Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Button Collection Proves Hot Button Issues Can Be On the Button. Literally.

June 12th, 2017

One of the coolest collections in Spencer is the Wilcox Collection of Contemporary Political Movements. Established in 1965, the collection features materials in line with US left- and right-wing political literature from about 1960 to the present. Over the years, around 400 pinback buttons have been accessioned to the Wilcox Collection. This spring, I was tasked with housing these buttons for reasons of accessibility and preservation.

Wilcox button. Call number RH WL BT 40. Spencer Research Library.

Figure 1. Many of the buttons concerned AIDS awareness. This button also shows how many of the buttons used multiple types of materials when constructed. “Every Penny Counts. AIDS Emergency Fund,” RH WL BT 40. Click image to enlarge.

Following a housing method for buttons used previously at Spencer, I divided the buttons into two different groups based on size: one for buttons under two inches in diameter and one for buttons 2 to <4 inches in diameter. This was to accommodate the two sizes of polyethylene bags the buttons would be housed in.

Wilcox button. Call number RH WL BT 73. Spencer Research Library.

Figure 2. While many of the buttons were standard sizes, others sat on the extremes. This one is half an inch in diameter; the largest was almost 5 inches. “Let’s End Discrimination,” RH WL BT 73.

With the buttons divided, I cut the appropriate number of backings for each group out of 20-point board using our guillotine and boardshear, so they could fit in the 2” x 3” and 4” x 6” polyethylene bags. These could have also been easily cut with a scalpel or scissors, but due to the volume needed, I opted for the more industrial equipment. The backings served two purposes: to give rigidity to each individual button’s housings and to provide a place to write the call number for each button.

Wilcox button. Call number RH WL BT 62. Spencer Research Library.

Figure 3. “Capitalism Fouls Things Up. Vote S.W.P. [Socialist Workers Party] 1970,” RH WL BT 62.

Once all of the materials were prepped, each button was assigned a call number that was placed on the 20-point board backing. For the sake of efficiency and clarity, I made a stamp with the common portions of the call number and then handwrote the unique portions. The backing was then placed in the appropriate size bag, followed by the corresponding button. Once housed, the smaller buttons were put in the lids and trays of slide boxes and the larger buttons were put in cassette tape boxes. The slide boxes were then placed in a large artifact box to keep them together.

Wilcox buttons in housing Call number RH WL BT. Spencer Research Library.

Figure 4. Smaller buttons were placed in slide boxes like this in call number order. Each box fit about 30-40 buttons.

While this is not a complicated treatment, it makes the buttons easier to access and keeps them from touching each other so they do not have any negative effects on each other.

Wilcox button. Call number RH WL BT 127. Spencer Research Library.

Figure 5. Some buttons were sillier than others. “Ban Buttons,” RH WL BT 127.

In addition to the physical housing, I created an extensive digital database noting information such as the call number, subject matter, date, and bibliographic record number for items already cataloged. This makes it easy for us to find individual buttons and compare buttons across the same subject matter.

Creating the digital database also required some research. Approximately a quarter of the buttons were not previously cataloged, so many of the pieces of information identified in the database were not known. While some gave more information than others, for many the context was not readily apparent. For several of these stumpers, I was able to use information published online from similar collections, like the Labadie Collection at the University of Michigan. In several instances, I would not have been able to determine if a button belonged in the collection without the help of other institutions like Spencer.

Jocelyn Wilkinson
2017 KU Graduate in Museum Studies
Museum Studies Conservation Intern, Conservation Services

Call for Entries: 59th Annual Snyder Book Collecting Contest

February 16th, 2015

Calling all KU student book collectors:  it’s that magical season when your love of books can actually replenish your coffers rather than empty your pockets.  The competition for the 59th Annual Snyder Book Collecting Contest is now open, and entries are due by 5 p.m. Friday, March 27, 2015.  Collections need not be rare or expensive to win; rather you should be able to write thoughtfully about the scope and coherence of your collection, your purpose and method in building it, and how individual items fit within the larger whole.

59th Annual Snyder Book Collecting Contest

Winners are selected in both graduate and undergraduate divisions, with the following cash awards:

  • First Prize: $600
  • Second Prize: $400
  • Honorable Mention: $100

Each winner will also receive a gift card in the following amounts from contest co-sponsor Jayhawk Ink, a division of KU Bookstore:

  • First Prize: $100
  • Second Prize: $50
  • Honorable Mention: $25

Need further incentive to enter?  Did you know that last year’s graduate division winner, Katya Soll, also won the National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest with her collection “Dictatorship, Recovery, and Innovation: Contemporary Theatre of the Southern Cone?”  The national prize earned her an additional $2,500, which was awarded at a ceremony at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.

1st place 2014 Graduate Division winner Katya Soll with her collection "Dictatorship, Recovery, and Innovation: Contemporary Theatre of the Southern Cone" 1st place 2014 Graduate Division winning collection "Dictatorship, Recovery, and Innovation: Contemporary Theatre of the Southern Cone" by Katya Soll

National Champion: Katya Soll at the 2014 Snyder Book Collecting Contest with her 1st place Graduate Division collection, “Dictatorship, Recovery, and Innovation: Contemporary Theatre of the Southern Cone.” Images courtesy of KU Libraries; click images to enlarge.

KU’s contest is one of the longest-running collegiate book-collecting contests in the United States.  It was established by Elizabeth M. Snyder (then Elizabeth Taylor) in 1957 to cultivate and recognize undergraduate and graduate students’ interest in collecting books.  In its inaugural year, the “Taylor Student Book Collecting Contest, ” as it was then known,  bore a $75 first prize and a $25 second prize (see the 1957 contest poster below).  Over the years, the prize amounts have grown and the contest rules have expanded to reflect changes to the world of books.  The contest now permits digital and non-print materials to supplement the books and print materials that form the core of the collections.

1957 Taylor Student Book Collecting Contest Poster

Early Days: The poster for the first year of KU’s student book collecting contest, then known as the
Taylor Student Book Collecting Contest. Image courtesy of KU Libraries

Several former Snyder Book Collecting Contest winners have gone on to make collecting a lifelong pursuit.  Laird Wilcox won the contest in 1964 while an undergraduate with his collection “Ephemeral Political Movements in the United States.” Over the decades he continued to build his collection of left- and right-wing political materials and has since donated it to KU Libraries.  The Wilcox Collection of Contemporary Political Movements now stands as one of Spencer Research Library’s most-consulted collections, drawing researchers from across the country and around the world.  As we will highlight in a future post, it is the subject of Spencer’s current exhibition–“Free Speech in America: The Wilcox Collection at 50”–on display in Spencer’s gallery through April 18, 2015.

1964 Contest Winners Laird Wilcox,  Lawrence Morgan, and Jerry L. Ulrich, with Elizabeth M. Taylor.

1964 Contest Winners: Laird Wilcox (left), Lawrence Morgan (second from right), and Jerry L. Ulrich (right),
with contest sponsor, Elizabeth M. Taylor, 1964. University Archives. Call Number: RG 32/40. Click image to enlarge.

Jane Albright won the Snyder Book Collecting Contest in 1977 with her Wizard of Oz collection.  She has since gone on to become one of the premier collectors of Oz and L. Frank Baum, and her collection occupies a floor of her home near of Kansas City.   Last spring, she returned to KU to share her passion with others through the exhibition, The Magic of Oz: A Collection Celebrating a Classic, which focused on some of the printed Oz, Baum, and Denslow materials in her collection.

Image of Jane Albright in front of Oz exhibit at KSRL, 1977

Jane Albright with her Oz collection in 1977, the year she won the Snyder Book Collecting Contest. Image courtesy of Jane Albright.

Join in the contest’s long and illustrious history and enter your collection by the submission deadline of  Friday, March 27, 2015.  Full contest details are available on the Snyder Book Collecting Contest website.

Stuck on stickers

November 2nd, 2012

Bumper Sticker: Clinton /Gore

Bumper Sticker: Reagan for Governor

In honor of the upcoming presidential election, we focus today on one form of political advertisement: the bumper sticker. First produced in the 1940s, mostly likely by Kansas City, Kansas screenprinter Forest P. Gill, bumper stickers gained prominence in the early 1950s to advertise tourist attractions, public safety initiatives, political campaigns, radio and television stations, and political and personal viewpoints. As ephemeral artifacts broadcasting historical and social events and trends, bumper stickers are widely collected by museums, archives, and libraries.

Spencer Research Library is fortunate to have a substantive collection of bumper stickers in the Kansas Collection, as part of the Wilcox Collection of Contemporary Political Movements. This world-class collection was (and continues to be) shaped by Laird Wilcox, a former KU student and expert on right- and left-wing political groups from the early 1960s to the present.

For more information about the history of bumper stickers, see “Soapbox for the Automobile: Bumper sticker history, identification, and preservation

Bumper Sticker: Invest in America; Buy a Congressman

Bumper Sticker: Believe in Peace

Bumper Sticker: The only "ism" for me is Americanism

Bumper Sticker: Tired of Career Politicians?

Bumper Sticker: Don’t Do it in the Voting Booth

Bumper Sticker: Proud to Be Union

Bumper sticker: Goldwater '68

Bumper Sticker: Nader/LaDuke

Bumper Sticker: Join the National Guard

Bumper Sticker: Planetary Citizens.

Bumper Sticker: Think for yourself / Vote Republican

Bumper Sticker: We Support Agricultural Strike.

Bumper Sticker: Hollis/Chester; Vote Socialist in '96.

Bumper STicker: Young Americans for Freedom.

Bumper Sticker: Mibeck City Commission.

Bumper Sticker: No Matter How You Slice It

Bumper Sticker: Stop Over-governing!

Bumper Sticker: Practice Organized Resistance and Conscious Acts of Solidarity

Bumper stickers spanning the political spectrum from the Wilcox Collection of Contemporary Political Movements.
Above the post text: Wilcox Sticker # 46, 17; below the post text: Wilcox Sticker # 165, 28,
39, 50, 81, 22, 71, 174,  42, 33, 64, 1, 180, 43, 27, 10, 83, 164. Click images to enlarge.

Whitney Baker
Head, Conservation Services