It seems clear that President-Elect Barack Obama has inspired more and better art than any previous America political candidate or victor, but political imagery and ephemera is not a new category for collectors. I started collecting campaign buttons in the early sixties - most of which I regret that I no longer have. But fliers, posters, celluloid buttons and other propaganda is a fertile ground for art collectors and cultural/political historians.
Campaign buttons have long been a popular way to market candidates. George Washington and many of his supporters wore brass clothing buttons reading "G.W. - Long Live The President" at his inauguration in 1789.
George Washington Inaugural Button, 1879. Courtesy of politicalbadges.com
In a marketing strategy that continues to this day, William Harrison sold himself as a man the common people, with his "log cabin" image. The truth that he came from a wealthy, prominent family was no more relevant than the fact that "cowboy" George Bush did.
William Harry Harrison, 1840. Sulphide badge. Courtesy of politicalbadges.com
Not all presidential imagery is used to sell the canditate running for office. Sometimes the images are used to sell unrelated products. My sister, Holly Cowan Shulman, one of the world's leading experts
on Dolley Madison relies on, and loves, the pop cultural images of
the "first" first lady, hostess of Washington. Madison's name and image was used widely, after her death,
to market products from ice cream to tobacco to cake.
Dolly Madison Ice Cream. Note that the name is spelled wrong. Courtesy of The Dolley Madison Project.
By the time of the Abraham Lincoln campaing, tintype and ferrotype processes allowed for mass manufacture of images and campaign promotional badges.
Abraham Lincoln star button. Courtesy of Politicalbadges.com
Lincoln ambrotype badge/pendant. As much an ad for the manufacturer as for the candidate. Courtesy of Politcalbadges.com
Teddy Roosevelt button. Courtesy of Politicalbades.com
Adlai Stevenson celluloid button.
Heavy on symbolism - the Adlai Stevenson hole in the shoe pin. A wonderful customer gave this to me.
Adlai Stevenson, hole in his shoe. 1952, photo by William M. Gallagher. This photo, shot at arm's lenght so Stevenson wouldn't realize what was happening, won the Pulizer prize in 1953. The Flint Journal
Any photojournalist or political historian remembers the Stevenson photo and the powerful symbolism of a president who encourages thrift. Which brings us to Barack Obama.
Photo by Callie Shell/Aurora for Time. Providence RI, 3/1/2008 "Senator Obama was doing press interviews by telephone in a holding room between events. Sometime later as he was getting ready to begin his event, he asked me if I was photographing his shoes. When I said yes, he told me that he had already had them resoled once since he entered the race a year earlier. "
The Obama buttons are famous, as are the Shepard Fairey Obama Hope posters. Right now, all you politcal ephemera collectors can jump on the bandwagon and get this new sticker by Shepard Fairey from MoveOn.org. But hurry up. The limited edition (5,000) Shepard Fairey Yes We Did poster sold out in record time yesterday and I blinked and missed it. Really. I was with a customer and when I came back online they were gone. They will be available on the secondary market, but prices will rise dramatically.
Shepard Fairey, Yes We Did sticker available from MoveOn.Org.
You can get one sticker for free, 5 for $3 or 50 for $20. I've seen these available for sale on an online auction for $5 each, and they haven't even been released from the artist/publisher yet. I find that unscrupulous, since they are still available for free from the source. So get yours while they are still available from MoveOn.Org. And give them a generous contribution while you're at it.
update Nov 11: the signed We Did It poster sold out. At last look, MoveOn.org was still offering unsigned posters for a donation of $15.