Now that the election's over, did you ever wonder where the campaign stuff goes after the last balloon's popped, the banners are taken down and the lights are turned out?
Our southern neighbours have traditionally celebrated election campaigns in a grander fashion than Canadians, though I do believe we're catching up. Down there, wearing the fancy hats and waving the fancy flags go back to the 1840 campaign of William Henry Harrison, who promoted his image of one with the common people on a slogan of "Log cabins and hard cider." He won, though his share of the suffragette vote likely tanked in the polls. Mr. Lincoln used his then beardless image on badges to drum up votes, and this idea caught fire on both sides of the border.
We've come a long way in electoral history from when voters were plied with drink on election day, and the fair sex, aboriginals and Chinese immigrants were denied the vote. Around the turn of the previous century, a candidate could call his opponents pretty much what he liked, such as "traitor" or "bantam chicken" (used in the 1908 federal election), without fear of legal recourse; though "pistols at dawn" was one possible outcome.
Over the years, from Mr. Laurier (the chap on the five dollar bill) on, there has been a tremendous outpouring of campaign memorabilia. Most of this material was paper, including postcards and pamphlets bulk mailed to property owners (sound familiar?), posters and cardboard badges, all worn proudly around the polling booths; there were no restrictions in those days.
Pinback buttons continue to be a popular promotional choice. Mr. MacKenzie King (the chap on the $50 bill) issued a great pinback in 1927, with his portrait alongside Mr. MacDonald (the chap on the $10 bill, not the hamburger clown). Here in B.C., our own W.A.C. Bennett had his face on a button during the 1956 campaign.
From a collector's perspective, campaign buttons with pictures on them are more popular (and correspondingly more expensive) than those with just a name. Even more desirable is a button with two or more portraits overlapping (usually the party leader and the local candidate) called a jugate. Remember those large pink buttons with "Kim" on them some years ago? Few people under 30 would recall Ms. Campbell's short primeministership!
I love sorting through shoeboxes of assorted pinback buttons in thrift shops, pulling out slogan classics like "Joe Clark for Sensible Government" and "Kiss Me Pee-Air." In the course of crawling around dusty attics or shifting boxes in basements, I'm delighted when I discover a Diefenbaker campaign pamphlet or a Tommy Douglas bumper sticker. When I found a Louis St. Laurent postcard recently, I asked several 20 year olds who they though he was. Most had no idea, but one suggested a boxer, and another thought he played defense for the Montreal Canadiens. An image forms of long departed politicians sitting outside their celestial condos, brushing cream cheese and cracker crumbs off their (left or right) wings, contemplating how their legacy has been reduced to having the backs of their heads licked on postage stamps.
So much of this material is "point in time"; there's little thought to preserving it. Slogans lose their meaning, and few recall why they should "Vote No" or "Vote Yes," but might still relate to "Free the Whales" or "Free Porridge for Seniors" (Okay, I made that one up, but you get the idea).
Over the years, I've had coffee and donuts in Tommy D's Nanaimo campaign office, eaten finger sandwiches at a Bill Vander Zalm rally in Revelstoke and worked through a light dinner with Preston Manning in Saanichton. You might think I had no principles and was just there for the food. Actually, I had no principles and was just there for the souvenirs! A Tommy D. poster, a signed note from Bill and an autographed menu from Preston now grace my collection.
Is any of this stuff worth anything? It adds up, particularly with older and bigger items. As with many collectibles, local items have a local market and Canada-wide items have a national market. A 1956 Bennett button is worth $10, a 1969 Tommy D. poster runs $40, and some Laurier items run into the hundreds.
Decades from now, I can flex my wings (both left and right), stroll by the celestial political gabfest and say, "Thanks for the neat stuff, guys. Can I get you some cream cheese and crackers?"
Comments and suggestions for future columns are welcome and can be sent to Michael Rice, Box 86, Saanichton, B.C. V8M 2C3, or via e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
SENIOR LIVING VANCOUVER ISLAND - May 2009
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