Nov 29, 2008

Lifestyle - Purchasing Obama memorabilia?Buyer beware

Rebekah Kebede

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Americans are snapping up mementos to commemorate President-elect Barack Obama's election -- from plates and coins to sneakers -- but experts are skeptical they will ever become valuable collectibles.

The zeal for Obama merchandise has not flagged since he was elected on November 4 as the first black U.S. president, even as Americans suffer a weak economy.

"This is definitely the most aggressive rush for memorabilia items that we've seen in a long time," said Steve Ferber, part-owner of Arizona-based Lori Ferber Collectibles, who saw newspapers sell for as much as $75. is seeing high demand for tickets to events surrounding Obama's January 20 inauguration, said owner Danny Matta, adding that he suspects many customers want to hold on to the tickets as keepsakes.

"It's not like anything else I've seen before," said Matta. "It may actually be topping Hannah Montana, which is big."

TeleBrands Corp, a New Jersey company that markets gadgets such as pet manicuring tool PediPaws on television, is selling its first commemorative presidential "victory plate."

A.J. Khubani, the company's president, said he came up with the idea for the $19.99 plate as he watched the excitement on Election Day.


Agnes Sammons, a New Jersey retiree, has started collecting Obama mementos to pass on to her two grandchildren, aged 5 and 2. At the moment she has her eye on a "Barack Obama Presidential Commemorative Coin" for $9.99.

"I've been in this world for 78 years ... . I'm so happy that I got to see this," said Sammons, who is black.

The election will heal wounds caused by the U.S. history of segregation and slavery, she said. "To me, a lot of that is put aside."

But the rush for Obama merchandise has its share of skeptics.

Sammons' son, Jeffrey Sammons, a history professor at New York University, said he was appalled by his mother's interest in an Obama commemorative coin.

He said he told her, "That thing is probably worth a dollar and will have no monetary value whatsoever."

Sammons said the value is irrelevant.

"Every once in a while I tell him, let me do what I want to do, let me use my own mind," she said. "I just wanted these things because this has never happened. It's unbelievable."

Those who bought newspapers for $75 right after the election may have to wait as long as 50 years to even recoup their costs because so many copies exist, Ferber said.

An example of a more valuable item, he said, is a copy of the famous Chicago Tribune newspaper printed before President Harry Truman had clinched his victory in 1948. It said "Dewey Defeats Truman."

The rare paper sells for $1,300 on Ferber's website. A reproduction of the front page costs $21.95 at the online bookseller Abe Books.


Mementos such as campaign buttons going as far back as Truman's presidency for sale online are mostly under $5, with the most optimistic offers at around $20.

The memorabilia craze has now become fodder for comedians.

"The election of Barack Obama has once again demonstrated America's greatest gift: Our capacity to embrace hope and idealism ... and then turn it into worthless, disposable crap!" Lewis Black said on Comedy Central's the Daily Show.

The web abounds with such offers, ranging from throw pillows and coasters to more personal items such as "I have a crush on Obama" thong underwear for women.

Even the pet constituency is not left out, with T-shirts reading "Patriotic Bulldogs for Obama" and campaign buttons that declare "Meow for Change."

Sellers also offer a plethora of autographed items, from baseballs and napkins to books and magazines. On Friday, a copy of a Rolling Stone magazine autographed by Obama was bid at $207.50 on eBay.


At Sotheby's and Christie's auction houses, signed correspondence of past presidents, especially important presidents, can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

For instance, a letter from Abraham Lincoln that was never sent is expected to fetch $250,000 to $350,000 at Sotheby's.

Collecting presidential keepsakes is as old as the presidency. In George Washington's day, people bought small metal buttons to sew onto their clothes, said Harry Rubenstein, a curator at the Smithsonian Institution's political history division.

Rubenstein and his colleague, Larry Bird, said they will look for unique items from Obama's election, particularly handmade things that strike them as unusual or representative of the spirit of the times.

"Anything that's made to be collectible is not," Bird said.

(Editing by Michelle Nichols, Bill Trott and Xavier Briand)

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