Hot Buttons: A History of Campaign Swag

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A new book makes us yearn for the good ol’ days, when presidential candidates went beyond the red, white, and/or blue signage to design exotic, collectible paraphernalia to sway votes and commemorate their inaugurations. In Campaigning for President (Smithsonian), lawyer and magazine publisher Jordan M. Wright draws upon his vast personal collection of presidential election memorabilia to tell the story of campaign swag — think log cabin-themed brooches (William Henry Harrison), kneesocks (Alfred E. Smith), and a metal token of a sneering James Garfield sporting a devil’s tail. Then there are the post-election goodies. Wright notes that, “John Adams‘s inauguration memorabilia included china pitchers with his picture, and a button featuring a stylishly bewigged Adams, referring to him with the hip nickname, ‘Jo.'”

“The book’s more than 300 color photographs show us campaign accessories in all their gaudy variety,” writes Mark Lasswell in the Wall Street Journal. “The 1960s offer ghastly paper dresses emblazoned with the faces of Hubert Humphrey, Robert Kennedy, or Nelson Rockefeller. A century ago, parasols featured images of Theodore Roosevelt and his running mate, Charles Fairbanks, neither of them looking particularly sunny.” Many of the objects will be displayed in an exhibition opening June 24 at the Museum of the City of New York. With a collection of more than one million items, Wright comes from a largely apolitical family, noted Sam Roberts in a recent New York Times profile, “except for his Uncle Nat, who revealed at a family dinner in 1972 that he had been a lifelong Communist (and who donated his buttons and other items to the collection).”