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Presidential Campaign Posters: Two Centuries of Incredible Election Art

I was lucky enough to receive an early copy of the above book which is due for publication by Quirk on 15th May.

It is a large format paperback of beautifully produced, high quality reproductions of essential campaign posters ranging from Andrew Jackson’s campaign of 1828 right through to Barack Obama’s last time round.  The journey takes in Zac Taylor, Lincoln, Nixon, Kennedy and Reagan.

A real treat for me was the one for one of my favourites, William Henry Harrison.  Harrison, already an old man of 67 when chosen to run, is shown here as a cynical invention of the Whigs – complete with his “Log Cabin”, “Injun Fighting”, and hard cider drinker.  Indeed the inventors of this poster may well have contributed to Harrison’s death; trying to live up to this “iron man of the frontier” nonsense led him to stand throughout his inaugural ceremony in January minus a top coat that gave him the cold that became pneumonia and which killed him inside a month.

The style of the posters moves from primitive almost woodblock pamphlets to the heights of graphic art from the late nineteenth century onwards.

On the back of each is further generous background information and other prints.

And, it’s not just the immediate candidates of the two central parties that are remembered.  Oh no indeed – here we find again old friends – Ralph Nader, Dick Gregory, Angela Davis, and your own, your very own Ross Perot!

Every other page is a delight, each with an “oh that’s where it comes from” moment. Then there is the sudden shock that politicians one remembers, like Romney’s father George, or Barry Goldwater look so young.  The weird haircuts, the strange staring eyes, those shifty looks are all there, faithfully reproduced.

So who would want this book?  Well apart from people like me, political groupies obsessed with American Political History, it should be on every History Teacher’s desk.  It should be in the graphics art class for study of development of the political poster.  It should be in the library for Civics.  It should be on your wall.  The posters themselves are microperforated into the spine so that they can be easily removed for display, and I had difficulty stopping my teacher wife from starting to do this and laminating them before I had even finished reading the book.

My favourite?  Difficult choice, but the really simple one of George Bush where there is just a picture of him with the single letter “W” on the poster above the year 2004 probably wins out.  Until I have another flick through them of course.

Copyright David Macadam 2012