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Explore our coverage of government and politics.

Northeast Kingdom Man Collects Political History, One Campaign Button At A Time

Charlotte Albright
Steve Amos, a Democrat and a collector, eyes commemorative political plates hanging on his basement wall in Wheelock. Though he is active in Vermont's Democratic Party, his collection of political paraphernalia is bi-partisan.

As a crowd of presidential hopefuls hit the primary campaign trail, political buttons are sprouting on lots of lapels. Steve Amos, of Wheelock, has collected the election era baubles dating back two centuries, and he’s still amassing and designing buttons for the next election.

Amos is active in liberal politics, as the secretary of the Vermont Democratic party. But his priceless collection of books, posters, buttons and other political souvenirs is decidedly bi-partisan. All this stuff, neatly cataloged in boxes, binders and bookshelves, takes up about one half of his basement. He started collecting as a young boy growing up in Delaware, where his mother volunteered for political campaigns.

One corner of Steve Amos' Wheelock basement displays artifacts from past political seasons.

“It was during the '64 campaign. I was in middle school and one of my classmates, his father was running for local office — this was in Delaware. And so, he would occasionally come in wearing one of his father’s buttons or other buttons from candidates locally that his father would get,” Amos recalled.

One day this kid wore a John F. Kennedy button Amos just had to have.

“And I traded my lunch money for that button,” Amos chuckled.

These days, he scours yard sales and antique shops. He has a whole binder of Bernie buttons, including a 1992 specimen made to encourage Sanders to run for office — but he didn’t, that year.

“The quote is, 'I am for socialism because I am for humanity,’ by Eugene Debs, who was a repeat presidential candidate back in the early 19-teens and 20s," Amos said, showing off the button among many others protected by plastic binder sleeves.

Credit Charlotte Albright / VPR
A plastic slipcase of Bernie Sanders buttons is just one of many pages in a binder filled with Sanders political memorabilia collected by Steve Amos, secretary of Vermont's Democratic Party.

Amos hasn’t collected as many buttons yet for Sanders' current contender, Hillary Clinton, but he has a few, and he has designed one of his own, showing Clinton in profile looking up at Geraldine Ferraro, a political forerunner.

“And basically there’s a quote that says, “Some leaders are born women,” he read.

Credit Charlotte Albright / VPR
Hillary Clinton buttons line up on a table in the basement of collector Steve Amos. He has many more, and has also designed some, which he sells online.

Ferraro said that in 1984. Campaign buttons may look a little old-fashioned, but if you think about the terse mottos they bear, they can be seen as precursors to tweets — though much more collectible, and valuable. Amos has encased thousands of dollars’ worth of buttons in a glass frame, which he uses for school presentations.

“We have the McKinley and Bryant campaign from 1896, the gold versus the silver standard all the way to Obama-Biden and McCain-Palin in 2008,” he said, running his finger along the rows of relics.

Most are miniature portraits of presidential looking faces, but one button improbably bucks that trend. A hot pink disc spells, simply, Milhous — Richard Nixon's middle name — in lime green letters that would have looked more at home on an acid rock record album than on Nixon's lapel.

"And certainly Nixon was trying to do whatever he could to get a younger demographic and the psychedelic era and the way the lettering was to entice the younger voter,” Amos said.

A current campaign button urging Vice President Joe Biden to seek the democratic nomination for president is one of thousands of buttons collected by Steve Amos, of Wheelock.

Amos also has a Joe Biden button, with the grinning politician riding in a convertible, his hair blown back in the wind. The collector is not endorsing any candidate, but that button would become more valuable if the current vice president makes a bid for the democratic nomination.

Charlotte Albright lives in Lyndonville and currently works in the Office of Communication at Dartmouth College. She was a VPR reporter from 2012 - 2015, covering the Upper Valley and the Northeast Kingdom. Prior to that she freelanced for VPR for several years.
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