Stand outside any campaign event and you’ll see profiteers hocking their wares. Bumper stickers, playing cards, pins, posters, T-shirts, even
if it’s got Obama’s face on it, chances are someone will pay for it. But will this merchandise be worth anything after Election Day?
If the recent past is any indication, no. Representatives from Sotheby’s and Christie’s I spoke with couldn’t recall auctioning off contemporary campaign memorabilia recently. In 1991, Sotheby’s did offer up a collection of 20,000 election mementos that had been estimated to sell for $2.5 million to $3.5 million. Nobody made a single bid .
But this election could be different. Daryle Lambert of Illinois, an antiques and collectibles dealer for the past 45 years and author of the book 31 Steps to your Millions in Antiques & Collectibles , believes items collected during this campaign season will yield sky-high returns because of the historic significance of the candidates. “This election by far has more appeal to the collector than any in my lifetime,” said the 67-year-old collector, who offers advice on collecting items on his blog . Lambert said that if he were attending the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, he would take home memorabilia by the truckload. But if space is limited, the savvy collector should look for the following items.
1. Autographs: Anything signed by the candidates will start to appreciate immediately, Lambert says. He just bought a signed photo of Ronald Reagan for $300 and estimates its worth to be closer to $800; and his company is currently selling a land grant signed by Patrick Henry in the 18th century for an asking price of $4,850. So if you find a cancelled check signed by Obama or McCain’s high-school yearbook, hold on to it.
2. Artwork: A standard-issue campaign button doesn’t command much in the current marketplace. (Bids on eBay start at 99 cents.) But a hand-crafted pin could be valuable. Massachusetts-based artist Brian Campbell paints campaign pins with pop-culture allusions to the candidates and their spouses, such as a Beatles-themed Michelle Obama pin, an Indiana Jones -themed McCain one titled “Arizona John,” and the Barack Obama one shown above. Some of these sell on eBay with starting bids around $60. A Hillary Clinton pin based on Eugène Delacroix’s 19th-century painting Liberty Leading the People sold at auction for $1,149 through political memorabilia dealer Anderson Auction .
3. Personal items:
If you see McCain drop a handkerchief or Obama lose a flag lapel pin, snag it like it’s a home-run ball at the World Series. “The closer it is to the source, the quicker the value will appreciate,” said Lambert.
4. Scandal souvenirs: “The things that become collectible are the things that destroy campaigns,” Lambert said, citing as examples anything connected to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth , who threw a wrench in John Kerry’s 2004 campaign; or former candidate John Edwards, in light of the recent revelation of his affair with Rielle Hunter . So if something goes horribly wrong in Denver or St. Paul, Minn., try to get some physical remembrance of the wreckage.
Keep in mind, though, that the majority of campaign memorabilia on eBay starts at $20 or less. So collecting election merchandise for the purpose of reselling it might not be the best use of your time. Those willing to pay large sums of money for presidential memorabilia tend to prefer that of presidents like Lincoln, Jefferson, and Washington, according to Christie’s. Plus, there’s no telling how much something will be worth. Sure, this fall’s campaign junk could eventually sell for thousands at an auction — or for pennies at your next yard sale.