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Gilbert man pins passion on political memorabilia

A small sampling of Ron Puechner's collection of political memorabilia at his home in Gilbert, Ariz. (AP Photo/East Valley Tribune, Tim Hacker)

MESA, Ariz. (AP) — Ever since he was 8 years old, Ron Puechner has been loyal to a hobby that sees interest heat up during a presidential election year: collecting political memorabilia.

Puechner, 48, of Gilbert, not only is marking 40 years of collecting items that resemble a “Who’s Who” in the White House; his campaign again is picking up steam when it comes to gathering more of what he describes as “oddball” and one-of-a-kind pieces to add to his world-class collection.

Puechner’s collection numbers about 50,000 items — buttons, campaign posters, original portraits and even late 1800s-era White House China glassware that was used by the staffs of our commanders in chiefs working for presidents such as Rutherford B. Hayes and Benjamin Harrison and possibly used by the presidents themselves.

Puechner, whose home looks more like a museum (he also owns a pair of Ulysses S. Grant’s opera glasses and a likeness of John Adams that he used on his campaign to become our nation’s second president), is quick to say that he goes after items of all parties and candidates who have campaigned through the course of history.

In this Monday, July 30, 2012 photo, Ron Puechner, an avid political memorabilia collector, poses with a small sampling of his collection at his home in Gilbert, Ariz. (AP Photo/East Valley Tribune, Tim Hacker)

As if he’s about to reach across the aisle to negotiate a deal for yet another item that catches his eye, Puechner said, “I collect everything. I just love hunting for the stuff. Every month, I come across things I never knew existed. Collecting is a lot of fun and a great way to meet a lot of people with like interests. Collecting doesn’t restrict your political preference. There’s a lot of neat and interesting items out there from both parties.”

The approaching presidential election is a Christmas-like season for more than 2,200 members of the American Political Item Collectors, an association which Puechner is a member of. The American Political Item Collectors held its national convention in Columbus, Ohio last week. The group is always looking for more members, and Puechner will co-chair next year’s national convention in Denver.

Ron and his older brother, Jim Puechner of Mesa, oversee the Arizona chapter of the APIC and are hoping to come up with more members or meet serious collectors in the Grand Canyon State they didn’t know were out there.

Ron, an electrical engineer who owns a commercial cleaning business with his wife, Martha, will be at the national convention among serious collectors searching for what they consider the Holy Grails of their hobby — perhaps Puechner will locate a rare 1920 James Cox for President pin picturing both Cox and his vice presidential running mate, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The pin is known as a jugate because it pictures both of the candidates on it. That item, if found, and depending on its condition, would be worth around $20,000 to $30,000, Puechner said.

The political memorabilia collecting bug was something Ron caught when he was 8 after he saw the collection of Joe Brown, an insurance salesman while growing up in Milwaukee.

Jim Puechner, who now lives in Mesa, was interested in politics in the early 1970s and initially supported George McGovern on his Democratic presidential campaign. However, Jim Puechner soon switched parties, joined the Young Republicans and began supporting Richard M. Nixon about the time he and Ron saw Brown’s collection on display.

“Seeing his collection made an impression on me, and it inspired me to start collecting items, too,” said Ron, who buys, sells and trades items.

Puechner’s collection also is extensive in Barry Goldwater and John McCain items, both of whom he has met and discussed politics with. Ron also writes a column, “Treasures on the Web” for the monthly political collector’s newspaper, Political Bandwagon. Teddy Roosevelt is another one of Ron’s favorites, as evidenced by the many buttons in display cases and various images and figures on display in his collection.

More recently acquired buttons in Ron’s collection resemble throwbacks to the artwork and design of vintage buttons known as golden age celluloids from around the turn of the century as they sometimes depicted candidates “duking it out” on the campaign trail. One shows Republican presidential candidate front-runner Mitt Romney sparring with Democrat President Barack Obama. Another shows Sarah Palin, former Republican Vice President candidate and McCain’s running mate depicted as Rosie the Riveter flexing her muscle. Another unusual item in Puechner’s collection is a large wooden postcard written — and mailed to then Gov. Woodrow Wilson from an avid Democrat, Walter Krembs. The postcard was mailed July 31, 1912 — 100 years ago this past Tuesday, and featured two battleships burned into the wood. Krembs wrote, “Give me two battleships or give me Roosevelt.”

Ron not only is passionate about collecting, but he is as knowledgeable about historical events in political history.

He has a number of pre-1900s American flags promoting candidates — rare items and something Congress outlawed on cloth or pins in 1905 because it was contended candidates were “defacing” the flag for advertising purposes, Puechner said. The obscure law remains in effect today.

The items in Ron’s collection remind one of the importance of democracy in this country and being able to vote for president, no matter what party your favorite candidate is from. He also admits that in addition to his passion and enjoyment for his hobby, that certain purchases can be good investments if he “buys right.” ”You just never know what you’re going to come up with,” Ron said.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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