What's worth more: Batman's tights or Bill Clinton's signature? Sen. John Kerry's autograph on 20 letters, or a signed photo of Larry of the Three Stooges?
An auction of celebrity and political memorabilia tells all.
In the middle of May, Paula Hantman of Potomac held a two-day auction at the Elks Lodge in Rockville to dispose of property from the estates of Daniel Patrick Moynihan and collector Robert White.
The late Democratic senator from New York had an abundance of correspondence accumulated during 50 years in government. White, a Catonsville, Md., resident, had amassed one of the world's largest collections of Kennedy memorabilia. He also had a collection of movie and television memorabilia.
Nearly 500 items from White's celebrity collection were sold during the auction's first session. The next day about 160 lots from the Moynihan estate, including many documents signed by well-known politicians, went on the block.
Here's what the auction revealed (all prices include a 20 percent buyer's premium):
While Clinton may be a superhero to his supporters, he finished second to imaginary crime-fighters Batman and Robin. Two signed notes from the then-president to Moynihan went for $3,300, while tights, capes, leotard and shirts from Adam West's 1960s TV show brought $3,900.
A group of 20 notes and letters from Kerry to Moynihan was expected to fetch big bucks. Instead, it brought $2,040 -- less than half of the estimated value of $5,000. The Kerry material did manage to equal the amount ($2,040) someone paid for a signed photo and locks of hair from Larry of the Three Stooges. Let the political pundits chew on the meaning of that.
Is a president's signature worth more than the John Hancock of Marilyn Monroe?
Not if the president is George W. Bush. A note he sent to Moynihan after the 2000 inauguration sold for $1,200, while Monroe's autograph on a publicity photo from the less-than-memorable film "Let's Make Love" brought $1,440.
A letter on White House stationery from President George H.W. Bush sold for $900, but that ran a rather distant second to a photo still from "The Wizard of Oz" signed by the film's cast; it went for $1,440.
Put Jimmy Carter up against "Twilight Zone" creator Rod Serling, and the result is an eerie feeling -- and a tie. A three-page signed 1978 letter to Moynihan from the then-president sold for $1,200, the same amount as a Serling-signed script from a "Twilight Zone" episode that aired on Oct. 30, 1959.
Three signed letters to Moynihan from Carter on White House stationery did better -- $3,900. Thomas Edison, however, proved he can still light up a room when his 1906 signed photo brought $4,500.
Al Gore was represented with eight signed letters and notes, which sold as a lot for $660 -- the same price fetched by a single signed photo of Stan Laurel of the famous comedy team.
Joseph I. Lieberman and W.C. Fields were equals in the eyes of collectors: Eleven signed notes to Moynihan from the Democratic Connecticut senator sold for $360, the same amount paid for one signed photo of the comedian.
Five signed notes from Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan sold for $240, equaling the winning bid for four autographed photos of the cast of "The Beverly Hillbillies."
A single Hillary Clinton item -- a signed 1993 note on White House stationery -- sold for $390, the same price as an autographed copy of the album "Waiting for the Sun" by the Doors. A framed bill-signing pen President Ronald Reagan gave to Moynihan in 1988 sold for $1,320 -- more than its estimated value. But an eight-page 1987 letter from Yoko Ono to Moynihan was more highly prized; it sold for $1,440.
For autograph collectors on a budget, some prominent politicians were more affordable:
* An illustration of the Treasury Building signed by Clinton-era Treasury Secretary Lawrence H. Summers, $60.
* Five signed notes from Daniel Boorstin, librarian of Congress, $60.
* A signed note from Robert S. McNamara, $60.
* A Congressional Record signed by Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), $72.
* Five signed letters from Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), $72.
* Five signed notes from then-Sen. Alphonse D'Amato (R-N.Y.), $96.
* Two signed letters from then-Vice President Dan Quayle, $120.
* Six signed letters and notes from then-Sen. John C. Danforth (R-Mo.), $120.
* Seven signed letters from then-Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, $120.
Some Hollywood names from the past are now in the bargain bin too.
* Two signed photos of Steve Allen and Jayne Meadows, $60.
* Kate Smith's signed 8x10 photo with songbooks, $60.
* A 1974 check from Vincent Price to his car dealer, $90.
* Signed photos and memorabilia from Wonder Woman Lynda Carter, $90.
If you missed this auction, don't despair. Hantman plans to return to the Elks Lodge in October with more material from the Moynihan and White collections. Then we'll see if past and future U.S. presidents can outdistance the Lone Ranger and Tonto.
-- Robert Kyle