitehead and Hoag Company of Newark, New Jersey brought about the political pins we know today. The patent gave their company exclusive rights to manufacturing a four piece device. To create it, a thin, see-through piece of celluloid (or cello) covered a metal piece (in which the slogan and photos of a campaign were printed on), and then a small metal pin was attached to the pin's reverse, all sandwiched together by a machine (an early example of such a pin is seen below, in image two). A celluloid pin is defined by the clear, plastic like substance that covers a paper disk and unevenly reflects light. This type of pin was first introduced in 1894 (during the political campaign of William McKinley and Williams Jennings Bryan) and went out of use in the 1940's, soon after lithograph pins were created in the 1920's. Lithograph pins were simply a piece of thin, flat, lithographed steel that were curled around the edges before being dyed. They were worn with a pin that is snapped into place behind the curled edge. Its design eliminated the need for the celluloid piece, by making it possible for the printing of the design to be directly applied to the metal piece. It was cheaper to make, but damaged much easier than celluloid pins, until recently when lithograph pins were covered by another see-through material (that wasn't celluloid).  But lithograph pins have another drawback, it can be said that celluloid buttons are generally better in quality than other pins, and thus are more collectible. Finally in the 1970's,  big corporations like Kleenex and the American Oil Co. mass produced valueless reproductions of famous buttons (a set of which can be seen in image three). This made finding vintage pins and identifying reals from fakes a challenge for collectors ( For my guide to identifying reproductions, click HERE.)

REMINDERS:   -Remember, condition is very important in collecting political pins, because, along with its rarity,  determines a buttons value.
                          -The best way to start a collection is picking up pins from your local campaign headquarters during an election cycle. Furthermore battle ground states, convention cities, candidate events, antique stores, flea markets, and (especially) APIC's annual political button convention are great places to get political pins.
                          -If you get a chance to get more than one of a button, take it, you may be able to trade it for something else later.
                          -Understand the difference in reproductions and authentic pins, reproductions have no value, they're just decorative.
                          -If you're interested in political pins join the APIC (American Political Items Collectors), a trusted name in political pins, with thousands of members including former presidents. On their website you can access an encyclopedia of every known reproduction, report misrepresented buttons seen on eBay, and find out about upcoming events, etc. You can access their ebay page HERE. If I got you interested in the APIC, state that you found out about it through me, Chase Guttman (member #1804).
                          -Political pins have been made for different political events, places, and people; such as inauguration pins, rally buttons, pins from different states supporting a candidate, or a pinback showing a nationalities support for a given candidate.
                          -A good resource to have is Ted Hake's Encyclopedia of Political Buttons which documents all known political buttons (with their pictures) and their value. Code numbers in the book are paired with each pin, which are commonly used for collectors reference.

-Ferrotype- The picture process that made it possible to produce pins with a candidates picture on it. Became popular in the 1860's.
-Jugate- Two portraits of presidential and vice presidential candidates side on a political button (either side by side or on opposite sides of a pin), seen in pins from the 1860's but popularized with the creation of the celluloid pin in the 1890's (an example can be seen in image two).
- Trigate- Three portraits of different candidates (could be from state or federal or both) depicted on one button.
-Celluloid- A type of pin like the ones we know today. A candidate's picture and slogan is printed on a metal piece with a pin backing and then is protected by a celluloid strip. Became popular in the 1890's and went out of use in the 1940's.
-Lithograph- A type of pin first created in 1916, only differs in its material covering the picture and pinback type from celluloid pins.
- Reproduction- A valueless remake of a old pin, or pins inspired by other political pins. Also known as brummagen (which is defined in Wikipedia as "cheap and shoddy imitations"), reprint, etc. The 1970's Kleenex political pin reproduction set can be seen in image three. Learn more HERE.
- Flasher- A button that changes between two images based on the angle at which you view it. First used on political pins in 1952 and now are almost no longer made. An early example can be seen below in image four (you can see the two images morphed together: the famous phrase I like Ike and a picture of a smiling Eisenhower). Also known as a lenticular, hologram, etc.
- Tab- A tab isn't a pin, but is a flat metal lapel that has a fold over piece that is extended above the main tab. It used similarly to pins, with words and images placed on the tabs, but uses a different method to keep itself on someone's clothes. Usually made with lithographed tin. An modern example of a political tab can be seen below in image five.
-Curl- The edge of a (usually round) button. This is where you can find out where a pin was created and how old it is.

If you found this article helpful please indicate that below. If you have any further questions please feel free to contact me with any questions through eBay.


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Worthpoint- "Five Ways Collecting Political Buttons is Different than Other Hobbies."
Squidoo- "Political Buttons."
Wade, Ron. "Political Buttons." 
eHow- "How to Collect Presidential Campaign Buttons."
"APIC- American Political Items Collectors."
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