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Collecting pinback buttons

Pinback buttons are popular with collectors. You can find pinbacks that will fit in with almost any other type of collection. Many pinbacks have great graphics. They are easy to display. Some can sell for thousands of dollars, but you can find many for under a dollar.

Pinback buttons are made using a wire pin. They typically have a metal circular outer covering and temporarily fasten to a garment. They’re commonly associated with political campaigns, but they have a wide variety of uses.

Political campaigns were among the first to use pinbacks after they were created. A 2016 Time magazine article states that ferrotype photograph pins were used prior to pinbacks. Abraham Lincoln used the ferrotype images with locking pins in his presidential campaign in 1861. Whitehead and Hoag created the first pinback buttons in 1896. They had a celluloid (plastic) covering to protect the image. William McKinley ran against William Jennings Bryan for president that year and they both took advantage of the new buttons to promote their campaign runs.

Advertisers found pinback buttons to be an inexpensive way to promote their products.  They were used by local businesses and major corporations.  

Pinbacks advertised everything from beer to automobiles. An advertising pinback with an image of Elizabeth “Plinky” Servaty Toepperwein for Deadshot Smokeless gunpowder sold for $1,300 in 2012. A 1909 celluloid pin portraying a Gibson Girl (based on a series of drawings by Charles Dana Gibson) sold for $8,000 at auction in 2014.  

Comic related pinbacks can generate some strong prices. Yellow Kid was a newspaper comics character that was very popular in the late 1800’s. A set of 50 Yellow Kid pinbacks went for over $3,500 at auction in 2013. A smaller set of newer pinbacks brought even more. The set of 8 “Marvelmania” pinbacks depicting Spiderman, the Hulk, and other Marvel comics characters sold for nearly $4,000 in 2008.

Sports pinbacks can also be very valuable. A 1909 pin advertising Buster Brown Bread pictured Ty Cobb. It brought over $4,000 at auction in 2016.  Ten 1921 “Mrs. Sherlock’s Bread pinbacks depicting baseball players sold for over $5,000 in 2004.

As you might expect, political pins are the most desirable.  A pinback for Henry Ford’s 1920s presidential bid sold for over $7,000 in 2014.  One jugate (2 portraits side by side) version of John Davis and Charles Bryan from their 1924 presidential run sold for $15,000 in 2015. A 1920 Cox/Roosevelt (Franklin) jugate pin sold for $20,000 in 1920.  Four of the Cox/Roosevelt campaign pins are worth more than the $75,000 that a president earned during that time.

We will be offering several groups of pinback buttons and a wide range of other antiques and collectibles in our August 29thlive antique estates auction in Worcester.  We have some estate sales and several other events also planned for the fall.  My “Evaluating your Antiques” class will be at the Bay Path Evening School in Charlton on September 17th.  I’ll be lecturing on antiques and auctions at the Auburn Public Library at 10:00 AM on September 21stand will be appraising items at 1:00 PM the same day for the Finnish Heritage Society Sovittaja in Rutland.  I’ll be speaking about antiques at the Worcester Senior Center on October 16thfrom 10:30 AM to 11:30 AM. I’ll also be appraising items at the Shrewsbury Historical Society on October 23rd.  Please see www.centralmassauctions.comfor details on these and other events. 


Contact us at:Wayne Tuiskula Auctioneer/Appraiser Central Mass Auctions for Antique Auctions, Estate Sales and Appraisal Services www.centralmassauctions.com  (508-612- 6111), info@centralmassauctions.com