Collect Political History. We Share Your Passion.

USAmericana Blog

Collect Political History. We Share Your Passion.

  • Tom Berg Tribute

    The following is the tribute to Tom Berg provided by Pat Lenington in our catalog for Auction #26 featuring part 1/2 of the Tom Berg collection.

    These are the memories of my best friend, Tom Berg, who we lost on July 4th, 2014. He would miss his greatest achievement in his collecting career, the production of the magnificent 2014 A.P.I.C. Denver National Convention.
    Tom was the consummate political collector who specialized in William Jennings Bryan items, coattails, Colorado locals and advertising, as well as John W. Davis items, and early ferrotypes. He was an excellent Harvard-educated conservation attorney who  saved a number of Colorado Springs mountainsides from land developers. He was also a dedicated distance runner who was a manager of Colorado Springs and Pikes Peak road races.
    My first recollection of meeting Tom was at the 1987 Louisville A.P.I.C. National Convention where he demonstrated great personal sacrifice in assisting stroke victim and fellow Colorado collector Mac McGraw during the show.
    Later Tom and I attended the first Reno Regional Show. We would eventually have a great time, but we arrived late in the evening and were assigned a room in the back of the hotel with only a double bed.  Tom was ready for a different room after a night of sharing a bed with me and my snoring.
    In 1996 I took my high school track and field team to Colorado Springs for a meet in what was supposed to be balmy weather. Tom braved the miserable 39 degree weather with biting snow during the lunch break to show me some new Colorado political items he had just purchased. He didn't permit bad weather to slow his interest in collecting political items.
    We attended many political button shows together and he always insisted in his morning run before anyone else was awake. At many of the shows he and I would room hop while Cathy sold our pinbacks much better than we could.
    He adopted the vegan lifestyle which had its complications in finding vegan food on the road. Tom and his lovely wife Cathy visited my lovely wife Karen and I  in Norman on their travels to the West Palm Beach Show to publicize the Denver National.  Karen and I took Cathy and Tom to a newly opened vegan restaurant in Oklahoma City. Tom had a wonderful time but Cathy was not impressed because she was not a vegan. The next year 2014 he would set an A.P.I.C. record for the consumption of kale at a West Palm Beach restaurant.
    Tom was a great friend to many people in a number of avocations from political items collectors to Colorado Springs distance runners, and conservation attorneys.  He had a tremendous outgoing personality that few acquaintances could resist. His attention to detail contributed greatly to the success of the Denver National Convention along with the work of Martha and Ron Puechner. His Memorial at the Denver National Convention demonstrated that he will be sorely missed.


    - Pat Lenington

  • ...our long national nightmare is over...

    Those words were spoken by newly inaugurated President Gerald Ford on August 9th, 1974, forty years ago this week.


    The "long national nightmare" Ford was referring to was a series of incredible and unprecedented events that took place in the harsh light of the American media for the better part of the preceding two years, starting with the strange case of five men who were caught breaking into the Democratic party headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C. on June 17, 1972, a story that was picked up by the Washington Post and ultimately led to the conviction of 48 officials, culminating in the resignation of President Richard Nixon on August 9th, 1974.

    The "nightmare" also included the resignation of then-Vice President Spiro Agnew on October 10, 1973 for tax evasion charges related to bribery allegations stemming from his tenure as Governor of Maryland.

    Over the course of the two years from the break in at the Watergate to the swearing in of Gerald Ford, the public was held rapt by the seemingly endless succession of revelations, resignations, and salacious details of the goings on in the Oval Office.  That public interest led to a veritable industry of Watergate-related souvenirs, including items both disparaging and supporting the embattled President Nixon.

    This week's new listings features items from this era, one of the most tumultuous and divisive in our recent political history.

  • 2014 APIC National Convention - Denver, Colorado

    The 2014 APIC National Convention in Denver was an absolute blast in every respect.  While we're a bit tired from sleep deprivation, we are also energized from the electricity that you could feel throughout our week in Denver with our APIC family.


    The American Political Items Collectors National Conventions are a time to reconnect with our fellow collectors and remind ourselves why this is truly the best hobby in America.  After two years of wandering the wilderness of antique malls and flea markets, we reconvene with our peers and colleagues who share our passion, to tell tales and share trophies of the hunt.

    The room hopping was active, and the energy generated continued on into the bourse, which was held in an expansive room with (EUREKA!) dedicated lamps for each dealer table.  Walk-ins included some great surprises, including previously unknown Stevenson pins and a McKinley Imperialism piece that rarely surfaces.  Little details like those aforementioned lamps, the well thought out bourse schedule and the lively seminars added up to an event to look back on fondly, and what we can only refer to as the best run APIC Convention we can remember.

    The entire Convention was a fitting tribute to the late Convention chairman Tom Berg, who we all lost too soon.  Our heartfelt thanks to Ron and Martha Puechner and the scores of volunteers who pulled together to honor Tom with a Convention that he would truly have been proud of.  Thanks also to Scott Mussell and the video production team at for the touching tribute that was produced honoring Tom.

    Congratulations to incoming APIC President Ron Puechner, and a big thank you to outgoing President Chris Hearn for his years of hard work and dedication.

    We're already looking forward to 2016.

  • The New Deal's alphabet soup: FDR and the CCC, WPA, and NRA

    Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected on a promise of action to meet the challenges of the Great Depression head on.  Following his inauguration in 1933, he proceeded to make good on that promise.

    Today's New Listings features items promoting a series of domestic programs enacted by executive order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt; the Works Progress Administration (WPA), the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), and the National Recovery Administration (NRA).  These programs, in addition to a host of others, came to be known as FDR's "New Deal" with the American people.

    Civilian Conservation Corps brass badges. Civilian Conservation Corps brass badges.

    The Civilian Conservation Corps was a domestic work relief program that operated from 1933 to 1942.  Unemployed, unmarried men were put to work in conservation and natural resource development efforts on federal, state and local lands.  That the program provided much-needed work to the scores of unemployed young men during the dark days of the Depression while implementing these conservation efforts made it one of the most universally supported of New Deal programs.  Over the nine year lifespan of the program, 3 million participated and were provided with food, clothing, shelter, and a small wage of $30 a month, $25 dollars of which was required to be sent back to their families.

    The iconic N.R.A. eagle logo and "We Do Our Part" slogan. The iconic N.R.A. eagle logo and "We Do Our Part" slogan.

    The National Recovery Administration was the central New Deal agency, established by FDR in 1933.  The goal of the NRA was to bring industry, labor and government together to create codes and "fair-practices" such as minimum wages, maximum work shift hours, and minimum prices at which goods were to be sold.  Although popular with workers, the NRA law was declared unconstitutional in a unanimous decision by the US Supreme court in 1935, although many of its provisions were reestablished in the Wagner Act passed later that same year.  The lasting legacy of the NRA would prove to be a surge in the power of the labor unions which would become the core of the New Deal Coalition, who's influence on the shape of US politics would be felt for decades to come.

    A lighthearted look at a "lost" WPA worker A lighthearted look at a "lost" WPA worker

    The Works Progress Administration was a large and ambitious public works agency that put millions of unemployed people to work on projects large and small, including parks, roads, bridges, and public buildings.  The infrastructure built by the WPA still leaves an imprint on nearly every community in America, where it's not uncommon to find a "Built by the WPA" plaque or stamp on a sidewalk or train bridge.

    We hope you enjoy today's New Listings.

  • Political Parade Paraphernalia

    This week's New Listings features an array of items related to political campaign parades, in particular the raucous spectacle of the torchlight parade.  As is often the case with our hobby, the items that remain from these events provide a tangible reminder of a time, place and setting that we are far removed from.  One of the interesting things about history is that it was at one point merely the present, a fleeting moment in time inhabited by individuals seeing it unfold before them.  Those few relics that survive the passage of time are a window into a "present" that has long since passed.

    Parades in American communities probably began organically as outgrowths of local celebrations of the nation's birth and celebrating the veterans of our American Revolution.  The earliest political parades, according to Edmund Sullivan in his book Collecting Political Americana, were simple affairs, where a candidate would escorted into town by the volunteer fire brigade and deliver speeches from the steps of City Hall, outside (and sometimes inside) the local tavern, or from the pulpit of the local church.


    The first major step in the evolution from these simple affairs to the later grand celebrations of the torchlight parade phenomenon that would dominate the political campaign landscape through its peak in the 1888 campaign where Grover Cleveland bested Benjamin Harrison, occurred due to a visit by then-candidate Abraham Lincoln to Hartford, Connecticut in March of 1860.  A group of enthusiastic young-men self-organized themselves into a company they called the "Republican Wide-Awakes of Hartford."  Adding kepis and capes to their ordinary business suits, they welcomed the candidate with a resplendent torchlight parade.  The capes the marchers wore served a dual purpose, adorned with the candidate or marching group's name while catching the coal oil drippings that the crude torches would drop.   By the time of Lincoln's victory in November, there were hundreds of Wide-Awakes groups throughout the eastern and midwestern states.  Lincoln would later credit the Wide-Awakes with playing no small part in helping him secure the nomination and subsequent victory.

    "Grand Procession of Wide-Awakes" "Grand Procession of Wide-Awakes"

    The torchlight parades of 1860 come to life in this description from Harper's Weekly, published in October 13 of that year.

    Thousands of torches flashing in high, narrow streets, crowded with eager people, and upon house fronts in which every window swarms with human faces; with the mingling music of scores of military bands, and the rippling, running, sweeping, and surging sound of huzzas from tens of thousands... with the waving banners and moving transparencies of endless device; and through all... the splendor of exploding fireworks, of every color - these combined, at night, are an imposing spectacle; and these everyone in the city saw at the Wide-Awake festival on Wednesday night.

    Seen through this lens, it's not hard to see why such rousing entertainments as the nighttime torchlight campaign parade caught on like... well... wild fire.

    campaign blog

    Throughout the heyday of the political campaign parade that started in 1860 and climaxed in 1888, many entrepreneurs and manufacturers sprang up to fill the needs of the enthusiastic masses, offering a variety of parading products while introducing many celebration innovations along the way.

    According to Sullivan, torches can be divided into two major categories:  the simple canister torch, and the platform torch.  A platform torch consists of larger fuel reservoirs with multiple burners, intended to light a speaker platform as opposed to the canister torches which were intended to be carried.

    Canister torches themselves come in seemingly endless varieties of construction, invention, size and shape.  The earliest torches were surely homemade affairs fashioned of tin pails (filled with coal oil in the early days and later kerosene) with a bit of metal pipe soldered to the top to support a cotton wick and affixed to a wooden pole.  The earliest manufactured torches were of simple construction, the first major innovation being attaching the torch head to the pole by means of a swivel support arm to keep the burner upright while performing marching maneuvers.  Numerous patents were applied for differing methods of solving the problem of keeping the burners upright as inventive suppliers came up with elaborate gyroscopic means produced in a variety of configurations.  Patents were filed for many figural torch configurations, including star shapes, a pine cone torch for the 1884 Blaine campaign celebrating his home state of Maine, and even one in the shape of a beaver top hat for the 1888 Benjamin Harrison campaign.  A particularly desirable variety is the red, white and blue painted globe ballot box torch of 1880, which is made of a glass fuel reservoir between two tin plates at top and bottom, the plates in turn connected by turned tin posts.  Another variety of torch is the "rifle torch," which substitutes the simple carrying pole for a wooden rifle.  The rifle torch was a perfect match to the military style garb and presentation or maneuvers, or arms, of the well-organized campaign parade troupes.

    Other than torches, there is a variety of parading accoutrement available.  The uniforms and accessories make for bold display pieces for a political collection.  Hats, kepis and helmets, some even with torches affixed are notable.  Capes can bring a premium depending on decoration, vintage and of course condition.  Canes and swords were a common accessory of the well-dressed campaign parader.  And as proof of the impossible to ignore significance of the torchlight parades of the day, some of these canes are even equipped with a screw off that reveals a wick and burner top so as to double as torches as well.

    Other relics of the torchlight parade include paper lanterns, transparencies consisting of metal or wood frames supporting images on glass intended to be illuminated by a candle or torch inside the frame, street banners and signs, and the ephemera of the campaign suppliers themselves.

    If you'd like to learn more about the history of campaign parades and torches, I'd highly recommend Herbert R. Collins' Political Campaign Torches, a remarkable reference resource.

    Enjoy our offerings of campaign parade materials.

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