CONCORD, N.H. (AP) – As Americans watch history being made in this year’s presidential race, researchers in New Hampshire have been examining a one-of-a-kind treasure of printing plates that gave earlier generations a front-row seat to political history.

The intricately engraved steel plates were used to print admission tickets to many national party conventions dating back to 1892.

The ticket holders heard a dramatic 1896 speech that propelled William Jennings Bryan to a presidential nomination, cheered John F. Kennedy accepting the Democratic nomination in 1960 and shouted at the top of their lungs for Wendell Willkie at the GOP’s raucous 1940 convention in Philadelphia.

“The tickets printed by these plates were used for admission to see and hear some of America’s most important political events,” said Q. David Bowers, co-chairman of Stack’s, the Wolfeboro and New York City auction house offering the items this month (July 27 and 28 in Baltimore and online.)

And they open the door for a new kind of collectible.

The ticket plates are part of 200 tons of items from the archives of the American Bank Note Co., formed in New York in 1858 by the consolidation of seven major engraving and printing firms. The company, now in Trevose, Pa., inherited plates its predecessors had been accumulating for decades, including ones used to print money, ads, letterhead stationery and stock certificates that helped fuel the country’s economic and westward expansion during the 1800s.

For the most part forgotten, Archival Collectibles of Far Hills, N.J., bought the vast archives in 2005. As thousands of plates were being examined, they recently discovered the political convention ticket plates.

In Wolfeboro, researcher John Pack has been cataloging the plates.

“I’ve had chance to open a couple of them that were sealed in wax and had not been seen, probably since the 1850s,” he said. “A lot has happened since those seals were put on those holders.”

He was fascinated by plates used to print tickets to the 1940 GOP convention in Philadelphia, where supporters of Willkie, the dark horse candidate, packed the galleries, shouting “We want Willkie!” until they got what they wanted. Willkie argued that the Democrats, under Franklin Roosevelt, would lead America into World War II, which already had consumed Europe.

He lost the general election to Roosevelt.

“I imagine the election year,” Pack said. “This is after the beginning of war movement in Europe and before American involvement. This is a very key time in American history.”

Pack called plate engraving a fading art, noting that currency still is printed from plates, but today, a business would have to consider the time and effort involved in hand-engraving, compared to what a computer can do in a matter of minutes.

“Very skilled artisans sat, maybe in 1850, and cut these steel plates by hand, by candlelight, by natural light,” he said. “This wasn’t the era of halogen lamps. This was not easy.” Especially in cases where the work was engraved in mirror image, so that when applied to paper, a correct image would appear.

Uncovering the plates, he said, is introducing a new collectible.

“This is like nobody knowing that pocketwatches exist and having a warehouse open one day and finding 100,000 of them,” Pack said. “Nobody has had a chance to collect these things.”

About two dozen of the political plates will be part of a batch of 150 items up for auction this month.

The auction also includes century-old engraved plates and printer rollers with portraits of famous people, such as Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

The auction also features engravings of historical events such as the landings of Columbus and the Pilgrims; the space shuttle; and images of landmark structures including the Brooklyn Bridge and the U.S. Capitol Building as it appeared in the 1850’s.

There also are printing plates of well-known corporate logos, including the (RCA) Victor dog; Green Giant Food’s “Jolly Green Giant;” the Dutch Boy Paint “kid;” and “the Quaker Man” of Quaker Oats.


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