Smithsonian Curators to Collect Primary Memorabilia

December 18, 2007

Armed with large portfolios, political history curators Larry Bird and Harry Rubenstein of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History prepare to take on the 2008 primaries with the same enthusiasm as when they first began collecting political objects together in 1988. Since then, the duo has collected posters, cartoons, photographs, banners and buttons for the museum, continuing the Smithsonian’s ongoing effort to capture the spirit of the American political system.

Bird and Rubenstein, or “Harry and Larry” as they are popularly known, have achieved notable recognition for their collecting efforts: In almost 20 years they have attended both major party conventions, the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primaries; appeared on the Today Show, CBS Evening News with Dan Rather; and have been mentioned in major news stories.

“These objects represent a celebration of democracy and how people express their identity and the identity of the nation,” said Rubenstein about the materials added to the national collections.

“Whether it’s handmade or mass-generated, each object represents history in the making by showing how candidates communicate with the public and how the public in turn communicates with the candidates,” said Bird.

In addition to the posters, badges, buttons, ribbons and advertising novelties the curators will collect, they also will try to obtain materials used by the media and other individuals associated with the political process.

“By actively collecting new materials at the early primaries and the party conventions, the museum is better able to document the political campaign process and can share the spirit of the presidential campaigns with the American public, both now and in the future,” said Brent D. Glass, director of the museum.

Today, the museum’s political history collection includes objects related to presidential history and political campaigning, as well as the history of the White House and first ladies; civil rights, women’s suffrage and reform movements; the World War II home front; and labor history. The political history collection includes some of most important national treasures, including the small portable desk on which Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence; the top hat Abraham Lincoln wore the night he was assassinated; small metal buttons made to celebrate George Washington’s inauguration in 1789; and items from the present presidential election.

The National Museum of American History collects, preserves and displays American heritage in the areas of social, political, cultural, scientific and military history. Documenting the American experience from Colonial times to the present, the museum looks at growth and change in the United States. The museum is closed for major renovation. For information about the museum, please visit http://americanhistory,si.edu or call Smithsonian Information at (202) 633-1000, (202) 633-5285 (TTY).

Note to Editors: Bird and Rubenstein will be available to speak about issues related to the history of the political campaign process and its place within the larger context of the institution of the American presidency. Please call the museum’s Office of Public Affairs at (202) 633-3129 to schedule an interview.