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Political campaigns inspire collectibles, scandals

Presidential campaigns in the past were no different from how they are today. Caricatures, gossip, even lies and scandal were part of the campaign, although the information traveled slowly without TV or radio.

Grover Cleveland, in the 1884 presidential race, was accused of having an illegitimate son. He admitted it and won the presidency because voters admired his honesty. Other 19th-century presidential candidates were accused of buying underpriced stock in return for favors, taking loans with no interest from oil companies and making deals to influence the Electoral College.

The strangest rumor designed to influence votes was during the John Adams campaign for president in 1796. It was rumored that he sent a running mate to England to find some women to provide “pleasure” to the politicians. Past presidents had worse scandals during their terms. “Miscounted” Florida votes appeared many times, so did attempts to void votes by immigrants or blacks to steal an election.

One strange scandal was in the 1896 term of William McKinley. He was in favor of a very high tariff to keep foreign imports out so U.S. companies could prosper. Because he looked a little like Napoleon and because his actions were considered imperialistic by those who disagreed, his enemies satirized him as a fat Napoleon. One cartoonlike political item is a set of toby jugs that are shaped like a fat McKinley and a similar Napoleon.

Look for some strange caricatures from the 2008 election. Future collectors will search for objects like plates or pitchers that show cartoonlike candidates.

Q: I have a sideboard with a label that reads “Reaser Furniture Co., Manufacturer, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.” It is 65 inches wide, 36 inches high and 21 inches deep. We are interested in its history and value.

A: Your sideboard was made between 1907 and 1918. In 1907, Clayton S. Reaser purchased the two-year-old Engle Furniture Co., part of the Gettysburg Manufacturing Co., and renamed it Reaser Furniture Manufacturing Co. They made buffets, sideboards, hall racks, dressers, wash stands and library tables, most of oak or mahogany.

Reaser later purchased the remaining stock of the Gettysburg Manufacturing Co. and together his companies were known as Gettysburg Furniture Co. Reaser died in 1918, but his company was expanded to include the Gettysburg Panel Co. in 1920 to provide veneer and the Gettysburg Chair Co. in 1923 to make chairs. In 1951, the factories were sold to Sidney Rose of Cincinnati, and they closed in 1960.

Your sideboard is worth about $300-$400.

Clayton Reaser’s brick Victorian-style house in Gettysburg, which was built in 1913, is now a bed and breakfast called the Keystone Inn. A few of the rooms feature furniture made by the Reaser Furniture Co.

Q: We recently bought an old house southeast of Boston that was built in 1803. We found an old glass bottle in the basement and wondered if you could identify it. It’s green and embossed “Skiton Foote & Co., Bunker Hill Pickles.” When was it made, and what is it worth?

A: George C. Skilton opened a vinegar factory in 1860 in Somerville, Mass., not far from Boston. By 1864 George had formed a partnership with his son, George Jr., and Edward Foote. They expanded, began bottling condiments like pickles, relishes and sauces, and opened a business office in Boston.

The company’s circular trademark, which includes an image of the Bunker Hill Monument, should be embossed on your bottle. Skilton Foote bottled its products in jars of various sizes and colors, and the value of yours depends on its rarity and condition. We have seen Skilton Foote jars sell for $20 up to $220.

The company went out of business about 1907.

Q: I have a POW bracelet from the Vietnam War. The name on it is John McCain. I heard him mention a POW bracelet at the September presidential debate. What is the history of the POW bracelets? Is the McCain bracelet valuable?

A: Bracelets with the names of soldiers missing in action or prisoners of war were popular in the early 1970s during the Vietnam War. Two college students came up with the idea to honor the soldiers. The bracelets were originally produced by VIVA (Voices In Vital America), a student organization in Los Angeles. They were first offered to the public for a $3 donation on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 1970.

Bracelets were made in gold, silver, stainless steel, colored aluminum, copper and brass. Each was engraved with the name, rank, service, date of loss and country of loss of a missing soldier. VIVA was no longer active after 1976.

John McCain was a prisoner of war in Vietnam from Oct. 26, 1967, to March 15, 1973. In late September 2008, because of his fame as a candidate, his bracelets sold on eBay for as much as a few hundred dollars.

Tip: You should not regild, resilver or repaint political buttons or badges. It lowers the value.

Terry Kovel’s column is syndicated by King Features. Write to: Kovels, (Las Vegas Review-Journal), King Features Syndicate, 888 Seventh Ave., New York, NY 10019.

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