COLLECTING: presidential memorabelia Feed


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.

1789-2 George Washington (GW enclosed by inscription Long Live The President) (brass inaugural button)
George Washington Inaugural Button, 1879. Courtesy of

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.

1840 William Henry Harrision (black sulphide). Scarce
William Harry Harrison, 1840. Sulphide badge. Courtesy of

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.

Dolley madison icecream
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. 

Lincoln star button

Abraham Lincoln star button. Courtesy of

Lincoln Ambrotype Reverse  

Lincoln ambrotype badge/pendant. As much an ad for the manufacturer as for the candidate. Courtesy of

Teddy Rooseveltpillbox 

Teddy Roosevelt button. Courtesy of

Adlai stenenson pin Pictorial Productions tuckshoe NY

Adlai Stevenson celluloid button.

Stevenson shoe pin blog  

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.

Obama hole in shoe photo by Callie shell 

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 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, was still offering unsigned posters for a donation of $15.


Day two of a new era.

So, now that the election is done and we won! my Obama Or Else postcards are no longer propaganda but now are collectibles. Funny how the market works that way. I gave away close to five thousand postcards for the cause and was gleeful to do it. Now they cost a buck each.

Obama or else postcard
Obama Or Else Postcard. Pine Street Art Works, Liza Cowan design.

You know they are so worth it. Just stick few dollars into an envelope and send it to me. I'll send your cards.

$10/set of 10 cards
+ 5.00 postage


Obama inaugural bag b:w


Be the first on your block to carry the Flashbag Obama Inaugural handmade handbag. Obamabelia at it's finest!

Flashbags, the wonderful woman-owned, independently operated micro business in Winooski Vermont has just come out with their Obama Inaugural Handbag.

These beautiful bags are made of laminated paper, with images inside as well as outside,  hand stitched and sewn with swoops and swirls that complement the composition of each image.  Each bag features  a cellphone pocket, and handles made of beverage tubing. The main edges are bound with clear plastic to keep your bag durable. Very sturdy and comfortable to carry.

Flashbags has been making handbags and accessories for over three years, I've sold them since we both went into business, and I stand behind their amazing product.



"If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer." Barack Obama, November 4, 2008

Obama art, barack obama, president obaba, art about obama, art about presidential inauguration, inaugural art, TMNK, urban art about obama,
TMNK - The Me Nobody Knows. Sacred Promise. Mixed Media with oxidized rust application on canvas. Copyright 2008 TMNK. Used by permission of the Artist.

"All of us are equal. That’s the promise that was made to all of us as Americans by the founding fathers, And in doing so an even greater promise was made. That promise was that if YOU were willing to do your best to be your best, you could accomplish anything, even becoming President of The United States. Well if (when) Barack Obama takes the “Oath of Office” America would have finally kept her promise, and hundreds of years of tomorrows have become today.
And by electing Barack Obama, “we the people” are making a new promise, a very sacred promise to future generations. Unity over division. Love over hate, Peace over War. Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream, FOR ALL OF US. Well close your eyes go to sleep, and get up and vote on Tuesday. I believe tomorrow is today, and today the dream comes true. I promise." -

Youth for Obama!

My youngest customer yet, that is, the youngest to ever spend her hard earned and hard saved money, came in on Saturday to buy an Obama bag by Flashbags.

SPY with obama bag

SPY (her initials, not her job description), who is twelve years old and in the seventh grade, saw the bags here at Pine Street Art Works during  Art Hop and decided that it was well worth spending her own money on. She plans to use the bag to carry her school books. Burlington, VT  is passionate for Obama, and our infectious hope for the future has inspired our young people.

Hurray for the progressive voters of tomorrow, who know they can make a difference today. $20 of her purchase price has been contributed to the Obama Campaign.


Obama shephard fairey orginal sold at charity auction - art for life $108,000
Shephard Fairey, Obama Hope 2008

Continuing my mini series on Obama Art, here is the now famous picture by Shepard Fairey, Obey Giant, Obama Hope 2008. Fairey is a Los Angeles based graphic artist whose work, politics, commitment, and marketing strategies I admire greatly.

This mixed media stencil collage sold for $108,000 at the Art For Life auction/Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation, which provides "disadvantaged urban youth with significant exposure and access to the arts, as well as providing exhibition opportunities to under-represented artists and artists of color"

Fairey's work consciously evokes Aleksandr Rodchenko and other Russian avant garde  poster designers like Dziga Vertov, whose work I also adore. In fact, his work references most of the cannon of poster art. ( -not Fairey's site - has a list of sources  - follow this link.) As a dedicated FAKE! myself, I appreciate this urge, and value how Fairey has taken on the cannon, borrowed heavily, yet made for himself a very distinctive look. I do wish he would rigorously credit the artists he borrows. Nothing wrong with FAKE! but giving credit is not only ethical, it also helps people learn about great art.

His work for the Obama campaign and Rock The vote is invaluable, and I honor him for that.

F1f3c8f710e8e89b723373435bf05d1c                       Images
Shepard Fairey, Say Yes               Aleksndr Rodchenko

And it just so happens that this event takes place tonight. Another Shepard Fairey design.


Shephard Fairey - Party For Change

Website to visit for more Obama Art - The Obama Art Report. Check it out.

thanks to The Obama Art Report, again, I found this article from the LA Times on Graffiti Art/Street Art and the Obama Campaign

One small thing you can do every day: OBAMA POSTCARD

Blog obama or else

Obama Or Else postcard. Design Liza Cowan 2008 Creative Commons

Remember to send me an SASE to get these post cards. $.59 postage gets you ten cards. Or email me if you or your organization wants more. Liza(at)

The cards are great for starting conversations about the election. Mail them, hand them out, leave them around your neighborhood. Organize. Make Change Happen. (Don't you just hate McShame for stealing the word change? Lying liars. Can't even think of their own buzzwords.)

Pine Street Art Works, 404 Pine Street, Burlington, VT 05401

Remember - you can make your own cards too, even if just a few on your home computer or at your local copy shop. Be creative and say what you believe. Or go ahead, use mine (tho I'd like a teensy credit somewhere) Just get the word out and Organize!

Update Nov 6th - Now that the election is done and won, these cards have become collectibles rather than propaganda. I gave away close to five thousand of them gleefully. Now they cost $1.00 e

$1.00 per card

+ $0.75 postage for up to ten cards.

send check or cash to pine street art works. 404 Pine Street. Burlington VT 05401

DOLLEY Madison & HOLLY Shulman

A few years ago, when I first thought about creating a website, my main inspiration was my older sister, Holly C. Shulman, and her outstanding website, The Dolley Madison Project . Holly, Dolley. Be confused not.

Holly C. Shulman is probably the foremost scholar on Dolley Madison. Dolley was the wife of President James Madison and the most famous hostess of Washington DC. Far from being stuffily academic, the website is gorgeous, informative and fun. Produced as a project of the Virginia Center For Digital History - University of Virginia, The Dolley Madison Project has both academic clout and design pizzaz. The graphics are beautiful, including probably all the known likenesses of Dolley. There is a section on Dolley and pop culture and a section on how to read old handwriting.

Image courtesy of Holly Cowan Shulman, The Virginia Center For Digital History, University Of Virginia


Jewelry made from hair of a deceased beloved. From VCDH  website. University of Virginia

Now Holly Shulman has published a piece in the Virginia Center For Digital History Website/blog about Dolley, James and the custom of making jewelry from the hair of a dead beloved to use as a memento mori. According to Shulman, "The fascination with ritualized mourning clothes and accessories has generally been considered an outgrowth of Queen Victoria’s intensely private, but socially influential bereavement of her husband, Prince Albert. But Albert did not die until 1861, and Dolley wrote her cousin in the summer of 1837. We can assume that in her practice and assumptions about memorializing the dead, Dolley was not alone among her friends and family in Virginia. These letters inform us about their practices of mourning. It indicates a shift in how the dead were remembered, and it locates the tradition of creating jewelry with hair enclosed to the 1830s."

Holly also edits another website, an exhibition site about Wednesdays In Mississippi: Civil Rights as Women's Work. Maybe I'll post about it another time.