Our staff build, preserve, and provide access to the Newberry’s collection of 1.6 million books, 600,000 maps, and 500,000 manuscript pages. Many of them also methodically curate their own personal collections ranging from coffee mugs to Kennedy memorabilia.
In this blog series, Newberry staff members share their personal collections and explain how and why they collect what they collect.
NB: In accordance with professional standards for museum and library workers, Newberry staff practice strict “social distancing” from anything related to the Newberry’s collecting interests to avoid any possible perceived conflict of interest.
Collector: Paul Durica, Director of Exhibitions
Collection: Political Campaign Buttons
How and when did you start your collection?
I grew up in Ohio, which produced seven fairly forgettable presidents. Touring their houses as a kid, I became fascinated by the presidency, although the collecting of campaign buttons didn’t really begin in earnest until 2000, the second election in which I could vote.
What interests you about campaign buttons?
The buttons are these perfect bits of material connecting the present to a past moment. Varying in shape, size, and design, worn on the person, they survive as tokens of a past enthusiasm, a moment of undefined potential. I like collecting the buttons of losing candidates as much as the winning ones; they serve as a reminder of a path not taken.
What is the gem of your collection?
While not the oldest, the gems are a 1968 Robert F. Kennedy button and a 2004 Barack Obama for U.S. Senate button. I also have a pretty nifty Adlai Stevenson button that shifts between his portrait and the slogan “All the Way with Adlai.”
Are you actively building your collection?
Yes, in a sense. I continue to pick up buttons during each new campaign season, and friends and family know of my interest and are continuing to gift me things––my oldest button, for Woodrow Wilson, was a gift from a friend.