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October 24, 2012

UTA president puts collection of political buttons on display

James Spaniolo pointed to a political button that boasts: "Romney for President," and with a chuckle noted the year: 1968 -- not 2012.

ARLINGTON -- James Spaniolo pointed to a political button that boasts: "Romney for President," and with a chuckle noted the year: 1968 -- not 2012.

"This year, I particularly like the Romney button -- George Romney," he said, noting that Mitt Romney's father sought the presidency decades ago.

Spaniolo leads the campus as president of the University of Texas at Arlington, but during this election season his personal collection of presidential campaign buttons is helping spark some political science lessons.

"It's a chance to take a peek into presidential election history," Spaniolo said.

About 150 presidential election buttons -- dating to the late 1800s -- are available for viewing at the campus library. Names, initials and slogans take onlookers through a visual history of presidential candidates.

Spaniolo's collection includes buttons that read: "LBJ," "JFK," "Dewey" and "Nixon."

Some state popular slogans from eras past. For example, in 1992 Ross Perot issued a button that stated: "It's time to clean out the barn." President Barack Obama and GOP candidate Mitt Romney smile pleasantly from the most current buttons in the display.

Spaniolo said his favorite is a large red, white and blue Lyndon B. Johnson pin. "It's so big, and he was a larger-than-life president," he said.

He began collecting the buttons with each election and then focused on finding pieces that documented all presidential elections in the 20th century. He has a few buttons from campaigns in the 19th century, too.

Spaniolo's collection is the result of checking out antique dealers, estate sales and online vendors. Some are gifts people give him after they learn he's a collector.

Which candidates have proved the most difficult to find buttons for?

"It's hard to find Harry Truman buttons for some reason," Spaniolo said, adding that John F. Kennedy buttons are also challenging to secure. He pointed to a small button that reads: "Truman."

"It took me a long time to get that simple button," he said eyeing the piece.

Does he have least favorite? Yes, a George Wallace button.

"It says, 'Stand up for America,'" Spaniolo said. "He's really talking about standing up for segregation."

Joeli Gomez, the display's curator and a UT Arlington librarian, says the buttons bring more attention to the election. "It might inspire more people to vote," Gomez said.

Diane Smith, 817-390-7675

Twitter: @dianeasmith1

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