CONCORD, N.H. - 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
Almost forgotten, Archival Collectibles of Far Hills, N.J., bought the vast archives in 2005. As thousands of plates were examined, the political convention ticket plates were discovered.
Researcher John Pack has been cataloging the plates in Wolfeboro.
"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."
Pack called plate engraving a fading art, noting that currency still is printed from plates, but today, a business would have to consider the effort involved in hand-engraving, compared with what a computer can do in minutes.
Uncovering the plates, he said, is introducing a new collectible.
"This is like nobody knowing that pocket-watches 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.