Election Collection

By Hannah Wallace October 31, 2008

Hot-button issues are the order of the day for Sarasota Convention and Visitors Bureau president Virginia Haley, and after hours, too—judging from her ever-growing collection of some 1,000 political and pop culture-oriented buttons. 

On display throughout her office is everything from “A Democrat shot JR” button to pins promoting Harry Potter book releases. Haley has one Dewey pin, but the majority of her collection picks up with “Kennedy for President in 1968.” Her most precious political button is a circa-1964 miniature gold elephant wearing black Barry Goldwater glasses, given to her by a Mote volunteer. Her favorite nonpolitical button: a plastic guitar embossed with John Lennon’s face, which she found in a Boston flea market. “I have some perplexing ones, too,” she says, “like the one that only reads, ‘Vote Yes on No. 6.’ Hmm…”

Haley’s father, Hardy Nathan, a life insurance agent and Republican Party activist in western Massachusetts, launched her hobby back in the 1960s. “He would go to Republican conventions and bring them back to me,” she says. “Here were these buttons representing these big important things,and they somehow had a connection through my dad.” Her father eventually became an aide to U.S. Sen. Edward Brooke, and the family moved to Washington in 1969.

Haley herself started working on the Hill right out of college in 1973 as an aide to Richard Schweiker, the Republican senator from Pennsylvania, and followed Schweiker to the White House in 1981 when President Reagan named him secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

As to the collection’s monetary value, “apparently there is a value and every now and then I go on eBay and take a look,” she says. “But I don’t know how any of that works; I keep them because they’re fun.”

Most have come across her desk or have been given to her. “Rarely will I buy one, but I broke my rule this summer and bought some buttons at the national convention [of convention and visitors bureaus] in Las Vegas,” she says. “I was strolling through a store and saw three Hillary buttons marked down from $6 to $1.99. These will probably be the ones in 20 years that will have the value.”

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