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Retracing Campaign Trails

October 22, 1992|KATHIE BOZANICH | Kathie Bozanich is a member of The Times Orange County Edition staff. This column appears regularly in OC Live! and

So you're pretty proud of that Clinton campaign button, or is it the Bush bumper sticker you have taped in the rear window? Perhaps it's even the Perot placard you saved from his first run at the presidency all those months ago.

But if you think hoarding Bush, Clinton and Perot memorabilia from the current election will net you some money in the future, Orange resident Stephen Mihaly has a warning.

"It's doubtful we'll see any of these things gain in value in our lifetime," he says. "That's because most of them are nationally produced, and millions have been made. It's kind of like pennies. A penny made in 1964 has the same value as a penny made today because so many of them were made."

Mihaly knows of what he speaks--he's been collecting political memorabilia for more than 25 years and has more than 10,000 buttons and other political items from 18th-, 19th- and 20th-Century U.S. elections.

A portion of Mihaly's private collection is on view at the Rocking Chair Emporium in Orange, a display timed to coincide with the election season. It will remain on view through the second week of November.

The display includes buttons and pins touting Taft, McKinley, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan and Bush, as well as items from the women's suffrage movement and Prohibition era.

Although items in the display are not for sale, Mihaly, 38, has a booth at the store at which he sells duplicates from his collection.

This is only the second time part of Mihaly's private collection, which he says is one of the largest of its kind in the country, has been on display; the first time was during the 1984 Democratic National Convention in San Francisco, when it was displayed at Macy's in Union Square.

Mihaly says that although there is always heightened interest in political collectibles during a presidential campaign, people are particularly intense about this year's contest.

"At this stage, there is often a clear winner, but that isn't true this year," Mihaly says. "There's real theater, real drama in this campaign. . . . People are more involved in it, and they talk about it almost constantly."

According to Mihaly, political buttons from the past 40 years are worth less than $5.

"I won't even buy 'I Like Ike' buttons anymore; they're worth less than $1," Mihaly says. "It's because everyone has one. Now if it read something like, 'L.A. Is for Eisenhower,' that's different. It's a regional item worth a little more, though still in the $5 range."

There are exceptions to the rule, however.

"John Kennedy, his items are (worth a few dollars more) because of nostalgia, how people remember him as a President," Mihaly says. "They look back upon it fondly, with the New Frontier, youth, vigor, all that stuff.

"Another one is Harry Truman. He was unpopular during his time frame, but now he's come back in vogue. It seems everyone's claiming to be like Truman, and that makes his stuff worth more."

Paper items such as bumper stickers and campaign materials are less valuable, "mainly because they were mass-produced and are difficult to display because they're larger than, say, a button. From a collector's standpoint, you don't know what to do with them."

Also of little or no value are reproduced items. While many of the items found at presidential library gift shops fall into this category, there are also authentic campaign materials sold in the shops. The gift shop at the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace in Yorba Linda offers both types.

"You have to really look at this stuff for the words 'reproduced for' on the edges of buttons" and in small type on bumper stickers and posters, Mihaly says.

"The difference in value between an authentic item and a reproduced one is like the difference between a print of a painting by a famous painter and the actual painting."

Mihaly has been collecting political memorabilia, at the encouragement of his father, since he was about 10. He now knows almost intuitively what price to set on a particular item, whether he's buying or selling.

He opened his booth at the Rocking Chair Emporium about two years ago.

"People contact me to purchase their collection, and I may only need half a dozen of what they have, but they'll want me to purchase the whole lot of them," he says. "So anything you see in my booth for sale, it means I already have one in my own collection."

The items for sale range in price from $1 to $300, with an average of between $5 and $25.

"If I were doing this to make a ton of money, I'd have been broke long ago," Mihaly says. "The purpose of my selling is to move the duplicates, and I set a fair price and have a little fun on top of it.

"As long as it stays fun, I'll continue to do it."

* Rocking Chair Emporium, 123 N. Glassell St., Orange. (714) 633-5206. Hours: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

* The Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace, 18001 Yorba Linda Blvd., Yorba Linda. (714) 993-3393. Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

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