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With Inauguration Coming, Whither 2008 Campaign Gear?

Dec. 19, 2008 – Long after the polling machines have been put away and the campaign yard signs taken down, political memorabilia stores and online auction sites still have plenty of presidential campaign items to get rid of. Candidate buttons, bumper stickers, T-shirts and masks are still being sold — even from the losing candidate.

Sets of McCain/Palin campaign pins are being sold on eBay for up to $79 with individual pins going for around $20. A McCain/Palin poster signed by both the GOP candidates is $299 on the online auction website. Even McCain's website still has hundreds items for sale from different stores including

Lori Ferber Presidential Memorabilia, an online political memorabilia store, is selling McCain single buttons for $3.95 each. A set of 5 buttons is going for $12.95 and a life-size standup cut-out of McCain is $34.95.

But are people still buying these items?

About a week after the election, orders for McCain items were plentiful, said Steve Ferber, who runs the Web site collection with his wife, Lori, in Scottsdale, Ariz. Now, more than a month after the election, orders are dying down.

While the number of sales has decreased, people are still paying as much as they did before the election, said Ferber, but he imagines prices will drop with time.

"Prices are always determined by supply and demand," said Ferber.

People buying memorabilia of a losing candidate after the election is not unusual, said Ferber, who has been selling political memorabilia for the past 35 years. Unsuccessful candidates dating back 50 years were sometimes of more interest to collectors because their memorabilia disappeared faster than those who won, he said.

Today memorabilia from President-elect Barack Obama's campaign is more widely bought, but items featuring former Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) continue to be top sellers, said Ferber, at times outselling Obama gear.

And now that Obama nominated Clinton to be the nation's new secretary of State, Ferber thinks interest will remain high for her items because people believe she will continue to be a force in politics and may even run again for president.

However, Ferber doesn't think that will be the case for McCain. 

Jim Warlick, a personal political memorabilia collector and owner of the store Political Americana in Washington, D.C., said people mostly buy items of a losing candidate to be part of a collection, not because of any personal reason or tie to the candidate.

Warlick said there are two completely different groups of memorabilia buyers — people who buy during the campaign to show support for their favorite candidate and those who buy items as collectables. 

Many collectors, like the ones that are members of the national collectors' organization American Political Items Collectors, purchase items of value to make a profit, said Ben Rogers, director of Baylor University's Collections of Political Materials in Texas. But a lot of the McCain/Palin items being sold are not worth what some people are paying for them, he said.

Rogers said the same for some Obama items, like all the inaugural special issues of newspapers on sale. The more that are produced and widely bought, the less they will be worth in the future, he said.

However, Rogers thinks people are still interested in McCain items because Sarah Palin brought the real possibility of the first-ever female vice president.

Warlick agreed that what makes McCain items valuable to some people is Palin, and the possibility that she will run for higher political office beyond governor of Alaska. Warlick said he's had customers asking for Palin gear without McCain on it.

But McCain memorabilia will not be worth much or sell well until the 72-year-old senator dies, as it usually goes for any losing candidate, said Warlick. For example, he saw a spike in sales for memorabilia of Barry Goldwater when he died in 1987. Goldwater was the Republican Party presidential nominee in 1964 who was beat in the general election by Lyndon B. Johnson.

After the election, Political Americana pulled all its McCain items off the shelves and moved them to a warehouse with other campaign gear of political past, such as a million and a half buttons from other political candidates.

The items were taken off the shelves because the store shifts to selling inaugural gear after an election, but the McCain memorabilia will probably emerge from the warehouse in March, said Warlick. He'll give the items a year on the shelves and hopes that some will sell at collectors' shows. However, he is not optimistic about getting rid of it all.

"It just will not sell probably," said Warlick. "Not in my lifetime."

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