If you say “political lapel device” to a non-collector, their first thought is probably a campaign button.
But there’s more to it than that if you ask a political collector. Long before there were political campaign buttons, there were political ribbons. The earliest ones were attached to the lapel with straight pins. Some never made it to coat or shirt collars, but became bookmarks in later lives. That’s why it’s still possible today to find a political ribbon here or there in old books. A friend found one a few years back worth several thousand dollars in an old book in an antique store.
Political ribbons can be traced back to as early as the mid-1820s. It’s still possible to acquire a John Quincy Adams ribbon from that era for a few hundred dollars.
That’s not saying there aren’t some very expensive ribbons out there. A Lincoln ribbon sold at auction a couple months ago in excess of $15,000. As campaign buttons emerged in the mid-1890s, it was common to see ribbons attached to campaign buttons, or vice versa, and ribbon badges became common. A common ribbon badge would have a pinbar across the top with a ribbon hanging below. These showy items became not just popular with political candidates around 1900, but also with fraternal lodges and other organizations and events.
In this 1800s time period before campaign buttons as we know them today were created, ribbons gave a candidate a chance to display a name, slogan or photo to the public – many times, in color.
Ribbons are pretty much out of style in campaigns today, as money has headed to other forms of advertising. It’s still possible, however, to put together a nice display of political ribbons for a small amount of money.