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 Badges, buttons and pins have been replaced by thin stickers that are not even worth collecting, he said.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.
The items he brought from his home filled several boxes and represented only a fraction of his collection.
He showed a dashboard doll of Obama carrying a surfboard, and a large plastic peanut featuring peanut farmer Carter's big smiling lips.
Hartnett picked up the latter for $3 at a yard sale.
Then, there are the stories he tells about each item.
He owns a license plate holder for President Herbert Hoover, who served from 1929 to 1933, and a large circular badge, probably from 1932, featuring Al Smith, a former New York governor and the first Catholic to run for president as nominee of a major party. Hoover defeated Smith in 1928. Smith attempted to win the nomination in 1932, but was defeated by Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Hartnett also owns a "Goldwater" license plate, which has the phrase "AuH20" written on it. Hartnett explained these are the symbols from the periodic table for "gold" and "water." Barry Goldwater was the Republican nominee in 1964.
Hartnett showed something else candidates are not dishing out anymore: a lunch tray dated Sept. 21, 1953, featuring the inscription, "I ate with Ike."
"You ate your lunch with Eisenhower," Hartnett said, "and you got to keep the tray."
His latest find is a heavy, 30-inch tall statute of Abraham Lincoln holding the emancipation proclamation, which he picked up at an estate sale in Bellingham for about $350. There is no way to know when this was made, but since it was cast with pot metals, Hartnett guessed it was old.
"I loved that statue of Lincoln; that's really special," Kucinski said, "so well done."
Since he was 14, Hartnett, a Salem native, has collected political bric-a-brac. He credits his grandmother, Eleanor Hartnett, for sparking his interest in politics. She served as a delegate for Eisenhower and during the first Richard Nixon convention. He worked as a teenager at the Republican headquarters addressing envelopes for her. His political leanings nowadays are more Carter than Reagan.
His earliest memorabilia dates back to when Lincoln beat Stephen Douglas in 1860. One ferrotype badge he owns features Lincoln on the front and his first vice president, Hannibal Hamlin of Maine, on the reverse. These items can fetch $1,750 at auction.
Hartnett scours flea markets and yard sales, and some of his best pieces he has picked up while traveling.
"EBay has made it so much easier," Harnett said.
While he has a healthy collection history buffs might admire, Harnett is not so sanguine when it comes to his hobby.
"Collecting is a disease," he said.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673 or by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @DanverSalemNews.