Friday, January 16, 2009

Inaugural Memorabilia: What It's Worth

An estimated two million people will visit the nation’s capital over the weekend to watch Barack Obama’s presidential inauguration. And while witnessing history will be rewarding enough to some, other attendees will be looking to reap some sizable financial rewards, as well.

Inaugural memorabilia — anything from inauguration tickets and ball invitations to event programs, newspapers, buttons or even street signs — will without a doubt surface on eBay as soon as the inauguration is over. The question is: Will such items end up being merely sentimental keepsakes or lucrative investments?

The answer depends on what you’ve got and how long you hold onto it. Here's what you need to know to help you decide whether stocking up on Obama posters on Inauguration Day or hoarding newspapers the day after makes good financial sense.

It’s a numbers game

In November 2008, the Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas sold a ticket to Lincoln’s 1865 inauguration for $14,430. Astounding, to be sure. But Obama inauguration ticket holders shouldn’t get their hopes up that they'll reap anywhere near that amount. “Those [inaugural tickets] were extremely rare because of the war effort at the time,” says Marsha Dixey, consignment director for the historical department at Heritage Auction Galleries.

In most cases, the rarer an item, the more value it’ll have in the future. And with 240,000 swearing-in tickets for Obama's inauguration already distributed through members of Congress, chances are ticketholders will have to wait a long time before they can make any significant profits off of their own.

“If you have limited tickets to a special party with President Obama where there are just 200 printed, those very limited edition items will become collectibles,” says Wes Cowan, owner of Cowan’s Auctions and a featured appraiser on PBS’s "Antiques Roadshow." But consider this: There are 10 official inaugural balls in Washington, D.C., on the night of the swearing-in ceremony. And more than 1,000 free tickets have already been distributed to just one of these events, the Neighborhood Inaugural Ball.

The same goes for the inaugural souvenirs that have already flooded both eBay and D.C.’s shops. “My guess is President Obama is going to be so popular, there are going to be so many T-shirts, coffee cups and bumper stickers, that it will take years and years for a market to be created for this stuff,” says Cowan.

Location, location, location

The value of inauguration memorabilia increases exponentially as you get closer to the president on that day. Anything given to participants in the ceremony, say, a security badge given to a guard with access to the podium or even a photographer’s press pass, should garner some attention from collectors in the future, says Dixey. And, needless to say, getting the president’s signature on anything will boost its value immediately. “An invitation to an inaugural ball signed by Obama — that’s going to be aces in the future,” she says.

A matter of timing

As with investing, some items are worth holding for the long term while others will only have a fleeting appeal.

Items that are distributed in large numbers will see their prices spike immediately after the events, Dixey says, but will then cool off. “You’ll see people who didn’t get to go wanting that inaugural invitation as a memento,” she explains. “And right after the event, I think you’ll see lots of them surface on eBay. It’s anybody’s guess what they’ll go for at that time, but after three or four months you’ll see prices soften.”

That's exactly what happened with the newspapers that came out the day after Obama won the election. The so-called “Obama” issues of the New York Times were selling for as much as $120 on eBay right after Nov. 5, Dixey says. Today, you can buy three copies for just $9.99.

Meanwhile, items that are more valuable to begin with — limited-edition memorabilia, tickets or invitations to exclusive events, press passes or security badges, anything signed by the president or first lady — will only increase in value as time goes by. To get a better return on your item, wait at least until President Obama’s term is over, Dixey advises. And should Obama’s term in office be considered a success and Americans continue to embrace him as their leader, the value will hold even longer.

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[Source: SmartMoney.com - Consumer Action

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