With the Tim Anthony Jackson Collection being the largest Special Collection of items here in the Archives, as a consequence it is not completely cataloged and readily available for online records. But it’s no wonder since the years span from the Cleveland years to today. As an intern this semester, it has been my duty to identify, preserve, and make notes for all of the items that I come across. Lately I have been working on the McKinley elections from 1896 and 1900, and not only do I have to describe each piece of memorabilia, but I have to accurately identify what each item formally is. There was a small time when lapel buttons threw me for a loop, I forgot the official name for stereographs, and the time I nearly spent an hour in research to find that a Forbes lithograph supplement for The Boston Globe was actually an unfolded paper sailor hat (who knew?). I never cease to be amazed by all of the random ways McKinley was advertised in the political sphere by all of the artifacts that are pulled out.
Typically with campaign buttons, the longest entries are in the notes and preservation suggestions, not only because condition varies from one button to the next, but because there are several buttons that use the same picture of McKinley but differ in only one element such as background or slogan usage. You can’t just say “a button that says McKinley” because that could mean any of twenty that exist. No, you have to say the color, if the lettering is in color, if there’s an American flag design (there’s a lot of those too), or if there is a piece of paper on the inside describing who made that button. So there is actually a lot of detail-oriented information that is necessary in order to distinguish one item from another, especially if they are the same format, like buttons or stereographs.
It was around the years 1894 and 1896 that political campaign buttons became really popular and mass produced by prominent companies such as The Whitehead & Hoag Company in Newark, New Jersey. These buttons vary from size to shape and look on the button face. Cataloging buttons are a little funny because it may also constitute a badge, medallion, or lapel decoration, so you really have to determine what it is. Pin backs are usually the most common button, and I’ve been fortunate to find that most of these buttons still have their original patent dates on the inside paper on the back of the button. My favorite button from this campaign would have to be the McKinley gold bug with its wings outstretched. While the Gold Bug is fun to look at, you really don’t get a sense of its real worth unless you handle it in person. I thought it was a fixed, non-moving button, but boy was I wrong! There is a certain level of finesse and craftsmanship that went into this little guy. In each of the wings are tiny portraits of McKinley and his running mate Hobart, but you also see little notches cut out of the actual tip of the wing. Apparently, the wings can fold into the actual body of the insect and theses notches are what keep them in place until a tiny lever on the underside releases them into the flying position. Now mind, this entire pin back button is 1.2 inches, so the inner mechanisms are very small!
Perhaps the most intriguing item (albeit horrifying in this writer’s opinion) are the McKinley soap dolls. There are two of them in their little decorated white boxes saying “My Papa Will Vote for McKinley”. The first time I ever opened one of those boxes I was disgusted but utterly fascinated. Not only is it androgynous, but the smile on their faces were so carefully carved with the head looking slightly to their left. I didn’t really want to touch them but nevertheless had to in order to get their dimensions. I also had to double check to verify that they were soap since one of them looked more like beeswax to me, but my suspicions were wrong and soap they were. These soap dolls are over 100 years old, I’m still a little shocked at how they’ve held up. Although the feet on one of them has broken off a little, and the necks look a little suspicious to me.
Then there are the items that are the most fun to identify, because you seriously have to dig. But this makes it really fun because it’s like you play detective. The best example for this was the Forbes Lithograph paper hat. Now just by the way that sounds, it would seem obvious to identify what it is. But the way that I found it in the box, it was folded up into a square and once opened up completely, it’s a large rectangle. Just by looking at it, you would never really think of it as being a paper hat by the way it’s printed. So after about an hour exploring the history of the Forbes Lithograph company and anything related to “The Boston Sunday Globe”, I eventually stumbled upon what I was looking for on an auction website that had it already folded into its natural hat shape. There is always such a great sense of accomplishment that goes with this (that may or may not include a Rocky-fist to the sky). It is a little misleading with the lines “Fold On This Line” yet it was put away as a unassembled artifact, so there arises the question whether to keep it in its unfolded/uncreated state, or to make it into the hat it was intended for.