Patti Davis discusses signed copy of father Ronald Reagan’s autobiography on sale for $12,500; Will Chelsea do this in 20 years? We doubt it.

Closeup portrait of President Ronald Reagan sitting at desk in the Oval Office of the White House after addressing the nation. (Photo by Diana Walker/Getty Images)
Portrait of President Ronald Reagan in the Oval Office. (Photo by Diana Walker/Getty Images)

Maybe in 2038, Chelsea Clinton’s copy of “Hard Choices” — the one we assume is signed, “Dear Chels, see you on the trail. Love — Madame President” — will be on eBay. For now, all of our former-first-daughter-memoir-memorabilia wishes will have to be granted by Patti Davis, the eldest daughter of 40th president Ronald Reagan and first lady Nancy Reagan.

Gary Zimet, owner of Momentsintime.com, a Web site that sells all manner of historical tchotchkes, said he acquired Davis’s first edition copy of “An American Life” third hand, from a dealer who then sold it to a collector who in turn sold it to Zimet.

Davis, however tells a different story.

“I’ve moved a lot in my life,” she said in an interview, “and there have been boxes that were lost along the way.”

Often described as “the rebellious one,” Davis, an author and former actress, reportedly received a $500,000 advance for her 1992 memoir, “The Way I See It,” which chronicled her difficult childhood in the Reagan household, complete with the prerequisite pill popping (her mother) and parental avoidance (her father).

According to Zimet, Davis been selling Reagan’s letters “since he was president. I personally handled some in the mid-’80s.” Davis told us she “knew of” Zimet, who has been collecting for 35 years, but has never worked with him directly. She did, however, admit to selling childhood letters when she was newly divorced from yoga instructor Paul Grilley in 1990.

“What can I say? We do things in our past that we need to do at the time,” explained Davis. “I was at a very desperate time in my life. If  I hadn’t had to do that, I wouldn’t have.”

Now, for the price of a down payment on a house (but not in D.C., of course) you can own your very own piece of dysfunctional political family history. Currently on sale for $12,500, the book includes the inscription: “Dear Patti Very Best Wishes & Love — Dad” followed by the official sign-off  “Ronald Reagan Nov. 1, 1990.”

Ronald Reagan's personal inscription to daughter Patti Davis. (Photo courtesy of Gary Zimet)
Ronald Reagan’s personal inscription to daughter Patti Davis. (Photo courtesy of Gary Zimet)

If the five-figure price tag seems a bit high, Zimet said it’s all about context.

“Content is always the main determiner of value,” he said, “and handwritten trumps typed.” By his calculation a personal letter from former president Bill Clinton talking about his relations with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky handwritten on official White House stationery could go for as much as $50,000 to $100,000 today.

“In and around D.C., there’s tons of stuff,” said Zimet, who is in the market for handwritten letters from President Obama on White House stationery, “and people more often than not haven’t a clue as to what it’s worth.”

For her part, Davis said there isn’t a gaping hole in personal library where “An American Life” once was.

“If I know my father, the inscription probably just said ‘Love Dad.’  I don’t think there was anything personal there.”

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Helena Andrews is the co-author of The Reliable Source. Follow her on Twitter @helena_andrews, and send your hot tips, sightings, and gossip to reliablesource@washpost.com.
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Helena Andrews · July 1