Pressed-paper sewing box, from about 1824, with an image of John Quincy Adams on the lid
A morsel of genuine history is a thing so rare as to be always valuable.
–Thomas Jefferson in a letter to John Adams, 1817

Collecting souvenirs is a centuries-old phenomenon that evolved from religious pilgrimages and migrations of communities. It sustains memories and captures the essence of a journey, event, place, or individual.

Maintaining a memory of the presidency through a keepsake allows people to honor or own a piece of the presidential past. Souvenirs range from relics to expensive or unique items to cheaper, mass-produced toys, T-shirts, and mugs--"star-spangled kitsch."

Except for iconic items, most of this material is eventually forgotten or discarded by the purchaser or recipient. But it reveals much about changing notions of how a president can or should be remembered.

Glass paperweights have been popular souvenirs since the 1860s. They remain an affordable way to bring home a tangible representation of the presidency. These 20th-century paperweights bear the images of Presidents McKinley and Jefferson.
Commemorative hatchet
During much of the 19th century, George Washington's image dominated the iconography of the presidents. It was reproduced on souvenirs and household items, affirming his continued historical importance and the nation's need for heroes. This cast-iron hatchet was a souvenir from the centennial celebration of Washington's 1789 inauguration.

Presidential hair case
Today the idea of collecting hair may seem morbid, or at least bizarre. But in the 18th and 19th centuries, it was an acceptable way to mourn and to remember.

This display came to the Smithsonian Institution from the U.S. Patent Office in 1883. It contains hair from Presidents Washington, John Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Van Buren, Harrison, Tyler, Polk, Taylor, Fillmore, and Pierce. It was assembled to honor the presidents and to keep them visible for future generations.

Washington costume
During the 1932 bicentennial of George Washington's birth, plays and pageants performed in costumes like this one were presented throughout the nation.