Back in the day, there were two ways to get one of the coveted souvenir eggs at the White House Easter Egg Roll: Stand in line for hours to score a ticket to the event, or lean on your plugged-in administration buddies to get you in. To the victors went the brightly- colored wooden eggs, proof that they were on the South Lawn alongside the president and first lady.
On Monday, the White House released pictures of the 2011 eggs (lilac, pink, yellow and aqua) and. . . guess what, people? Savvy insiders have been getting the eggs for years without the hassle of lines, small children or actually attending the Easter Monday event. They’re for sale.
“Boy, once you’ve been through that mob scene, you’re happy to just go buy the egg,” said Anita McBride, chief of staff to Laura Bush. “I have a huge collection. I put them out every Easter in a glass bowl.”
The tradition of tossing hard-boiled eggs at the White House goes back to 1878, but the souvenir eggs started in the 1980s, when Nancy Reagan decided to give a commemorative egg to every child. A lucky few had autographs from staffers and Hollywood celebrities. “At the end of the day, Colin Powell and I would sit there signing with Sharpie pens,” said former White House chief of staff Ken Duberstein.
By 1989, the eggs were pre-printed with the president’s and first lady’s signatures, but the only place to get an egg was at the White House — collectors would hang outside the gates and try to buy from families — or through dealers. It wasn’t until the end of the Clinton administration that eggs quietly went on sale at the White House Historical Association; for the past five years, the National Parks Foundation has been offering sets of four ($26.50) and individual eggs ($7.50); purple is the bestseller.
An older egg might be worth some serious cash, Jeff Burnett told us. The Ohio antique dealer has a personal collection of more than 150 White House eggs and has already pre-ordered six of the 2011 box sets and 24 individual eggs. A Reagan egg with a celebrity autograph: $100 minimum. “I have Eddie Albert. I’ve seen Lucille Ball and tons of Wayne Newton.”
But online sales have dampened the value of recent eggs. A 2009 or 2010 Obama mass-produced egg only sells for $20-$25; this year 85,000 eggs will be for sale. (By contrast, one of the rare eggs from the rained-out 2001 event might command $125.)
The only time Burnett and his son went in person was the 2007 Bush event. (The bright fuschia egg was “a huge letdown” for the boy.) Burnett’s favorite is from 2000 featuring a cute design by artist Mary Engelbreit. “Hillary Clinton did the best job with the eggs — hers are most creative.”