Curator's Statement

Views from the exhibit
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Row 1 (left to right)
Political Convention Memorabilia display
Third Party Candidates and Women in Presidential Politics displays
General view of exhibit area
Portion of chronological display 1824-1924

Row 2(left to right)
Political Issues and Campaign Themes displays
Third Party Candidates and Women in Presidential Politics displays
General view of exhibit area with chronological display 1980-1992
and Humor in Politics displays in background
General view of exhibit area and introductory display

Row 3(left to right)
Third Party Candidates display
Campaign Themes display
Display of Thomas Foley memorabilia
Display of lapel pins and studs

Row 4(left to right)
Chronological display 1824-1924
Back drop to chronological display 1968-1976
Display of resource materials for button collectors
Chronological display 1928-1964

Collecting American Political Memorabilia

Curator's Statement

Collections often begin purely by happenstance and develop quite haphazardly. This exhibit of American political memorabilia from 1824 to 1992 is no exception. In 1970, a dear friend and WSU colleague, James Thurber (who now teaches at American University and often comments on presidential politics for National Public Radio), gave my late husband Frank Mullen some duplicates from his collection of American political buttons, and we were off and running.

Since Frank's academic specialty was the American Presidency, we decided to concentrate our collecting efforts on presidential campaign memorabilia. However, the process was anything but linear. We bought some buttons from dealers (often as presents for each other; in the early years, our collection grew substantially each December). Family and friends gave us many items. Since a number of Frank's students went on to careers in politics or government, they were a major source of memorabilia. Occasionally we would learn about and purchase an entire collection of buttons centered around one candidate or a particular presidential campaign. (This accounts for the disproportionate number of Wendell Wilkie and Barry Goldwater items in our collection.)

One unexpected source of buttons was WSU's Daily Evergreen. In the fall of 1980, a student reporter wrote an article about Frank's "modest collection." Evidently the idea of a Political Science professor collecting political buttons was newsworthy. The story was picked up by the AP wire service and distributed all over the country. We received numerous letters from friends, former students, parents of students, and complete strangers, many of whom sent us buttons.

But the bulk of the collection was picked up (quite literally) as a result of our involvement in politics: we worked for presidential candidates and coordinated campaigns in Whitman county. Also, Frank served as chair of the Whitman County Democratic Central Committee for a number of years and in 1976 was an uncommitted delegate to the Democratic National Convention in New York City. Prior to the convention, we accumulated numerous buttons from various candidates seeking his support. Then, during the convention, as the candidate field narrowed daily, we made the rounds of "withdrawal" functions and offered to take excess buttons off campaigns' hands. ( I attended the 1988 convention in Atlanta as an alternate.)
However, we realized this form of acquisition would limit the scope of our collection. So I developed a standard letter (Dear _____. I am so delighted to hear that you have decided to run for the _____ party's presidential nomination....Please send me information and buttons, etc.) and mailed it to newly-declared candidates across party lines and across the political spectrum. As a result, at one point, we were "card-carrying" members of the Democratic, Republican, Socialist Workers, Independent, Prohibition, Peace and Freedom, and Libertarian parties. One year the Republican Party invited Frank to become a sustaining member by doubling our annual contribution; we sent them $2 and he received a fancy certificate attesting to his generous support.

While our main interest was presidential campaign buttons, we never turned down anything, so drawers filled with bumper stickers, presidential souvenir items, dishes, t-shirts, hats, etc. We also started accumulating state and 'cause' buttons as potential "traders" but found that trading and auction transactions took more time and energy than we had to spare (this was the pre-E Bay era, after all). So those collections also grew, and several sections of this exhibit include such items. All in all, the collection is idiosyncratic, relatively unfocused, and eclectic--just what one might expect from two political junkies who were collecting, not as an investment, but for the sheer fun of it.