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February 11, 2012

Colossal campaign collection

Many know Alan Hartnett as a guy who operates a popular, family-owned car wash and auto body shop on Water Street in Danvers.

Few realize he is really cleaning up when it comes to political memorabilia.

However, in a year when Republicans are furiously vying to unseat President Barack Obama, the political item pickings are few and far between, despite the hundreds of millions that will be spent on campaigns.

Hartnett is a political junkie with a penchant for items from former President Jimmy Carter. He's also a member of the American Political Items Collectors, a group that dates back to 1945 and has 2,000 members. Its mission is to preserve the tchotchkes of past political campaigns.

Earlier this year, Hartnett said he traveled to Manchester, N.H., when the primary was in full swing, in search of stuff for his collection.

He visited the headquarters of the now-suspended campaign of Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman and of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

What he came away with were not pot-metal banks, busts, badges and license plate holders. Instead, he managed to collect some bumper stickers and lawn signs. Badges, buttons and pins have been replaced by thin stickers that are not even worth collecting, he said.

"It's just cheap and disposable," Hartnett said.

On Wednesday, Hartnett, 61, brought some of his expansive collection to his car wash. That night, he was to present a talk on political memorabilia at the Danvers Historical Society's Tapley Memorial Hall.

"He was so generous letting people come up and touch things and look at them," said Irene Kucinski, the secretary for the Danvers Historical Society.

"People will be able to see how campaigns had different money flow," Harnett said of what people could glean from his collection. Former President Ronald Reagan had lot of money to spend, and so there is a lot of Reagan paraphernalia around. Republican Wendell Willkie, who challenged Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940, seemed to have a lot of money, too.

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