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New-York Historical Society presents vintage presidential campaign memorabilia
Sven Walnum Photograph Collection, JFK Campaigning, 1960. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.


NEW YORK, NY.- Coinciding with the 2016 presidential election, the New-York Historical Society explores campaign memorabilia and the ephemera of American politics through the shifting styles, rhetoric, and aesthetics of four presidential elections and other political contests in the 1960s and early 1970s. On view August 26 – November 27, 2016, Campaigning for the Presidency, 1960-1972: Selections from the Museum of Democracy showcases more than 120 objects from the planned Museum of Democracy/Wright Family Collection, considered one of the nation’s largest and most comprehensive collections of political campaign memorabilia.

“With this year’s presidential election reaching a crescendo, we aim to remind New Yorkers what elections looked like before 24/7 news coverage and social media,” said Dr. Louise Mirrer, President and CEO of the New-York Historical Society. “As New York Mayor Ed Koch said, campaign memorabilia is ‘the sparkle and glitter of which our campaigns are made’ and that certainly comes through in this exhibition, which illustrates the integral role that ephemera had in American politics. We are pleased to share the Wright Family Collection with our visitors and give a taste of what’s to come in the planned Museum of Democracy.”

Curated by New-York Historical Society Research Associate Cristian Panaite, the exhibition features objects from the presidential campaigns of John F. Kennedy vs. Richard Nixon (1960); Lyndon B. Johnson vs. Barry Goldwater (1964); the three-way contest between Richard Nixon, Hubert Humphrey, and George Wallace (1968); and Richard Nixon vs. George McGovern (1972), tracing changes in tone and style of the 1960s and early 1970s and reflecting contemporary developments in campaign strategy. Highlights include bold posters, paper dresses, dolls and board games, t-shirts, paper and vinyl stickers, lapel pins, buttons, and other ephemera that range in tone from idealistic, to humorous, to scathingly critical. The exhibition also features some iconic television commercials from this era when the medium transformed politics, such as the controversial “Peace Little Girl (Daisy)” from 1964, which Johnson’s campaign created to demonstrate the danger of putting Goldwater in charge of the nuclear button. Memorabilia created for other prominent primary candidates of this era, such as Robert F. Kennedy and Nelson Rockefeller, also is on view.

Focusing on four major presidential campaigns, the exhibition begins with the 1960 John F. Kennedy vs. Richard Nixon contest, when Kennedy famously beat a sweaty and nervous-looking Nixon in the first live televised debate. Among the objects on view from this campaign are a vest and hat featuring the slogan “Kennedy is the Remedy,” worn by an usher at the Democratic convention, and an elephant-shaped bobble-head doll wearing a “Nixon for President” sash.

The 1964 Lyndon B. Johnson vs. Barry Goldwater campaign proved to be a gold mine for memorabilia. Goldwater’s campaign team seized on “gold” as a theme of many campaign products, producing quirky items such as Gold Water aftershave, “An After Shave for Americans.” Not only was it a play on the candidate’s name, but connecting Goldwater to cleanliness might have been a conservative reaction to “dirty hippies.” Lyndon B. Johnson’s campaign made an effort to promote his all-American, Western rancher image through a hay bale that reads “Johnson Grass Hay From One Good Democrat to Another.”

The 1968 election was a three-way contest between Richard Nixon, Hubert Humphrey, and George Wallace, a chaotic situation due in part to the shocking assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, the presumptive Democratic nominee. As fashions changed in the late 1960s, paper dresses proved a cost effective way to present the candidate in a bold, colorful Pop Art light. Worn at election rallies for Nixon and Humphrey, several of these dresses are on view, including one with Nixon’s name in a patriotic star-spangled print and others with colorful patterns of candidates’ faces. Nixon’s running mate, Vice President Spiro Agnew, also inspired wearable memorabilia during the 1968 campaign, such as a jewelry set of earrings and a brooch that bears his name and cartoon likeness.

Richard Nixon ran for re-election in 1972, beating George McGovern by 18 million votes. Supported heavily by the Committee to Re-Elect the President, Nixon’s campaign benefited from a surplus of materials, in particular one hundred different types of dazzling buttons, bumper stickers, and balloons that praised the President. McGovern’s campaign created quirkier items, including a pair of gloves that read “Give George McGovern a Helping Hand.”





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