BOOK, MUSEUM, TV, POSTAGE STAMP HAVE ALL FEATURED COUPLE’S PRESIDENTIAL, CAMPAIGN ARTIFACTS
Shortly after they were engaged, David and Janice Frent received a small jar of political buttons from a friend.
“Both of us were intrigued by what we saw and wondered who wore the Teddy Roosevelt Rough Rider pinback, the Taft button and the Alton Parker picture pin,” David Frent recalls. “Both of us liked the history of our country and these few items formed the beginning of what would be a multi-decade quest.”
Fifty years later, the Frents have one of the premier collections of presidential and political campaign artifacts. Their pieces have been displayed at the Museum of Modern Art and featured in ads, textbooks, magazines, on TV, and a U.S. postage stamp.
Frent items are also included in the classic illustrated history of American presidential elections, Running for President: The Candidates and Their Images, edited by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. The book, co-edited by David Frent and political history professor Dr. Fred Israel, is lavishly illustrated with color photographs of items from the Frent collection.
“My friendship with the Frents dates back nearly a half century,” says Tom Slater, director of Americana auctions at Heritage. “I have observed with amazement the amalgam of taste, knowledge and, above all, dogged determination which has culminated in a collection of unparalleled scope and quality.”
Pieces from the David and Janice Frent Collection are being offered in a series of quarterly auctions beginning Oct. 21. “These will truly be landmark offerings,” Slater says. “In breadth, depth and quality, the Frent Collection is widely regarded as the finest ever assembled.”
David, from a Wall Street financial and banking background, fondly recalls meeting Schlesinger before Running for President was published in 1994. “We met him and Fred Israel in a restaurant in New York City. At that time, Arthur was interviewing us to see if we were ‘worthy’ of doing a major two-volume book together. Well, the one-hour interview lasted about three hours and the historian and collector joined forces and Running for President was born. That was a turning point for Arthur. That was a turning point for Arthur. He just loved the colorful items and how they the evoked the politics of those bygone eras.”
Over the years, the Frents have become the hobby’s most notable collecting couple. “Going to shows of all types, indoor and out, became a way of life for us,” David says. “The American election is the only event since the inception of our country that can be collected every four years in the form of memorabilia. Moreover, politicals take many forms, from canes with heads of the candidates to beer steins to the magnificent posters and flags, along with buttons, ribbons and medals. One never knows what you’ll find on some weekend journey into the country.”
The Frents hesitate when asked about their favorite pieces, though Janice, a former budget analyst, is partial to 1840 sulphide brooches and shell medalets and David is “intrigued” by early ferrotypes with candidate portraits.
“If we were to pick our ultimate favorite item,” David says, “it would be the magnificent large Abraham Lincoln ambrotype brooch with the immortal Mathew Brady beardless Cooper Union portrait. Over the years, we have had the rare opportunity to own several of the surviving examples, all the while upgrading until we secured the absolute finest one we have ever seen. It’s a stunning 1860 campaign item worthy of a premier place in any collection.”
The couple has mixed feelings about letting their collection go, but they say the time is right. “We feel fortunate to have had the time and resources to search and build our collection,” David says. “After giving much thought, we made an extremely difficult decision. At this juncture, we want to give the opportunity to others to enjoy the items we have cherished for so long and feel this is the only way to be fair to all.”
And that’s good news, Slater says, for collectors of presidential and political campaign artifacts. Most of the items in the Frent Collection have never been publicly exhibited, but Heritage bidders will have a chance to personally view highlights from the collection at special preview exhibits scheduled in the weeks before the auctions.
“As a dealer and auctioneer I have been privileged to handle some of the political hobby’s greatest collections, including the U.I. ‘Chick’ Harris and Merrill C. Berman collections,” Slater says. “But as I near the end of my career, it is the ultimate honor to be entrusted with David and Janice’s spectacular collection.”