Pull out your red, white and blue next week for Presidents’ Day on Monday. Originally established in 1885 in recognition of President George Washington, the holiday became popularly known as Presidents’ Day after it was moved as part of 1971’s Uniform Monday Holiday Act. It consolidated official celebrations of Lincoln’s birthday (Feb. 12) and Washington’s birthday (Feb. 22). Presidents’ Day is now a day to recognize all U.S. presidents.
Buttons and pins have been a part of election culture since the United States’ campaigns and even the first presidential inauguration, when metal pins bearing the phrase “Long live the president” and George Washington’s initials were worn by his supporters. Abraham Lincoln was the first president to use buttons as a campaign tool. In the 1860 presidential election, his campaign used tintype or ferrotype (a photograph made of tin and dark enamel or lacquer) buttons. Even buttons for candidates who lost elections are popular. In 1916, New York City Governor Charles Evans Hughes lost to Woodrow Wilson. This button that featured Hughes’ likeness with shields and Latin slogans was at one time supposedly the only known example of the candidate’s political buttons. It sold in 2019 for $17,500.
The first mass produced and collectible buttons for a presidential campaign started with the McKinley vs. Bryan race in 1896. They are called celluloid buttons because the front side of a metal disc is covered with paper and then protected by a layer of celluloid with images of the candidates. McKinley won the election and became the first president to achieve a popular majority since 1872. For collectors who want a celluloid campaign button from each president and major party candidate, the 1896 McKinley/Bryan race is a good place to start.