Guide to Collecting Autographed Presidential Memorabilia

Guide to Collecting Autographed Presidential Memorabilia

The popularity of collecting autographed presidential memorabilia dates back many decades and the hobby has a very devoted collecting group.

When you combine that with the extreme value for some pieces, it is clear to see why many want to look deeper into this collectible market.

Collecting Autographed Presidential Memorabilia

This guide provides collectors with a comprehensive overview of this popular niche category. It highlights some of the more commonly found items and has tips for avoiding common pitfalls unique to the category of autographed presidential memorabilia.

Is it Real?

Due to the popularity of presidential memorabilia, numerous commemorative items have been created throughout the years. Most of these have facsimile autographs. Simply put, a facsimile autograph is nothing more than a photographic reproduction of a President's signature. Items of this nature are numerous and don't normally carry any collectible value as a piece of signed memorabilia.

In addition, due to the numerous items requiring the President's legitimate signature, many items like personal correspondence and invitations are often signed using a mechanical device called an autopen. An autopen uses live ink from an actual pen to replicate the President's signature. It is written by a robotic-like arm. Autopen signatures carry little value. However, their existence often makes it difficult to determine an authentic signature from that signed by an autopen.

To complicate matters even further, many Presidential items are often signed by someone else. These are referred to as secretarial signatures because, oftentimes, the President's secretary, aid or administrative assistant is authorized to sign items on the President's behalf.

So how can you tell if a piece of presidential memorabilia is authentically signed? The answer is that a lot of that is dependent on faith in the autograph authentication process and the credibility of the autograph authenticator.

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If it seems too good to be true...

Often, as collectors or prospective gift buyers, we find an item so unique, so fantastic or at such a great price, that we want the item to be real. This should be your first red flag. When this happens, take a deep breath, exhale, relax and examine the item's facts.

Collecting with your brain versus your heart will save you a lot of heartache and money in the long run.

Questions that need to be asked and answered of any alleged autographed presidential memorabilia item include:

  1. Was the President in question, actually alive when this item was allegedly signed?
  2. Does the signature coincide with the type of pen that would have been used at the time the item was signed?
  3. How many of these alleged items exist on the market?
  4. Has the item been authenticated by a reputable company?
  5. Does the item come with a Certificate of Authenticity or a Letter of Opinion?

As an example, finding a perfect copy of a Franklin D. Roosevelt autograph on an index card (referred to as a cut signature) that has been signed with a Sharpie, is obviously a forgery. Why? Because the company and its marker-like pens didn't even exist when FDR was alive.

Condition, Condition, Condition

After authenticity, the most important factor that influences presidential autographed memorabilia's value is condition. As with all collectibles, regardless of their age, the condition an item is in is essential to determining its value. The better the condition, the higher the value.

However, while an item's value may decrease significantly as a result of condition issues, it also allows for entry into an otherwise expensive market. Simply because a presidential autograph memorabilia piece is damaged, doesn't eliminate its value entirely. In fact, it can be a very affordable way to acquire pieces for one's collection that would otherwise be out of reach financially.

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Top 10 Presidential Autographs

When it comes to autographed presidential memorabilia, whose signature carries the highest value? This can be influenced by several factors including provenance and authenticity, condition, rarity and content of the subject matter. Signed documents related to a significant moment or achievement in a President's tenure, typically carry a premium over more everyday items or personal correspondence.

Another, significantly determining factor in the value of presidential signatures is whether or not the item was signed while they were President. Taking these factors into account, here is a look at, what is widely considered to be, the top 10 Most Valuable Presidential Autographs.

  1. William Harrison
  2. George Washington
  3. Abraham Lincoln
  4. Thomas Jefferson
  5. James Madison
  6. James Garfield
  7. John F. Kennedy
  8. Ronald Reagan
  9. Bill Clinton
  10. Franklin D. Roosevelt

In addition to those listed above, arguments can be made that Dwight D. Eisenhower, Andrew Jackson, James Monroe and Zachary Tyler should have a place on the list. Popularity and accessibility also play a part in determining the value of presidential memorabilia. Depending on the individual preference of a presidential collector, items from these aforementioned presidents, often times sell for a higher value than some of those listed.

Modern Presidential Autographed Memorabilia

The most commonly found items that have been authentically signed by a current of former U.S. President are documents. This is not surprising given the amount of material a president is required to sign while in office. The types of memorabilia items are significantly influenced by the term in which the president served. Modern president's all have written memoirs and appeared for book signing sessions. Many presidents have played golf and as a result, signed golf balls are also a relatively easy commodity to come across.

In recent years, even trading card manufacturers have capitalized on the popularity in the growth of presidential autograph collecting by including trading cards with autographs and cut signatures of former presidents within their products.

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Rob Bertrand


Rob is a former member of The Cardboard Connection Writing Staff and co-host of Cardboard Connection Radio.He is an avid collector with over 20 years of active experience in the hobby.

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