Question: You've frequently written about political collectibles. I have an extensive campaign-button collection that dates back to before the turn of the century. How far back do such buttons go?--G.S.
Answer: Buttons and souvenirs of the American presidency go back to 1800, according to collectors. However, they say buttons and related items did not appear to have surfaced in any quantities until the William Henry Harrison campaign of 1840. (Harrison, a Whig, trounced Martin Van Buren, a Democrat, collecting almost 80% of the vote.)
Collectors go not only for buttons but also for other items generated by presidential campaigns, such as ribbons, license plates, watch fobs, pins and posters.
Recent presidential campaigns have produced a great supply of such items, and their value has generally remained relatively low. The law of supply and demand takes over on older presidential collectibles, however, and their value has accelerated.
Still, the collector on a budget can acquire a lot of presidential campaign material at prices that shouldn't put dents in one's pocketbook.
Collecting hint: Try to acquire presidential collectibles issued during the actual campaigns and not afterward. This is the material that veteran collectors look--and pay--for.
Q: Is it true that color cels from the 1937 Disney film "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" are selling in the low four-figure range? I bought a couple a few years ago instead of investing in the stock market.--F.P.
A: A good investment. Vintage cels have appreciated steadily over the years. Recent dealer prices have placed cels from that favorite Disney film in the $1,000-to-$2,000 range, depending on condition.
Several letters recently have inquired into cleaning collectibles--wood, ivory, bronze, stone or whatever. If there's anything veteran collectors agree on, it's one rule of thumb about cleaning and restoring older collectibles: Do not scrub them to a point where the finish is damaged.
An object's outer finish can be stripped off with any one of a number of household preparations now on the market, and this translates into a loss of value. Likewise, steel wool can also damage a surface. Special soaps, when applied with soft cloths, can often do the job without a lot of potentially damaging rubbing.
In the case of valuable collectibles, consult a professional before taking a chance. When in doubt, you're better off leaving a "weathered" texture alone.
Sam and Ellen MacKenna of Venice dropped a note to say their business, Brighter Image (402 7th Ave., Venice, (213) 399-1159), might interest serious photo collectors. The business's bottom line, wrote Ellen MacKenna, "is the conservation and restoration of black-and-white photographs. . . . Sam (a 1978 graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute) takes a deep personal interest in preserving images and continues to research and develop methods to save images.
"We recognize that for serious collectors, as well as for those in the art world, there is ongoing controversy regarding the value of the original as art versus the personal enjoyment of an enhanced copy. Therefore, we endeavor wherever possible to offer solutions in both areas."
Ronald L. Soble cannot answer mail personally but will respond in this column to questions of general interest about collectibles. Do not telephone. Write to Your Collectibles, You section, The Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053.