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Ponte Vedra man's campaign button collection could be heading to Smithsonian

Mike Mulhern began collecting presidential campaign buttons six decades ago, and one of the most important museums in the country has taken notice of his collection.

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — From stamps to baseball cards and even coins, many of us had collections when we were growing up. 

While those collections may have been important to the individual who has the collection, that's often where the interest stops. A man from Ponte Vedra Beach captured the attention of one of the most famous museums in the world.

His dining room is a page out of history, frozen in time, or at least encased behind glass, which is fitting for the former history teacher. To say that Mike Mulhern has a collection is an understatement.

"I like the ones where you flicker them back and forth," said Mulhern. "They're lenticular, you flicker them back and forth, they have one image one way and another image."

From Benjamin Harrison to George Bush, LBJ and the other George Bush, Mulhern's collection of presidential campaign buttons has items that date back all the way to Martin Van Buren in 1837. Collecting presidential campaign buttons started as a hobby for Mulhern in the 1950s.

"Eventually you put those antennae out, and suddenly you're seeing the buttons everywhere," said Mulhern.

And as his collection grew over time, so did his thirst for acquiring rare pieces. 

"Where ever a presidential candidate shows up, Mike's going to show up," joked Mulhern.

The Ponte Vedra Beach resident has campaign buttons from 31 different U.S. Presidents, and he's actually met or been in the audience of nine of them. Mulhern saw Jimmy Carter four different times.

"We went to his Sunday school class in Plains Georgia, and he posed for a picture," said Mulhern, "we were particularly thrilled about that."

Some items in his collection are so rare that the Smithsonian has shown interest in some of his pieces.

"I'd like for my grandkids and great grandkids when they go on field trips to DC with their class and have them be able to say, that's granddaddy's collection," said Mulhern.

A legacy of preserved plastic, tin and paint of American history. A passion for nearly six decades, ready to be shared with the world.

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