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 CNS Story:

CAMPAIGN-BUTTONS Nov-3-2008 (730 words) With photos. xxxn

Priest's love of politics 'mushroomed' into massive button collection

By Kristin Lukowski
Catholic News Service

HAZEL PARK, Mich. (CNS) -- Father Bob Williams has a lot of reasons to love election season -- about 25,000 of them, in fact.

Father Williams, pastor of St. Justin Parish in the Detroit suburb of Hazel Park and a judge with the Detroit archdiocesan metropolitan tribunal, has been collecting political campaign buttons for 38 years, amassing 25,000 in the process.

Starting at age 17, picking up a button here and there on various campaigns, he now buys, sells and trades them as he picks up duplicates and finds ones he has yet to add to his collection.

While many Americans might have gotten sick of hearing political ads wherever they turned before Election Day this year, Father Williams, a self-professed political junkie, revels in the nonstop coverage. "I love politics," he said. "It mushroomed from there."

Father Williams started collecting buttons in 1972, picking them up at various campaign headquarters. Although some collectors focus on one particular person, or one political party, he collects from both parties, all elections, winners and losers, although he does focus on governors, senators and members of Congress.

The priest is a member of the American Political Items Collectors, and goes to trade shows and conventions when he can.

He gets buttons from people he knows who find them when cleaning out the basement or attic, but he does a lot of his buying and selling on eBay, the online auction site.

He has seen some buttons online for thousands of dollars, and many for hundreds, but among his more expensive buttons is a $350 "Mayberry for Governor" pin, promoting the Democrat who lost the bid for Michigan's top spot in 1900. He said he knew it existed but hadn't seen it before he found it online, and snapped it up when he did.

"Sometimes it's hard to find what you're looking for," he said in an interview with The Michigan Catholic, newspaper of the Detroit Archdiocese.

He finds that a lot of people who get involved in collecting political buttons are involved in campaigns or are history professors, political science teachers or history buffs, he said.

Father Williams worked on campaigns "way back," he said, and has managed two -- while in college, he managed the campaign for a candidate who was running for mayor, and as a priest, for a candidate for a University of Michigan board of regents spot. Both lost.

Father Williams' entire collection has been scanned, stored digitally on his computer, and then cataloged -- it took a whole year, he said -- and as he gets new buttons, those get scanned in batches, too. This makes it easier for him to show off his collection at trade shows, rather than taking along stacks of photocopies of his thousands of pins.

He said he doesn't have a favorite, but said he was "in seventh heaven" after he won an online auction in late October for a "Henry Ford for U.S. Senate" pin. An entire room is dedicated to his collection, where buttons are sorted in drawers by state or by political office. The older buttons are in display cases, and he also has a few odds and ends, such as a Florida election box -- hanging chad not included -- and a pillow with the Democratic donkey stitched on it.

He has buttons from as early as 1890, when they were first made out of metal, and for local names such as Hazen Pingree, mayor of Detroit in 1889-97, and Albert Cobo, mayor of Detroit in 1950-57. And although some purists argue that today's pins -- mostly sold by vendors, not given away by the candidate -- aren't the same, Father Williams said he figures that if it was used in a campaign, it's fair game.

"Now, campaigns are so expensive; they're run mostly through the media now," he said.

If for nothing else, he said, he loves his collection for his own enjoyment and as his own museum, and added that his nieces and nephews will probably sell it when he's gone. But for now, he enjoys the different styles of buttons and continues to look for rare finds.

"Lots of people think I'm nuts," he said, although he pointed out that many other people collect strange things, too. "Everyone has their own."


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