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Thanks for the memorabilia! Reno to host return of political collectibles convention next month

Covid threw a wrench into a lot of national convention schedules. So it may be with a sigh of relief for political memorabilia lovers that this year American Political Items National Convention (APIC) returns to its normal two-year cycle. From July 17-23, an estimated 500 political history and memorabilia fans are expected to convene in Reno, Nevada, at the Atlantis Casino Resort Spa. The event kicks off with members-only events during the week and free public events on July 22 and 23.

Almost every type of political item will be at the convention, especially the most common collectibles like campaign buttons, pins, medals, ribbons and posters.

Attendees can receive an appraisal for their political items, auction their political items, and shop more than 100 tables of political memorabilia in the sales room. A dozen special exhibits will also feature displays spotlighting a range of U.S. history. This includes an exhibit on Teddy Roosevelt’s 1903 western tour presented from the personal collection of convention co-chair Adam Gottlieb of Davis, Calif.

A marketing and outreach specialist with the California Energy Commission, Gottlieb’s lifelong fascination with Roosevelt began early. At the age of 10, he visited the 26th president’s summer home in Oyster Bay, New York, and he was hooked.

“The rocket took off, no stopping. You lit the fuse. It’s gone,” Gottlieb said.

His admiration is reflected in the size of his Roosevelt collection. This includes photographs, buttons, ribbons and medals, as well as rarer items like an original version of the “teddy bear” which was named after Roosevelt.

“Teddy Roosevelt must have lived six lifetimes,” the 58-year-old Gottlieb said. “He was a big game hunter. He was a conservationist. He was a Rough Rider. He was the governor of New York. He was the police commissioner of New York City. He was the vice president. He was, of course, the president, and then after the presidency, he was the most prolific writer that we’ve had in the Oval Office. He’s penned 26 books to his name. And on top of that, he was a father.”

Roosevelt’s 1903 tour, while not marketed as a campaign tour, was in service of his reelection in the 1904 election. Over the course of nine weeks, Roosevelt visited 25 states in the west and Midwest, giving more than 200 speeches.

While in California, Roosevelt spent three days in Yosemite with naturalist John Muir. The pair had extensive conversations about conservation during their expedition, which inspired the Antiquities Act of 1906. The act gave the president the ability to establish monuments on federal land, a major step in conservation efforts. Other stops during Roosevelt’s California swing included Los Angeles, Sacramento, Santa Cruz and San Francisco. Gottlieb’s exhibit features a light blue ribbon dedicated to Roosevelt during his visit to California’s capitol in May 1903. The ribbon reads “California legislative committee to receive President Roosevelt.”

“He loved the Golden State. He loved California. He loved its agriculture. He loved its water and its people,” Gottlieb said.

California’s history will be on ample display at the APIC convention. Sacramento’s proximity to the convention as well as the size of the state guarantees that many California-based collectors will be able to attend. This includes special exhibits titled “California Dreaming: Politics in the Golden State” and “Colorful California Pinbacks,” in honor of the popular, pinnable political buttons.

“Because California is such a prominent player in national politics, both culturally and historically, there’ll be a good amount of California representation of campaigns from the golden state,” Gottlieb said.

While Gottlieb specializes in all things Roosevelt, every collector has different interests and reasons for their participation in the hobby. For instance, Cary Jung is the APIC president and specializes in California memorabilia. The Sacramento resident began his California collection in 1964, and Jung will exhibit items related to the presidential visits to California from Franklin Delano Roosevelt to Barack Obama.

Jung said it is fascinating to see the different types of eras and types of collectibles that interest different collectors. For example, he said many people collect materials related to specific movements such as the antiwar movement, LGBTQ+ movement or abortion rights movement.

“Not only do they collect [memorabilia related to] candidates, but they also collect [for special] issues that they’re interested in,” he said.

Sometimes memorabilia is hunted for at flea markets, garage sales and antique stores. Other times their discovery is purely accidental.

While the pandemic canceled the APIC convention in 2020, Gottlieb said this caused many people to head into their attics for the first time in a long time. This triggered a bit of a mini-renaissance for political memorabilia as many rediscovered political family heirlooms and even priceless artifacts.

Gottlieb also attributes the recent resurgence in political memorabilia collecting to the popularity of television shows such as Antiques Roadshow, American Pickers and Pawn Stars. These programs have made collecting more desirable and accessible than ever.

He recalls one woman who came to a previous convention hoping to pay her rent by selling a box full of historic pieces. After failing to sell her box to a man outside in the parking lot, she had her collection appraised inside and left with more than $14,000.

In another more recent incident, a button from the 1920 election endorsing Democrat James Cox for president with his running mate Franklin D. Roosevelt sold for $180,000 at the Hake’s auction. Warren G. Harding ultimately won the election by a landslide, but it’s the obscurity of the Cox-Roosevelt ticket and FDR’s future notoriety that made the button so valuable.

Gottlieb noted collecting political memorabilia need not be an expensive hobby. Political buttons provide an inexpensive entry point for new collectors, and he expects more than 100,000 to be displayed or for sale at the convention. Children and students can get a bag of buttons for free, while a limited edition buttons could sell for more than $1,000.

Whether an inexpensive or rare item, Gottlieb always returns to the fun history that any political collectible can help unlock.

“The entire history of the United States can be told through pins,” Gottlieb said.

Justin Ha is SactoPolitico’s reporting and editing intern. A high school senior this fall, he is also news editor of his high school newspaper.

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