‘Dirty’ world of politics holds many charms for Murphy

Centuries’ worth of collectibles gains another boost with Biden victory.

Joe Murphy’s political souvenir collection stretches back “to the earliest days of the Republic,” but here, at his office on Tanner Street, he looks through some swag gained from the Obama, Trump and Biden presidencies.

If you think the last four years of American politics featured the lowdown dirtiest, meanest, most vicious insults and blindly partisan reportage, Joe Murphy would like to pass along the following nugget of wisdom.

“People today may think politics is terrible and it’s not like the good old days. They haven’t studied what it was like when the country was in its infancy,” he said during a conversation on Feb. 9. 

“You don’t have people walking off and shooting each other,” he said,  referring to the famous Burr-Hamilton duel in 1804. “Nothing was too low to say about someone. There once was a campaign song that had the line, ‘Who deserves the lowest place in hell? Van Buren!’”

Murphy, who opened his archives to the Sun, has two different upstairs rooms in his Tanner Street office dedicated to political paraphernalia. Due to COVID caution, a trip to those cramped confines was out of the question. 

Instead, among the souvenirs Murphy brought down to the first floor of his office for display were Bill Clinton playing the saxophone; a squeezable talking Donald Trump head; a laughing Hillary Clinton novelty pencil; and innumerable stickers, buttons, signage and clothing from Joe Biden’s  presidential win.

“I get them through my usual network; sometimes my daughter gets them for me,” he explained. Modeling the latest Joe-on-the-go wear, Murphy added: “These are Biden socks, so you can show your support from head to toe.”

Murphy began his lifelong pursuit in 1964, with the Lyndon Johnson-Barry Goldwater election yielding the former a full term in the White House. A high schooler at the time, Murphy sought a non sports hobby beyond the usual coin and stamp collecting of his peers. 

“I was always interested in politics,” he revealed. “One day, my civics teacher brought in his political cards to class, and I thought ‘That’s it! That’s what I want to do.’”

Murphy and his former mentor connected later in life and they continue to suss out any and all things related to American politics on both a local and national level. There’s even an organization called APIC (American Political Items Collectors) that holds a national convention every year. Murphy said a local chapter active pre-pandemic was a place collectors could catch up as friends and dish on the latest swag.

Murphy’s memorabilia “goes back to the earliest days of the republic” and  includes buttons made to celebrate George Washington’s 1789 inauguration. But in revealing that candidate-specific items were not in vogue until decades later, he boasted about possessing a snuff box with a picture of John Quincy Adams on it.

During his searches, Murphy does his best to be impartial, open to receiving gifts from people of all political backgrounds. He admitted that almost any object can be turned into something political.

“One of the things I’ve found out is, you get all types of things,” he continued. “The most popular item in my collection comes from the 1880s. It’s a little charm, a pig. And if you hold it up to the light and you look up the pig’s derriere, you see a picture of then-President (Benjamin) Harrison.”

When pressed on that point, Murphy also admitted he has never rejected a piece of memorabilia, or something larger like a campaign poster or front  page news he felt was too partisan or too colorful. The lure of uncovering something new or novel is ever present.  

“You can find fringe stuff and things that are crazy and negative,” Murphy  offered. “People complain about Fox News bias, the New York Times bias.  Newspapers back then (in the late 19th and early 20th centuries) weren’t biased: They were 100 percent one way or the other. Nothing was too low to print about a political adversary.”

As a counterpoint, Murphy added that this country has a system in place to counteract the mud slinging, and it has held up so far. 

To find out more about the national society for political keepsake collecting, visit: https://www.apic.us/