There’s no doubt this has been an historic year for politics. Voter turnout reached an all-time high as a divided nation argued about national and local political figures, legislative action, social justice issues, and how to combat a global pandemic. It was – and still is – ugly. And, my bet is that a lot of people will be hoarding their yard signs, flags, voter education pamphlets and other political memorabilia, thinking that someday collectors will pay big bucks for them.
Is it worth saving all that for several decades? Maybe. Some collectors like to focus on a particular president or period of time, like the Civil War. Others focus on the type of item, such as buttons, flags, ribbons, T-shirts, convention items, campaign items, letters of correspondence, photographs, commemorative coins, plates, and other oddities.
As a history buff, I’m always fascinated when rare political items come through our auction house. And, it’s exciting to see world records broken at other auction houses. For example, in 2018, the earliest artifact referring to George Washington as the “Father of His Country” set a world record when it sold for $225,000 at Heritage Auctions in Dallas, Texas.
Collectors have paid even more for historical items belonging to George Washington. In 2012, his own copy of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, bearing his personal bookplate and signature and featuring annotations in hand, sold at Christie’s for a record $9,826,500.
This year, it’s been harder to collect political memorabilia since both presidential conventions were virtual and campaign stops around the country were less frequent. But there were other historical moments that will be of interest to collectors years from now. The passing of Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg resulted in a collecting frenzy of “RBG” pins, books, mugs, T-shirts, necklaces, workout calendars and more. Similarly, future collectors may be interested in signage, newspaper clippings, photographs and other times that documented the large rallies for President Trump, the Black Lives Matters movement, pandemic-related items, and other significant moments of history.
There are many factors that affect the value of political memorabilia. Demand will depend on significance, and I do believe this election year rates as one of the most significant election years in our nation’s history.
Typically, the older the item is, the more valuable. But there are exceptions for eras such as the Civil War and both World Wars. Collectors will pay top dollar for rare items, but condition also plays a factor, so if you do plan to hold on to your political memorabilia, keep them stored in a safe, climate-controlled environment. Provenance will matter, too, so save any documentation regarding how you came to own the items, including receipts.
I think political memorabilia will always be of interest to collectors, even during economic downturns. Whether you’re collecting or selling, do your research to determine the value of the items. Take advantage of free appraisal fairs, and if you’re in doubt, consult with a certified appraiser.
Erik Hoyer owns EJ’s Auction & Appraisal in Glendale.