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Pining for pins

Ken Bush with some of his historical campaign memorabilia on display at The Old Mill. Photo by David Fleet. (click for larger version)
October 13, 2010 - If Ortonville resident Ken Bush's collection of political items could speak, it would describe more than 200 years of American history from George Washington to George Bush—with a few mayors and governors, too.

For more than 50 years, village resident Bush has gathered an extensive collection of historical campaign memorabilia, along with a host of items related to causes such as women's suffrage, the Klu Klux Klan and the socialist movement in the United States. Some of the collection is now on display at The Old Mill in Ortonville.

"I started collecting by accident, like many people do," said Bush, 72, a retired Pontiac Motors die maker. "I began buying a few political pins at flea markets, then started attending shows with other collectors."

Bush is a member of the American Political Items Collectors and occasionally just stumbles on a rare piece of history.

Bush recalls searching through a used furniture dealer in Springfield, Ohio.

"I opened the drawer in the antique desk and someone had marked a (President) Warren G. Harding campaign button in a glass case for $40," he said. "I offered them $30 for it. The piece was worth about $3,000," he said. "The rule is don't overlook anything."

Bush said the oldest in his collection is a brass button from the inauguration of George Washington—dated 1789. The most rare was a campaign button from President Andrew Jackson (1829-1837).

"I found the Jackson campaign button in a jewelery store. It's a one-of-a kind and they wanted it for the gold so it sold for $300—today it's worth about $5,000. The buttons are out there although it gets more difficult to find them. Many times family have them in drawers and cased around the house—they may not know what they have."

"I don't collect the political items of today. The Obama campaign made collectable or limited amounts—they are not all that rare. The most popular are from President Lincoln, John Kennedy and Franklin Roosevelt—he was in office for a long time so there's plenty of it out there. There's plenty of, 'I like Ike' buttons out there, so those are pretty inexpensive."

Bush said the East Coast has a lot more items—that part of the country has been around a lot longer then here in Michigan.

"There's also a lot of negative campaign buttons out there, especially for Richard Nixon and others too, but especially about Nixon."

Bush is currently in the process of selling off his collection.

"It's hard to see it go, it's like one of the kids leaving home."

Selected parts of the collection are on display at The Old Mill, 366 Mill St., Ortonville. Details: 248-627-3893.

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