Even Super Bowl Sunday could not keep Donald Trump from dominating the discussion at the Political Memorabilia Show at Seward Park High School. The school’s alumni association partnered with the Big Apple Chapter of the American Political Items Collectors to feature buttons and posters that championed political heroes and hacks, pop culture icons and social causes of the past.
Two years into Trump’s presidency and two years since we last visited the show, both pro- and anti-Trump buttons were on sale and there were plenty of axes to grind at those tables. Two of the vendors, Mort Berkowitz of Bold Concepts and Tom Peeling, a Florida memorabilia dealer, happily sold buttons to both sides.
Tom Peeling: I’ve found that it depends on where you are. In New York, anti-Trump stuff sells better. In certain parts of South Florida, Trump stuff sells better. So it depends upon the Democratic or Republican swing of the states where you’re at.
Tom Peeling: Anything with Trump’s hair on it. Some manufacturers even make buttons and then put yellow- or orange-colored fuzz and hair on the outside of the button to represent his hair. So there’s a lot of them where it’s just part of the design.
In fact, some of them just have the shape of his hair on the button instead of putting his face there.
Mort Berkowitz: I have one with Kim Jong-un and it says, “I’m No Longer Craziest Leader!” I have another one; when Trump first came out and announced, he was caught in the wind, so the hair was a bit messed up. It said, “We Shall Overcomb.”
There are many companies that manufacture them. I started by designing Watergate buttons. I design and make them. And sell them. My buttons sit in every museum in the country, including the Smithsonian. I started doing Nixon and Agnew: “Bail to the Chief,” “Richard the Lying Hearted,” “Nixon Has a Staff Infection,” “4 More Years Mr. Nixon … then 10 to 20,” “Impeachment with Honor” and “Nixon’s a Cox Sacker,” when he fired Archibald Cox, and on and on and on.
I did a series of anti-Reagan buttons in 1980. “Ronald Reagan & George Orwell in 1984.” “Will Rogers Never Met Ronald Reagan.” I sold them and even at Democratic conventions, people would say, “How could you be for Reagan?” Having no idea who George Orwell was or who Will Rogers was.
I’ve had probably 35 different candidates for the presidency. Some will run, some won’t run. You don’t know.
People love them. I’m an equal opportunity offender but in this case, it’s just too much. The president provides too much material. Which changes every day, so you have to get something that’s going to be around awhile.
Tom Peeling: They get into political discussions, I don’t. I let them do whatever they want to do. I tell them I sell buttons for both sides so I’m not takin’ sides. Everybody has an opinion but you don’t necessarily have to give it.
Mort Berkowitz: The best button I’ve done, by far, was in 1996 for Hillary Clinton. She was addressing the second night of the convention in Chicago. And I did a button, Hillary Rodman Clinton, with her hair cut off, dyed bright orange, and it said, “As Bad as She Wants to Be.” And the button was by far and away the best seller I’ve ever done.
It was featured in every major newspaper in the United States of America. She spoke about it at the convention. She said I spoke to a group of friends about what I should say tonight. One of my friends said I should cut my hair short, dye it bright orange and change my name to Hillary Rodman Clinton. She wrote about it in her book and the button went ballistic. That was the best button that I’ve done.
Mort Berkowitz: No, I don’t think so. I think there are just so many buttons. In the heat of the campaign, buttons become popular. When you haven’t seen it, you go, “Oh my God, I gotta have that!” After a while, people who are Democrats will not buy a Trump button. Not in five years, not in 20 years. That’s my feeling now. That does not mean that people who are not yet born, who will never experience the Trump period, won’t. They may buy because he was a president. So later on, who knows?
Tom Peeling: Absolutely, you can go all the way back to the 1820s and there are buttons, Henry Clay and others, that are pro- and anti-. So it’s nothing new. In fact, a lot of the campaigns back then were a lot dirtier than anything you’ll see these days.
Mort Berkowitz: They were vicious. They’re vicious now.
The buttons that we see now, with the laminate, that started in 1896. Before that, there were other things: daguerreotypes, posters, broadsheets, ribbons. The most famous one was a cartoon about Grover Cleveland because he had an illegitimate kid. “Ma, Ma, Where’s My Pa? Gone to the White House, Ha Ha Ha.” So it’s been going on since the beginning of time.
There were anti-Jefferson things, anti-Adams. The only one that was pure was George Washington.