Fashioned in the shape of an insect, this gold-toned, pressed-metal pin is a campaign token from the presidential election of 1896. Complete with moveable wings, this political souvenir features black-and-white images of Republican presidential candidate William McKinley on the left and vice presidential candidate, Garret Hobart, on the right.
During the 1896 election, heated debates raged over whether the country’s monetary system should be based on a gold standard or on a bi-metallic standard backed by both gold and silver. America had been struggling through a period of economic uncertainty brought about by, among other things, post-Civil War inflation and rampant speculation, especially in the railroad industry.
McKinley supported the gold standard, arguing that the free coinage of silver (which held less value than gold) would cause inflation, further weakening the country’s financial system. His proponents, many of whom were from wealthy “old money” families, became known as “Gold Bugs” and often wore yellow neckties, arm bands, or pins like this to show their support.
Democrat and populist William Jennings Bryan ran against McKinley. Known as the “Great Commoner,” Bryan championed the rights of working class Americans who suffered financially from depressed agricultural prices and railroad shutdowns. Bryan supported coining silver at a ratio of 16 ounces to 1 ounce of gold, effectively driving down the value of the dollar and putting more money in the hands of working Americans.
Ultimately, McKinley prevailed largely due to his fundraising ability and popularity among the upper classes. The “gold bug” remains a symbol of America’s currency debate.
Collections Advancement Project Curator Jennifer Gleim selected this pin as this week’s Pennsylvania Treasure.
About Pennsylvania Treasures:
In early 2012, The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission launched the Collections Advancement Project (CAP), a program to inventory and catalog our vast and significant holdings of art and artifacts. These efforts are resulting in better stewardship of our collections which represent Pennsylvania arts, culture, history, sciences, business and agriculture. As a component of the project, CAP curators have researched rarely exhibited artifacts and works of art. We are sharing these Pennsylvania Treasures with the public through weekly updates.