Smithsonian Curators to Collect 2012 Presidential Primary Memorabilia

Wielding large portfolios under their arms, political history curators Larry Bird and Harry Rubenstein of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History will wind their way through the crowds at the GOP and Democratic National Conventions, not to find a better spot to see the podium, but to scout out the best political signs. Since the late 1980s, the duo have been attending political campaigns and collecting signs, buttons, posters, hats, sunglasses and other novelties that speak to the atmosphere of the conventions. This is just one step in the ongoing effort to preserve political memorabilia for future generations to study the political movements of today’s society.

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 2012 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 democratic spirit of the American political system.

Every four years, Bird and Rubenstein, or “Harry and Larry” as they are popularly known, attend the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primaries as well as the Democratic and Republican Party Conventions. Their collecting forms part of a large research collection in American presidential politics, and the objects are used to tell campaign stories in museum exhibitions such as “The American Presidency” and “The First Ladies.”

“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 expect to 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 Marc Pachter, interim 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; the 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, such as the small portable desk on which Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence; the top hat Abraham Lincoln wore the night he was assassinated; and small metal buttons made to celebrate George Washington’s inauguration in 1789.

The National Museum of American History collects, preserves and displays American heritage in the areas of social, political, cultural, scientific and military history. For information about the museum, please visit 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.

Media only:

Melinda Machado
(202) 633-3129

Amy Holm
(202) 633-3129