With the 2016 U.S. presidential election fast approaching, we see bumper stickers proudly pasted on cars, signs popping up in yards, and political ads proliferating various media outlets. Their immediate purpose, of course, is to rally support and show allegiances, and for candidates to communicate their message and vision. But, these items remain relevant long after the ballots are cast. Political memorabilia begins to document the stories of campaigns, candidates, and time periods, adding details to the hash marks on America’s political timeline.
Those who collect campaign-related items preserve a valuable source of historical trends and political strategy that, when shared, can educate and enlighten. Oglethorpe University now has such a resource on hand in the Philip Weltner Library, thanks to a recent donation from collector Jim Comerford, a businessman, attorney, political leader—and father of Oglethorpe alumnus Jimmy Comerford ’13. The John and Camilla Comerford Collection: Political Memorabilia (1933-2012) contains more than 20,000 items, spanning campaigns from the 1930s to 2012, President Franklin D. Roosevelt to President Obama. A portion of the collection will be on permanent exhibition on the second floor of the Weltner Library, beginning September 19.
On the exhibition’s opening day, Oglethorpe welcomes Senator Johnny Isakson (GA-R) to campus for an event that celebrates national Constitution Day and connects our political past, present and future. Senator Isakson will speak on the topic of foreign policy. Open to the public, the event will be held at 10 a.m. in the Weltner Library atrium, with time afterward to view the Comerford Collection.
Jim Comerford began collecting political paraphernalia at the early age of nine, starting with a single Eisenhower button. As a result of his lifelong hobby, the collection grew into an expansive array of posters, news clippings, buttons, posters and more, reflecting the hard-fought races of U.S. presidents, senators, and governors. The collection represents winners and losers, Democrats and Republicans alike, from all 50 states.
The collector himself is no stranger to the political arena, having served at the intersection of business and government for many years. Throughout his career, Comerford used his collection as a learning tool in his legal career and leadership of dozens of political campaigns. It’s no doubt that Comerford’s passion for collecting campaign items fueled his observant study of politics and his ability to apply historical foresight to the current political climate. Now, Oglethorpe students also have the opportunity to benefit and learn from this collection.
For months, Oglethorpe library staff and student Jarifa Purna have been hard at work cataloging, archiving, and preparing the collection for the permanent exhibition in the library. Eli Arnold ’06, head of reference services at the Weltner Library, says he’s excited about the recent donation to the university. “It’s great for a small library to receive such a large collection—we have the ability to showcase it and people who will appreciate it.”