By Moira F. Harris
Every four years one form of ephemera is spotlighted: political ephemera and memorabilia. Presidential campaigns, conventions, and elections bring attention to what is produced by the campaigns and by others either in favor of the candidates or against them.
There are three time periods involved with presidential political ephemera: the campaign both pre and post convention, the convention at which a candidate becomes the party's nominee, and the election of the successful nominee (and his subsequent tenure in the White House). Some collectors focus on all three periods; some specialize in certain elections; some prefer a single candidate. In this regard, collections of material relating to Washington, Lincoln, FDR or Theodore Roosevelt, and Kennedy exist. At the most recent Ephemera Society Convention (March 2008) Thomas Horrocks spoke of his collection related to William McKinley. For the twelve most recent presidents (Herbert Hoover, FDR, Harry Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, JFK, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton), campaign, convention, and White House materials can be seen in their presidential libraries. On the Web these library-museums are listed at www.archives.gov/presidential-libraries.org.
Many museums, historical societies, and libraries also have collections of political ephemera, either state or national. Public collections in cities that have held national political conventions may also have materials connected to those events. Material related to all of the presidents is housed, of course, in the Smithsonian Institution. (The collection of First Ladies' gowns is well known.) One collection that focuses on national campaigns is the Museum of American Political Life at the University of Hartford in Connecticut. Another collection is that of the late Jordan Wright. His book, Campaigning for President, was published in early 2008. Part of his collection is on view in a new exhibit, "Campaigning for President: New York and the American Election," at the Museum of the City of New York until November 4, 2008.
The smallest of the political ephemera categories, that connected to the national conventions, may well be the least studied. Each convention has programs produced for the delegates, alternates, ushers, and press; tickets for each of these groups as well as for guests; convention summaries; and badges, buttons, banners and parade materials. For the upcoming GOP convention to be held in St. Paul, Minnesota, September 1-4, 2008, ephemera will be on view from several important private collections. The local Host Committee is staging what it calls CIVICFEST at the Minneapolis Convention Center from August 29 until September, 4, 2008. Replicas of the White House, the Oval Office, and political ephemera will be arranged in the Center's huge spaces. The Minneapolis Institute of Art (see www.artsmia.org) will present items from its own collection (a painting of Lincoln by the artist John Peto, for example) and political memorabilia from an Ohio collector. This show, "Hail to the Chief: Images of the American Presidency," will run from August 2 until September 21, 2008.
Without attempting to investigate the huge field of political ephemera literature, two publications could be mentioned: Roger Fischer's Tippecanoe and Trinkets Too: The Material Culture of American Presidential Campaigns (1988) and our own Pogo Press's Republican National Convention 2008 written by Barry Casselman. Many items from the collections to be shown at CIVICFEST are illustrated in this book.
Examples of political ephemera are (click for larger images):
Guest's Ticket from the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis, June 1892. Benjamin Harrison, the incumbent, was nominated but lost the election to Grover Cleveland. On the right side of the ticket is Minnehaha Falls, made famous by Longfellow's poem. Courtesy of the author.
Cover cancelled on Inauguration Day, January 20, 2005. Presidents are honored in this way when they take office. Upon their deaths one or more (in the case of FDR) stamps are issued. Courtesy of Dick Sheaff.
Trade cards issued by companies using images of the presidential candidates. For President Suspender (1900) William McKinley and William Jennings Bryan examine what Columbia is showing them. For Broadhead Fabrics Rutherford and Lucy Hayes examine cloth in a shop, c.1876. Both of these items are from the collection of Barbara Loe.