I began collecting buttons at the age of 7 when, in 1960, my mother took me into downtown Omaha to get a JFK button.
Nebraska, where we lived at the time, was Nixon country and my devout Catholic parents would have none of that.
Anyway, by 1963 we had moved back to Buffalo, and after the assassination, I started looking for Johnson and Goldwater items.
My interest in politics was only growing and by 1972, I was running the dormitory campaign of George McGovern at the University at Buffalo where I was a sophomore history student.
I was in a great position then to accumulate items, and that’s when it took off, I guess. Posters, brochures, bumper stickers and, of course, buttons started flowing in.
I joined the American Political Items Collectors (APIC) in the 1980s and began ordering and obtaining items through auctions and catalogs.
By the 1990s it became a true Internet hobby, and I was able to make a lot of purchases online where I still do much of my collecting. I seem to get the bug every four years, and that’s when I also hit party and candidate headquarters looking for the newer items.
My oldest material is from the 1896 McKinley-Bryan race when celluloid buttons (the kind you see today) made their debut.
I’ve got several of them and though they’re really not worth much, I value them. It’s not so much the age of the item in this hobby, it’s the rarity.
That’s why a 1977 inaugural button featuring the Carter family in front of the White House is worth $300, simply because after that photo was taken, Jimmy Carter didn’t allow any more pictures of Amy taken in a public setting.
Two of my favorite items are hanging in my den, a 1960 poster for JFK and a 1968 poster for his brother, RFK.
Anyone who is interested in pursuing the hobby can go to the APIC website and sign up. The organization is hosting a show in Buffalo this fall, so get the details on the website as well.
Each election cycle has its own uniqueness, its own quirks and its own quotes. Who can forget, for example, the "Where's the beef?" question from Walter Mondale to Gary Hart in the 1984 race for the Democratic nomination or the insulting comparison to JFK that Sen. Lloyd Bentsen had for Dan Quayle in a 1988 presidential debate.
Lots of those details and quotes appear on campaign items, bringing back all the fun times for political junkies.
Each election has its own character, and my main pleasure from the hobby are the memories and stories the items evoke.
Bob Dearing is a longtime wire editor at The Buffalo News.