On an early fall evening in 1960, my father brought me a sack of Kennedy-Johnson buttons. I took them with a smile and was glad to get them for two reasons. First, I collected coins, baseball cards, rocks, comic books, and felt pennants so I needed something else to collect. Second, and much more important, I was only one of two Kennedy-Johnson supporters in my sixth-grade class, and I was tired of seeing the numerous little red buttons with "Nixon" printed inside an outline of Texas.
I did not let partisanship, however, keep me from collecting Republican buttons, and soon I had as many Nixon-Lodge buttons as Kennedy-Johnson. This was the beginning of my political memorabilia collection, and as time passed the baseball cards, rocks, comic books, coins, and pennants fell to the wayside, while the political collection grew.
As I grew older, I became more and more interested in politics, and that interest included collecting all sorts of memorabilia from all sorts of elections. From presidential buttons, I expanded into city, county, and state buttons, bumper stickers, and posters. I also collected political bullet pencils, thimbles, peanuts, cigarettes, chewing gum, and key rings. Eventually, as any collector will tell you, it became necessary to specialize. In political memorabilia, collectors can specialize in presidential or local items. They can narrow the focus to particular candidates; concentrate on specific types of issues; or collect items from particular states and their congressional, legislative, or city and county campaigns.
While I still collect memorabilia from all presidential races, I have narrowed the rest of my collecting to Texas politics. As you'll see in this book, the often colorful, sometimes controversial, and always entertaining leaders of our state have provided a wide array of campaign artifacts. Some are truly Texan, such as the Lyndon Johnson ashtray in the shape of a Stetson and the Ann Richards plastic cowboy boot with her name on it. Ralph Yarborough used yellow rose pins embossed with his initials, and Dolph Briscoe's campaign produced cattle ear-tags exhorting "Briscoe for Governor." W. Lee "Pappy" O'Daniel, a flour magnate, used miniature flour barrels. John Connally printed stickers saying "Elect Connally Governor" in the school colors from the old Southwest conference. Wisely, he omitted the University of Arkansas. As late as 2004, Rick Perry had lapel pins imprinted with his initials to look like a cattle brand.
Where did American political materials, this popular art of democracy, originate? From the earliest days of the nation, political trinkets such as clothing buttons, snuff boxes, straight razors, pottery, and ribbons were used during each campaign cycle. Inaugural clothing buttons were produced for George Washington. Campaign medals, often the size of a quarter, could be drilled or "holed," attached to a string, and worn on a man's lapel. With the expansion of photography in the mid-nineteenth century, ferrotype (an early type of photography) buttons were used. These were followed by cheaper, round, pin-backed buttons or shirt studs that had small photographs of candidates glued onto them. In the 1860 presidential race, this type of "button" was produced for Lincoln, Douglas, Bell, and Breckinridge, the major candidates of that pivotal election.
As the century progressed, political ribbons with pictures attached, large banners, song sheets, campaigns lanterns, campaign hats, and uniforms appeared—and sometimes quickly fell into disuse. However, the ubiquitous lapel device was always around, and in 1896 the modern campaign button burst upon the scene with a vast array of styles, colors, shapes, and designs. This new button was a celluloid-covered picture or slogan with a pin attached to the back. Celluloid, an early plastic-like substance, allowed button manufacturers to mass produce a cheap, colorful, and durable piece of advertising. National companies such as Whitehead and Hogue, Bastien Brothers, and St. Louis Button Company sold buttons all over the country. Local Texas enterprises such as the Fred Lake Company and Weaver Badge Co., both from Dallas, filled the local need for such advertising. Before radio and television, campaigns often used posters, broadsides, and friendly newspapers to get out the message. Prior to the passage of the 19th Amendment, "Vote for Women" celluloid buttons were quite popular. With the advent of the celluloid button, "sound bites" could be worn on every man or woman's coat lapel.
Spring-loaded mechanical buttons appeared about the same time as celluloid and in the 1920s, tin lithograph lapel buttons began to appear. In the 1950s and 60s, the Vari-Vue company made buttons that showed different pictures depending on the angle from which the button was viewed. Plastic buttons and battery-operated buttons equipped with flashing lights and digitized campaign slogans and songs brought buttons into the high-tech age of the twenty-first century.
In Texas, buttons and other memorabilia have not always been abundant. Most Texas buttons from races prior to 1940 are rare—often so scarce that only one or two examples are known. Pre-twentieth-century items are almost nonexistent. A number of factors can explain this scarcity. First, Texas was a big, rural state. Its population was scattered among small towns, ranches, and farms, and it was simply hard for campaigners to get to the population. Second, after reconstruction Texas was a one-party state. To paraphrase former Lt. Governor Ben Ramsey, you would need hunting dogs to find a Republican in East Texas. And those dogs would certainly be yellow. Once the Democratic primaries were over, there was little use for political memorabilia of any kind. Finally, hard-working rural families might have had time to read a week-old newspaper or attend a Saturday afternoon stump-speech at the courthouse. What remaining leisure time they had was spent at church or the local lodge, and there is almost as much church and lodge memorabilia from that early time as there is political.
With the advent of radio and television, broadcast political ads became the new "buttons." All the advertising revenue went and still goes to the media that reach the largest population. So while buttons and bumper stickers are still available at campaign offices, they are usually for sale. Often a button jobber will make the buttons, sell them at events or headquarters, and sometimes split the money with the campaign.
In a way, buttons have come full circle since the 1896 glory days. Like the vendors at the turn of the twentieth century who walked downtown streets with placards full of celluloid masterpieces, vendors now use the internet to sell a plethora of colorful, amusing, and well-designed buttons. Instead of searching out campaign offices, supporters can turn to candidate websites or auctions and order buttons through the worldwide web. Collectors no longer have to paw through junk bins at antique stores and flea markets digging for lost treasure. Like the day my father brought home my sack of treasures, a find on the internet auction sites can bring a smile to the most experienced collector.
Are Texas items different from other states? In general, no. However, Texas candidates are more likely to have an outline of the state, a Texas State Flag or "Texans Want ______ for Governor." It is a subtle difference from other states, but one that carries forth the Texas mystique.
The politicians listed in the book are often more colorful than their memorabilia. They run the gamut from presidents to state senators, from founding fathers to the new boys on the block. Names like Austin, Houston, LBJ, Connally, Maverick, Jordan, Gonzales, Bush, and Bullock are not likely to be soon forgotten. The authors hope the memorabilia in this book guarantees that names like Wilson, O'Daniel, Jester, Garner, Wright, and all the others will stay in the memories of Texans for years to come.
Something should be said in explanation of how we picked the Texans mentioned in this book. Being an elected official was not enough. In fact, some of our candidates never ran for office in Texas. Davey Crockett, though a Tennessee congressman, is a simply larger-than-life character.
Governors, senators, house Speakers, lieutenant governors, and other politicians made the list because of leadership, quotability, personality, or political importance, and some have that intangible quality that says they could be from no place else but the Lone Star State.