Political Memorabilia in Old Time Photos

By Maureen A. Taylor

Political memorabilia first appeared in John Adams’ campaign of 1796, but that was too early for photographic political pins and advertisements. It was another 60-plus years before followers could wear pictures of their candidates. Tintypes of Abraham Lincoln’s face debuted in his 1860 campaign:


Check your family photos for banners, buttons and badges proclaiming your ancestors’ political leanings. Philip Hill manufactured caps and capes for the presidential campaign of 1868, which featured Horatio Seymour vs. Ulysses S. Grant.

Library of Congress

Men wore the hats and capes shown above for political torchlight parades supporting particular candidates. Some hats worn in these parades even featured oil and wicks in a canister torch affixed to the front of the headgear. You can read more about them in Collecting Political Americana by Edmund B. Sullivan (Christopher Publishing House, 1991).

Women couldn’t vote until the passage of the 19th amendment in 1920, but that didn’t stop them from being interested in politics. Genealogist Orvill Paller found an interesting image in his family photos featuring a woman wearing a pin in the shape of a name.

It’s an example of how a single detail can offer clues to a person’s life.

Frances Althea Cuppernell’s pin proclaims her support for James G. Blaine. In 1884, Blaine ran against Grover Cleveland in a tense campaign. Cleveland admitted fathering an illegitimate child and Blaine faced accusations of accepting bribes and being anti-Catholic. As we know, Cleveland won.

Trinkets sporting slogans and candidates names weren’t just for men. Manufacturers produced pins, aprons and hairpins for women to help influence the votes of the men in their lives. During the Blaine campaign there was even a pocketbook emblazoned with his name.

Do you have any photos of your ancestors wearing political memorabilia? I’d love to feature them next week. You can email them to me.

Identify your old mystery family photos with these guides by Maureen A. Taylor:

  • Family Photo Detective: Learn How to Find Genealogy Clues in Old Photos and Solve Family Photo Mysteries
  • Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album
  • Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Photo-Organizing Practices
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Searching for Family History Photos: How to Get Them Now