Collector of Obama Political Memorabilia Is Bullish on Barack

Image: Obama memorabilia collection

Some of the 1500 buttons in Cary Jung's collection of Obama memorabilia. Jung has one of the nation's largest Obama memorabilia collections on May 10. Peter DaSilva / for NBC News

One man’s junk is another man’s treasure, the saying goes. But however you view Cary Jung’s cache, a handshake with a U.S. senator in August 2007 added a lot more of it to his life.

Jung, 61, was already a collector of political memorabilia — specializing in John F. Kennedy — when he met Barack Obama during a campaign stop near his home in Sacramento, California. But the brief encounter with the future president — captured in a grainy screenshot showing the handshake — changed the course of his collecting.

"I think I bought a couple of pins that day," Jung recalled. "First of many, many more."

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"Many" would be an understatement. Jung's home is now a warehouse to one of the nation's largest collections of Obama-related campaign memorabilia, from buttons to beer bottles to bobbleheads — some 2,500 items and counting.

The photo of him shaking hands with Obama sits on his desk, he said, where "I look at it everyday." His prized pin collection is in a cabinet in cases, but many campaign posters are hung around the house, including in the hallways.

Although the president is winding down his final year in office, Jung told NBC News he has no plans to stop scavenging — and only expects interest to take off once Obama exits the White House for good.

"You'll start getting people recollecting about what he was like and when he ran, especially once his library is built," Jung said.

Image: Cary Jung has one of the nation's largest Obama memorabilia collections
Cary Jung, who has amassed a large collection of Barack Obama political memorabilia, holds an inaugural periscope, flanked by a life-sized cardboard cut out of the 44th president, in Sacramento, California, on Tuesday. Peter DaSilva / for NBC News

This retired finance director may have started with a couple of pins, but he has become immersed in the hunt. His Obama haul includes older buttons from when the fresh-faced attorney ran for state Senate in 1996 ("It's like having a John F. Kennedy congressional pin," Jung brags) and the Louisville campaign headquarters celebrated Obama in 2008 with a Kentucky Derby theme — a "beautiful pin" that remains rare because Churchill Downs had it pulled for violating its copyright, Jung added.

The veteran collector also keeps his eyes open for any other memorabilia dealing with Obama's only political loss — the Democratic primary for an Illinois congressional seat in 2000.

"That's the fun of the hobby. The search is as much fun as finding it," said Jung, who remembers buying a Lyndon B. Johnson pin for a quarter in 1964, triggering his love of the hobby.

Campaign collecting is experiencing a resurgence this year thanks to one of the more colorful presidential races in recent history, said Tony Lee, president of the New York chapter of the American Political Items Collectors.

"It's always heightened every four years, but there's probably more interest now because of the tumultuous nature of the election. There's a lot more negative campaign items," Lee said.

As a result, the American Political Items Collectors, which was founded in 1945 and now has about 5,000 members, is expecting a strong showing at its convention in July in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, he said.

Image: An Obama beer bottle in Cary Jung's collection
President Obama is featured on a bottle of Mavericks Presidential Ale. Peter DaSilva / for NBC News

Helping to invigorate this political pastime are Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. Some of the hottest buttons this year feature slogans such as "Hill No!", rejecting Clinton, and "We Shall Overcomb," in reference to Trump's hair.

Some political relics stand the test of time, Lee added, such as the "I Like Ike" buttons of the Dwight D. Eisenhower era and teddy bears associated with Theodore Roosevelt.

Newer items might gain a few dollars in value over one's presidency, although, depending on the quantity, some collectibles that are hard to get can eventually reach the hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Jung said that when Obama was first elected, some pins were going for $1,000, but "that's dropped off."

Jung's political campaign collection, which includes Mitt Romney and John McCain materials, stands at around 10,000 items. But he became so excited about amassing anything branded with the 44th president that he founded the Obama Political Items Collectors in 2008, just before Obama won his first term. The group now has about 30 members spread across the country, he said.

Jung, a registered Democrat, said he recognized the significance early on of the United States electing its first black president.

Image: Obama memorabilia collection
A few of Cary Jung's many Barack Obama posters and an original cartoon of the president. Peter DaSilva / for NBC News

"I'm Asian American. I'm a person of color," he added. "It meant a lot this person was running, and that he also had a good chance of winning."

Perhaps Jung's most-prized Obama possession is not even something related to one of his campaigns. It's the bracket board used by the White House when Obama predicted the 2013 NCAA women's tournament — signed by the hoops-crazed commander-in-chief as well. (Obama picked wrong, predicting that Indiana would defeat Louisville in the final; instead, Connecticut won.)

Jung said his spouse, Tina, hasn’t been bitten by the campaign collecting bug.

"My wife says I've gathered more junk," Jung said.

"This is true!" she chimed in from behind.

But Jung, always eager to find the treasure hiding amid the trash, isn't deterred by her lack of enthusiasm.

"We all share the passion of holding history in our hands," he said, referring to his fellow collectors, "and that's what you do when you collect a pin — it's a piece of history."