Collecting the election: newspapers, Chia Pets, or just old school campaign buttons

Romney and Obama Chia Pets for sale at K-Mart on Astor Place, Manhattan.

With the Presidential Election now over, withdrawn pundits are left to speculate who will run in 2016, while political memorabilia collectors search for souvenirs from winners and losers alike.

“There’s a certain tangible quality to having a token of a campaign” said Adam Gottlieb, president of the Northern California chapter of the American Political Items Collectors (APIC). “It’s holding history in your hands.”

The Obama For America store, which advertised a 30 percent sale via email on October 27, now has reduced-price “I Love Bo” (the Obama family’s dog) sweatshirts and “My Two Dads Support Obama” baby onesies. Items like a mug and t-shirt featuring Obama’s long-form birth certificate sold out before Election Day.

Over at, shoppers can find “I’m a Mom For Mitt” decals, GOP polo shirts and toddler-sized Romney tees. Early this week, Bloomberg Businessweek reported that Romney t-shirts hadn’t sold well throughout the campaign and most likely would be recycled or “sold for cheap overseas.”

And then there is the political button — a campaign staple that dates back to George Washington’s inauguration. “The humble political button is as American as baseball, skyscrapers and jazz,” said Gottlieb.

According to Matthew Raffety, an associate professor of history at the University of Redlands, photo buttons showed up around 1860. Even Abraham Lincoln had one. While supporters may have nabbed all the Obama 2012 spatulas and martini glasses, buttons emblazoned with “Juntos con Romney,” “Nurses for Obama,” and the candidates’ family portraits are still available.

Though production of political souvenirs grew quickly as America industrialized, Obama’s first victory marked a turning point.

“There were a ton of Obama t-shirts before the 2008 election, but there was also an incredible explosion of merchandise bearing his image afterward,” said Raffety. “Post-election memorabilia is a recent development.”

For Kevin Selhi, co-founder of Griot Apparel, introducing an Obama t-shirt shortly before the election was a way to push dialogue, not souvenirs. The company’s print shows the president with his gaze cast downward, which drew lots of comments and questions.

“Some people saw it as a zombie, and other people saw it as a sort of solemnity,” said Selhi. “We took a bit of a different approach here [because] we make designs of historically interesting figures.”

Though it is not their best-selling shirt, Selhi said it’s given the company a boost since it joined the collection.

New Yorkers inclined toward kitsch can pick-up Romney and Obama Chia Pets at the Astor Place or 34th Street K-Mart. (A tip: downtown shoppers will find a well-stocked display, while the latter location only had 9 Obamas and 12 Romneys as of 5 p.m. Thursday.)

Uptown, the New York Amsterdam News is selling 2012 Obama Election commemorative editions. The newspaper sold over 100,000 commemorative election issues in 2008, according to Amity Paye, the paper’s web editor and manager. At press, they had already sold thousands of commemorative 2012 papers, which went on sale Tuesday morning.

Laura Jay, an urban planner who happens to live with this reporter, is still waiting on her mementos. The Joe Biden pack–complete with beer cozy and “Cup o’ Joe” mug — she ordered from Obama for America in early September has yet to arrive.

“I almost changed my vote,” she said with a laugh.

Photo courtesy of Adam Gottlieb.