Political Campaign Buttons Pins: Fake or Reproduction? : eBay Guides

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This is a 10 point guide to review campaign pinback buttons and to help you identify whether a political election campaign button, badge, pin or pinback may be an original authentic item or a replica, reproduction or fantasy item. 

I am a member of the American Political Items Collectors (APIC).  We support the Hobby Protection Act briefly described below.  This guide is offered to help new and experienced purchasers of political buttons and pins to distinguish original items from fantasy, fake, imitations, replicas or reproductions as I occasionally view buyers spending significant amounts for items that were not original to the particular political campaign.

Buyers and Sellers Beware of imitation political items (exact copies or close examples of original and authentic political campaign items) or buy them with knowledge that they are imitations (for education purposes, classroom use, etc).  Sadly imitation reproduction or fantasy political items are frequently offered without proper disclosures to potential Buyers.  It is important that eBay sellers and buyers make themselves Aware of the characteristics of imitation reproduction or fantasy items.  Following is a point by point guide of possible characteristics to help you determine whether a political item, campaign button, badge, pin or pinback is an authentic original or an imitation, reproduction or fantasy item.

The 1973 Hobby Protection Act (the "Act") requires that an imitation political item "shall be plainly and permanently marked with the calendar year in which such item was manufactured."  The United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) oversees and prescribes regulations to enforce the Act.  (Note that items issued prior to 1973 do not carry this requirement and may have been earlier reproductions not subject to the Act, yet nonetheless reproductions.)

As described by the Act an "imitation political item means an item which purports to be, but in fact is not, an original political item, or which is a reproduction, copy or counterfeit of an original item."

There are many resources available to guide you as to specific imitation political items that have been identified.  The American Political Items Collectors (APIC) provides an excellent online photographic guide on the imitations or "brummagems" described as "inferior and worthless" items, you may want to view the APIC Resources Brummagem Reproductions website at apic.us Resources to see that guide.  A website research of specific items can also yield helpful information results for comparison to original political campaign items.

The Ted Hake books on "Political Buttons" (3 volumes) available at public libraries or purchase photograph original political items.  His "Encyclopedia of Political Buttons United States 1896-1972," first printed in 1974, indicates whether certain original items have been reproduced in lithograph or celluloid form or both (coding in his book is "Y" for lithographed reproduction, "Z" for celluloid reproduction and "YZ" for both).  The earlier 1971 Dick Bristow authored "The Illustrated Political Button Book" shows photographs and descriptions of Brummagem items at pages 229 through 240.

Some authentic items were only manufactured in either celluloid or lithographed metal and in certain sizes.  Compare to other similar items offered either in completed auctions or current auctions on eBay or on dealer websites.  Review authentic dealers auction results to compare to authentic items they have sold at auction - for example, see anderson-auction and oldpoliticals, both dot com dealers, for listings of auction results of authentic political items.

As a general guide:

1.  Fantasy items - created after a political campaign in a design or form that did not exist during the campaign - for example, see some of the Art Fair 1968 examples of "HONEST ABE OF THE WEST," an Andrew Jackson on a horse (green and white), Taft Sherman, "Bill" (Taft) and other 2 inch celluloid items that were produced and sold.  Although "Art Fair" and 1968 is generally noted on the curl of the buttons, some unscrupulous individuals slice off that information or mark it out and prematurely rust, fox or stain these pins to look old.  For example, in the 1960's Farrell's Ice Cream issued a 1 1/2" blue photo pin with red letters "Keep Cool with Cal" "Coolidge for President" that was not produced during the campaign.

As a general rule celluloid and pinback buttons were not used extensively for political items until the 1896 presidential election and certainly not for Andrew Jackson, Lincoln and other earlier presidents (although there are a few earlier celluloid covered Grover Cleveland and Benjamin Harrison items, however, not a celluloid covered buttons or studs).  If a button or pinback is offered as an original item for a candidate prior to 1896 exercise caution.  (Please note, however, that there were presidential button sets produced by Whitehead & Hoag and others as later issued elected  president sets that may still have value.)

Some particularly difficult fantasy items, which appear to be authentic but are not, are several fantasy pinback buttons showing in blue letters the names of candidates for President and Vice President.  Dick Bristow pictures several of these in his Illustrated Political Button Book.  

Examples include a Thomas E. Dewey for President and Earl Warren for Vice President; another is an Adlai Stevenson and several others were produced.  Also be watchful of a fantasy pin showing Al and Joe Let's Go with Al Smith looking to the left as is Joe Robinson (in the original authentic item both candidates are looking toward the center of the button, however, a reproduction similar to the original was made with a union bug on the reverse metal, while the original may not have displayed an embossed union bug).  There is also a red, white and blue border Wendell Willkie that was not authentic to the campaign.  

When in doubt check for others online as a cross-check on original versus fantasy or reproduction items.  Many eBay sellers will indicate, as required, when the items they offer are fantasy or reproduction items so comparison among items listed may be helpful.  Reputable sellers will typically allow you to return an item you suspect is a reproduction or fantasy item.

2.  Union bugs - the presence or absence of a union bug does not necessarily indicate whether a political campaign button or pinback is original.  The manufacturer reproducing or making a fantasy item may have used a union shop.  In most cases, however, the presence of union bugs supports authenticity of many older political items.  Yet, some items during the 1920s did not display union bugs embossed on the reverse although clever reproductions may display union bugs (again check the apic.us website on Resources).

3.  Curl or collet, collar or reverse metal information - many reproductions of Presidential political campaign buttons were sets manufactured and produced as promotions for advertising purposes.  Information printed on the curl or side of the item may help you identify it.  Look closely.

Even as a long term collector (since 1960) I am sometimes fooled by reproductions - for example, I recently acquired what I thought was a 1936 ROOSEVELT celluloid button with a red, white and blue cross hatch design with a blue star originally manufactured by the St. Louis Button Company to attract southern voters with the similarity to the confederate flag design.  Upon very close examination of the bottom curl, however, I could barely see what appeared to "c 1970 Liberty Art Mint" that was folded under the collet, curl or collar of the button.  Very close examination is therefore necessary to ensure a campaign item is original and authentic.

Advertisers or producers of reproduction political button sets were Abbott Laboratories, American Oil, Borax, Cracker Barrel, Kleenex, Exxon, Liberty Mint and Proctor & Gamble.  While some were marked "A-0-1972," "REPRODUCTION," or "Repro," perhaps with the date printed repeatedly on the reverse back or marked repeatedly "Cracker Barrel" and were cheap imitations of the originals on lithographed tin, use caution as the curl markings are scraped off or the information is painted over.  Items (particularly for Coolidge) indicating Ice Cream or Red Garter Campaign Headquarters are usually fantasy items.

Some reproduction sets have "Crackerbarrel, Farmingdale, N.Y. 11735 (Reproduction)" repeated in blue print on the reverse metal, however, oxidation, rust or use of steel wool may have obliterated that notice.  Therefore, look closely around the inside curl to see if you can locate that information.  Another set shows "1980" repeated on the reverse metal, which may be similarly obliterated.

Originals may have manufacturer information such as Whitehead & Hoag, N.G. Slater, Bastian Brothers, Green Duck, Pach and many others.  Very good imitations or reproductions appear to have been made by Western Associates marked on the curl.  Some of these items appear to match the originals, however, may be manufactured in a size that was not made when the items were first produced for the campaign (one example is a size of an infrequently offered Eisenhower and Nixon button recently offered on eBay and appeared to have been purchased by an otherwise knowledgeable dealer).

4.  Reverse - backpapers in celluloids by the original manufacturers, for example, Whitehead & Hoag (Newark, NJ), Pulver, Baldwin and Gleason or back painted or stamped imprints on lithographs by Whitehead & Hoag, Green Duck, generally indicate originality, however, there is the potential that false backpapers could be inserted in imitations.  Examples of false backpapers seen are NEWSPRINT clippings placed in the reverse of imitation buttons to give them an old and original look.  

5.  Pins - modern U clip pins or what may be called safety pins in what appear to be older political campaign buttons and pins may be a clue that the item is an imitation or reproduction.  For example, a pin that inserts and sits in a modern "U" pin clip (contrasted with the older safe lock hollow metal back or straight pin original pinback buttons).

6.  Painted backs - the back metal of what appear to be authentic original political campaign buttons may be a clue if the reverse is a bright orange, white or other color without any manufacturer identification markings.  While that may not always be true (especially as to larger 3 1/2" buttons that may have painted backs (typically white) as made), it is a clue to ask further questions of the Seller or seek a guarantee that the item may be returned for a refund if it is not an original authentic campaign item.  Some very good imitations of FDR, Landon, Willkie, Truman and other items with painted backs, such a bright white or orange, should raise questions as to authenticity.

7.  "Vintage" - this term as used by some Sellers does not necessarily mean authentic or original.  It appears to be frequently used with reproductions of political items, perhaps with Sellers thinking that a 1970s styled imitation or reproduction is retro or an old style pinback from an earlier era.  My suggestion is to view the term "vintage" with caution as described below.  Some items listed as "vintage" are originals, however, many are not.

8. Use of terms "scarce" "rare" "hard to find" and others - You can often determine whether a political item is scarce or rare by searching for similar items on eBay as active or completed items or through an internet search engine.  Many of the items listed as scarce or rare would have difficulty meeting that definition test.  Common items are sometimes listed as scarce or rare only because that Seller has not seen or could not quickly find another.

9.  Size:  Watch sizes of some buttons - see the apic us website for brummagem descriptions of originals and fantasy pins for each of the presidential campaigns.  While many originals were made in a variety of sizes, some originals were only made in one size.  For example, a Stevenson Sparkman jugate was made as a 3 1/2 inch celluloid pin and a smaller 2 1/4 inch size although very well made (except the back is usually painted white), is a fake or fantasy pin not original to the campaign.

10.  Misidentified Items:  I recently advised one Seller that a celluloid unnamed portrait button hole stud the seller listed as Adlai Stevenson (vice presidential candidate with Grover Cleveland) was in fact an item promoting Asa Bushnell for Governor of Ohio (the seller thanked me, however, continued to sell the items for over four times its value as a misidentified item).  Please watch when unnamed items are offered as occasionally a seller will believe that a similar looking individual is in fact William Howard Taft or confuses Grover Cleveland with Taft (or the other way around).  It certainly can help a seller to align a prominent name with an unknown portrait, however, please consider consulting web searches or the Hake or Bristow books to compare portraits if you are uncertain.  Davis Brown (PA state candidates) are often listed or confused as an item associated with the 1924 Presidential candidate.  Similarly Wilson Republican and a blue oval Wilson for Governor are often confused with items for Woodrow Wilson even though they were later issued for other candidates in other states.  Common names can lead to confusion.  Run an internet search of the candidate and offices if you are uncertain.

Best advice:  When in doubt ask questions of the Seller and seek a right to return for refund if the item is not listed as an imitation or reproduction.  View the particular Seller's other listings when in doubt to see if other items the Seller has listed or has listed in the past (Completed listings) support or discredit originality and authenticity.  For example, if you see that the particular Seller has listed fantasy buttons or reproductions in other listings it may suggest that you be suspicious of other items that may or may not be authentic original items.  Photos do not always tell the full story as even seasoned political items collectors can be deceived by some very fine imitations.

Guide ID: 10000000018012960Guide created: 24/08/10 (updated 05/04/14)

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