Mort Berkowitz is living in the best of both worlds. He’s a political collector, but he also makes a living out of politics. But he’s no politician.
Berkowitz, from his home in New York City, runs Mort and Ray Productions, a special events company in the city, and Bold Concepts Unlimited, an advertising specialty company. Bold Concepts is how most political collectors know Berkowitz. His company creates and sells political campaign buttons for local and national races. You’ll see the company name on the curl of buttons across the country.
“During a normal presidential campaign season, we design over 700 buttons,” Berkowitz said. “We sell primarily to local Democratic and Republican clubs around the country and at national conventions.”
You’ll find Bold Concepts buttons at rallies, campaign meetings and headquarters. You’ll even find them at political collectibles shows, although Berkowitz estimates that less than 10 percent of his buttons end up in collectors’ hands. You’ll always know when “Mr. Bold Concepts” enters the room at a political collectibles show – his booming voice and hearty laugh carry the day.
As a button designer, Berkowitz has seen his share of great slogan buttons through the years. His favorites? Both were anti-Ronald Reagan pins: “Will Rogers Never Met Ronald Reagan,” referring to Rogers’ comment that he never met a man he didn’t like, and “Ronald Reagan – The Flaw in the Theory of Evolution.”
“A great campaign button to me is one with a good visual and a great message that stays with people,” he said. “A favorite example is ‘I Like Ike,’ which has a message that really clicked with people.”
Berkowitz said he favorite political candidate through the years was Adlai Stevenson in the 1950s.
“I believe he was an idealist who brought so many reform-minded people into politics,” he said. “I started collecting Stevenson buttons and books after I met him in 1956 and he presented me with an autographed copy of his book “What I think.”
Despite an obsession with Stevenson, Harry Truman was his favorite president, because, he said, he was willing “to take responsibility for his actions.”
Berkowitz tries to attend three to four political collectibles shows a year, including the Super Bowl Sunday show in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City.
“I think most collectors of political memorabilia, like me, share a love of American history,” he said.
Today’s politics will be tomorrow’s history. What does Berkowitz see in present day campaign buttons that he thinks could be classics down the road? “Nobama” anti-Obama buttons are among his favorites, as is the anti-Romney button “Romney – You’re so Bain,” referring to Romney’s Bain Capital company. Can he predict the election by the numbers of buttons he sells? Don’t count on it.
“It is generally hard to predict election results from button sales,” he said. “One reason is that Democrats tend to purchase more buttons than do Republicans.”