Avid collector cherishes memorabilia of politics
By Rick Abrams
Source: The Dallas Morning News
November 10, 1983
FORT WORTH - Dr. Robert M. Platt entered his three room guest house where the walls are covered with thousands of political campaign items ranging from "I like Ike" brand cigarettes to 1824 political campaign medals for Andrew Jackson.
"What is all this worth?" Platt said. "I don't know. Probably not much. I mean , how much could a collection of Wendell Willkie campaign buttons be worth, anyway"
Platt, 55, professor of sociology at the South Campus of Tarrant County Junior College in Fort Worth, reacts to compliments on his collection with good humor and considerable modesty. "Some people play golf," says Platt. 'This is what I do! "
The public will have a chance to view Platt's agglomeration Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. when a convention of political memorabilia collectors will display their wares at the Rodeway Inn in Arlington, 833 N. Watson Road. Admission is free.
There are more than 3,000 collectors of political memorabilia nationwide, says Platt. Several collectors will arrive Friday night to swap buttons and yarns. The public will be able to buy items selling for under a dollar right up to rare collectors items.
"My collection," says Platt, "is hardly anything compared to some of these guys' "
But give the professor his due. Some guests have remarked that the only item missing from Platt's collection is a brass band playing Hail to the Chief.
Platt has been collecting politicalmemorabilia since 1936, whenhis grandfather gave him an "AlfLandon for president" button. (Landon ran against Franklin D. Roosevelt.) "But the interest incollecting was latent until about 10 years ago when my four kids weregrown," said Platt.
"Then I really started to get into it."
Today, the shelves inside Platt's guest house are packed with antique clocks bearing bronze likenesses of former presidents.There are tickets for campaign appearances by Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant. Sandwiched between bumper stickers and license plates endorsing William Howard Taft is a revolving display case containing - among other items - a souvenir biscuit made of plaster of Paris.
"That's from Pappy O'Daniel's campaign," said Platt. "O'Daniel was a country singer who announced on the radio one day 'anybody who would like to endorse me for governor of Texas, write in. "Well," said Platt. "the letters poured in."
O'Daniel, whose slogan was "pass the biscuits, Pappy," was elected in 1938, the professor said.
"A friend thought I'd be interested, and sent me the biscuit." Platt said.
Most of Platt's treasures have been found at flea markets and antique shops. "There's been times I've been pretty lucky – but there's been other times when I've kicked myself."
"There was a Winfield Scott Hancock (he ran for president in 1880 against James A. Garfield) item - it was a metal frame in the form of an eagle with a photograph of the vice presidential candidate, William English."
"It was at Canton about four or five years ago. I think I could have bought it for $100 or less. Now it's somewhere around $500."
"I thought it was too much money to pay. You know, the time to buy something is when you see it. You don't ever see it again if you don't."
Platt's most prized item – an 1824 silver-dollar-sized token with Andrew Jackson's picture on it - was bought "far fifty cents at an antique and junk shop in Pennsylvania." he said. "In excellent shape, a token like this is worth about $350," he said.
"But then again," said Platt, "it depends on who you're buying it from. A 1920 button with James M. Cox running for president and Franklin Roosevelt running as his Vice president recently sold for $30,000 at an auction."
Roosevelt items are also a favorite of the professor's – as are anti-Roosevelt items put out by Wendell Willkie. One wall of the professor's guest house is devoted to a collection of Willkie buttons with slogans including: "No more fireside chats," and "Third Term, taboo - 23Skiddoo."
"There are a great many oddball stories revolving around these items - and that's one of the more fascinating aspects of collecting," Platt said.
"For instance, buttons from 1924 are exceedingly rare. John W. Davis was the Democratic candidate. He was a businessman from West Virginia and practically nobody ever heard of him. He was running against (Calvin) Coolidge, and he was sort of offered up as a sacrificial lamb – or the George McGovern of his day."
Campaign items in demand date back to the original George - Washington - "and include every election since," Platt said. Before the invention of plastic, campaign items were made of metal or paper."
"With the advent of celluloid near the close of the last century, a method was afforded to create beautifully graphic buttons with pictures of candidates, slogans and themes," Platt explained.
"The 1896 election had thousands of varieties. In fact, so many were produced, it's still possible to buy some common William McKinley and William Jennings Bryan buttons for under $5."
How about current items?
"Well." said Platt, "I'll probably pick up a piece or two from the upcoming Republican convention in Dallas. But I don't collect too much of the new stuff. With candidates spending so much money for advertising on television, they don't spend as much for quality buttons.
"Campaign items of today are really, uh, kind of junk," said Platt, standing amid a collection of antique walking sticks with metal presidential figureheads atop. "I guess they just don't make 'em like they used to," he said.