Only 45 shopping days before ... the inauguration of the president-elect. Barack Obama-mania has sparked a buyers' and sellers' market for all things Obama. Nearly $200 million has already been spent on Obamabilia, according to the New York Times.
"Obama is one of the best marketed candidates ever because of the phenomenal amounts of money he had to produce tons of campaign memorabilia," said Steve Novak of Blaine, a former Minnesota state senator and collector of political memorabilia for 40 years. "Everyone wants a piece of this fella," he said.
Longtime political collectors say the pre-election euphoria continues to heat up, but novice collectors who jumped in after the election may get burned. It depends on whether collectors are in it for profit, history or a little of both. For Bill Davis of Minneapolis, it's about collecting history, not an investment.
"It's such a historic election, particularly as an African-American. That will always hold value for me and my family," said Davis, who is a member of the Democratic National Committee.
He's never been an avid collector -- just a few Kerry-Edwards and Humphrey items -- but Obama changed that. Davis has spent about $1,000 on memorabilia so far. "I try to find unique things that convey deep meaning," he said.
Even before the election, the euphoria was evident, said Steve Ferber of Scottsdale, Ariz., who runs a political collectibles site with his wife, www.loriferber.com. "Obama's things were outselling McCain 3 to 1," he said. "We saw the strongest sales of memorabilia for a candidate that we've seen in many years."
Local political collector Paul Bengston, who has a huge collection (more than 30,000 pieces), said that the president-elect is generating excitement that is attracting first-time collectors. "He is historic as our first black president and he has charisma. There is a lot of interest."
For those who are gathering pieces of history with an eye on investment value, Novak, Ferber and Bengston offered some tips as they ponder more than 20,000 pieces for sale on eBay alone.
What advice would you give a novice collector?
Ferber: If you're collecting for an affinity, buy what you like and appreciate. If you're collecting for investment, hope that he stays popular.
Novak: Look for Obama memorabilia with a Minnesota slant. Local campaign pieces are more unique, like a button that says "Minnesotans for Obama." There were fewer of those made.
What determines a collectible's value?
Novak: Scarcity. Truman is very collectible because his campaign had so little money to produce memorabilia. Plus he wasn't expected to win. Buttons produced by the campaign, not a commercial button maker, are more collectible. An Obama button from the campaign will have "Paid for by the Obama for President Committee" printed on it. Preferably no scratches or markings. A picture of the candidate helps.
Bengston: Pins put out by the national party and sent all over aren't worth much. Look for items from a particular event. If fewer than 100 people were invited, that's good. But if an additional 400 pins were made to distribute to collectors, that's not as good. Also, look for items that are well-designed and graphically interesting. Color is good. A clever design or slogan is good.
Ferber: Scarcity is important. Some of the mass-produced JFK buttons still sell for less than $1 today. And Kennedy is one of the popular presidents for collectors.
Which collectibles look good to you?
Bengston: Anything from Obama's state senate or congressional runs, even his days as a community organizer. Local union pins. Inaugural invitations are always collectible. Also, Christmas cards from his family, especially when he was a senator. I'm trying to get the button when he ran as a state senator. The first one on eBay sold for $380. The second one went for $1,380 earlier this week. I think more will bubble up to the surface. When the fifth or sixth one comes up, the price will be lower and it's time to jump.
Ferber: Tickets to inaugural events that Obama actually attended, anything with his autograph.
How can collectors prove a signature's authenticity?
Ferber: A collector should be able to put the autograph in historical context -- a picture of him signing it or a newspaper article of the event. Collectors always want to know the story behind the signature.
How can Obama collectors avoid a Beanie Baby bubble burst?
Ferber: Don't confuse popularity with scarcity. Hysteria had some people purchasing a copy of the Nov. 5 New York Times or Los Angeles Times newspaper for $50 or $75. There are 500,000 copies of those floating around.
Bengston: Vendor pins made by button companies for profit. They often have a phone number on the back to order more. I'd stay away from commemorative coins, plates and bobble heads. They're contrived collectibles. Manufacturers make as many as they can sell. In the '70s, people bought cases of Billy Beer that aren't valuable or drinkable. The more they sold, the more they made.
Ferber: Newspapers and yard signs. A 6-foot, life-size cardboard standup of Obama is a fun souvenir, but it's not a collectible.
What's your Obama collectible coup?
Bengston: Years ago I'd seen Obama in person and thought he had charisma, so when he announced he was running for president in Springfield, Ill., I had a friend who lives there get me one of 200 announcement day pins. I had him trade $50 worth of my FDR pins for it. Now it's selling for $800. Had Obama not gotten the nomination or been elected, it would be worth much less than $50 today.
Will the Obama collectibles already purchased hold their value?
Bengston: He'll have to be a good, popular president. Carter came in with a lot of excitement, but he ended with a whimper and the value of his pins whimpered out, too. Reagan stayed popular and so are his pins, although prices have remained the same for the last 10 years.
Ferber: The euphoria has driven up prices quickly, but prices should settle down in the next six to 12 months or sooner.
Obama's campaign embraced technology. Is any new technology collectible?
Bengston: If only a person could find a way to collect those text messages.
Ferber: Some collectors are assembling TV commercials to save for future generations. They're readily available on the Internet. They're easy to store at a low cost. It's just disk space.
Do losers have value?
Bengston: It depends. Dukakis doesn't have a lot of collectors. Adlai Stevenson is very collectible.
What about our current president's collectibility?
Bengston: He's not proving to be very collectible yet.
John Ewoldt • 612-673-7633 or firstname.lastname@example.org.