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Correction to This Article
This article misstated the first name of Cary Jung, founder of the Obama chapter of the American Political Items Collectors.

Obama Collectors' Quandary: T-Shirt Or Bobblehead?

By Theola Labbé-DeBose
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The glut of President Obama merchandise is confounding collectors who are unsure how to discern the gems from the junk.

Purchase a "Hope" poster by artist Shepard Fairey or a dancing doll? A papier-mâché statue or a presidential dog tag? Investing wisdom says scarcity increases value. But with Obama merchandise everywhere, questions abound.

Skilled collectors, like novices, usually buy what they like, said Larry Krug, co-owner of Americana Resources, an antiques and collectibles company based in Gaithersburg. But, he said, they are more patient.

"If you went down around the Mall after inauguration, you could have bought up an awful lot of stuff very reasonable. But most of it is not going to go up in value in any great degree," Krug said. "For serious collectors, we say wait six months until after the campaign to start collecting, because by that time, if things are worth collecting, they'll still be around and still be available."

The guessing game over the future value of Obama collectibles is the latest twist on the century-old American tradition of buying and selling political memorabilia, especially those linked to a U.S. president. It is fueled these days by protracted national campaigns, state-by-state stumping and collectors' and retailers' impulses to capitalize on a good thing.

Some people have done well for themselves.

Almost 1 million people paid $19.99 for the "Obama Victory" commemorative plate, according to Telebrands, the company that created it. Dulles-based GeoEye took a satellite image of the Inauguration Day crowd on the Mall. The image was downloaded about a million times; a poster retails for $29.99. The U.S. Postal Service cashed in, too, upping the print run for its inaugural commemorative souvenir. The Post and other newspapers have sold commemorative editions and photo books to extend the life of their products beyond a one-day headline.

And then there are the edibles.

"What to do with Obama inaugural mints?" one hobbyist asked last month on the Facebook group for American Political Items Collectors, wondering whether the mints should be eaten or saved. Save them, came one response, and then a pressing follow-up: "Are the mints wrapped with individual Obama-themed paper or foil?"

Collectors run the gamut. Some collect items from a specific president, such as California campaign buttons for Ronald Reagan. Others go for items related to civil rights or women's suffrage. The tradition stretches to the 1840 presidential election, in which campaign medals were produced for the contest between Whig candidate William Henry Harrison and Democratic candidate Martin Van Buren, said Al Anderson, an Ohio-based collector for more than 48 years who founded Anderson Americana, an online auction site of political memorabilia.

"The thing with our race being so long, there was much more time to produce this stuff," he said. "If you like history, government or politics, it's a natural to collect. It really tells the story of America."

Right now, no story is hotter than Obama.

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