Collecting Memorabilia from a Non-Event
About 150,000 copies of Chicago Daily Tribune with the pre-printed—and wrong—headline were released before the real news of Harry S. Truman’s election was announced. Recent auction values of the first edition of the paper, depending on condition, have been from $600 to $1,700.
The 2016 election was a sure thing. Hillary Rodham Clinton was to be elected the 45th president of the United States with one of the largest Electoral College victories in recent memory—a near 98-percent certainty, according to most.
Then the election was held. She lost decisively. Not by the popular vote, since she won with about 3 million more than she needed, but the Electoral College math did her in. The first female president of the United States will have to wait.
In the meantime, vendors created memorabilia such as T-shirts, hats, tote bags, coins and all manner of items to commemorate her unprecedented “victory.” Even a Newsweek magazine cover story titled “Madame President” was issued beforehand. So what to do with all of this specially produced inventory? Sell it at a loss to her supporters, that’s what.
But are these items expected to have a historical value over time? Is memorabilia that was created for an event that didn’t happen collectible at all? There are some precedents that suggest that it is… and isn’t.
If you remember, President Harry S. Truman was not expected to be elected as president in his own right. He took the place of President Franklin D. Roosevelt when he died unexpectedly only a few months into his fourth term, but, being unpopular, his election in 1948 was not expected. His challenger, Republican Tom Dewey, was a sure thing and all of the pundits, newspapers, radio and pollsters insisted on it. Truman himself didn’t wait up for the results, instead going to bed early.
A pinback button depicting Hillary Clinton within the presidential seal, while incorrect, is still collectible by her fans.
Yet, surprise, the day after the election, it was Harry Truman who was elected. The Chicago Daily Tribune’s headline said “Dewey Defeats Truman.” Because setting type was a more laborious and time consuming process than it is now, it wasn’t the only paper that made the same error. But when Truman held up the copy of the Chicago Daily Tribune with the wrong headline several days later, it was the most remembered. About 150,000 copies of the newspaper were printed and released before the real news of Truman’s election was updated. Recent auction values of the first edition of the Chicago Daily Tribune, depending on condition, have been from $600 to $1,700.
Like the Chicago Daily Tribune is for the Truman election, the Newsweek magazine cover story of Hillary Clinton’s election win will be the most remembered and collected for the 2016 election with auction values already from $60 to $200, depending on condition.
And then there is the dinner for President John F. Kennedy in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, an event that also didn’t take place. However, the dinner menu, program, invitation, and other items connected to the event continue to sell as historical items from $100 to $800, depending on item and condition.
This ticket for the dinner planned for President John F. Kennedy in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, along with the dinner menu, program, invitation and other items connected to the event that was never held, continue to sell as historical items from $100 to $800.
The election of 2000 was also an election where the popular vote elected Al Gore as the 43rd president of the United States, but the Electoral College decided otherwise. George W. Bush was inaugurated in January 2001 instead. Still, an official Al Gore Inaugural Medal prototype was created that is still rather collectible today with an auction value of $1,300 to $1,900. I could not find any commercially produced inaugural items for Al Gore since the election was expected to be a close one.
As for the commercially produced Hillary Clinton inaugural items, it isn’t clear as to what their long term value will be, but collectors suspect they will have more curiosity value over time rather than a monetary one. For the short term, most values, depending on the item, will be less than $50. The Newsweek inaugural cover story will be one of the few exceptions.
Should Hillary Clinton inaugural items be collected? Sure, as collectors usually have a personal affinity for their collection as a whole, they embody the collector’s maxim “first collect what you like.” And that certainly applies here.
Apart from political items, other event memorabilia are sold at auction even if the event was interrupted or cancelled. The Apollo 1 and the Space Shuttle Challenger disasters are examples where patches, signatures, photos of the astronauts, models, documents, coins and other items associated with these space events are routinely traded, auctioned, bought and sold, but are mostly under $100. Autographs of astronauts are the exception because they have routinely auctioned at several hundred dollars each.
This official Al Gore Inaugural Medal prototype created prior to George W. Bush being named president is still rather collectible today with an auction value of $1,300 to $1,900.
Another high visibility event that never happened is the coronation of King Edward VIII. He abdicated the throne for “…the woman I love…” and even though no official coronation was ever held, many commercially produced items went on sale after he ascended the throne with a coronation theme. Most of the coronation items have a value of less than $50, except for very limited editions of glazed mugs and commemorative plates from companies such as Wedgwood and the Danbury Mint, which can fetch up to $500 at auction.
So, while collecting memorabilia from historical events is an intrinsic part of collecting overall, you would think that memorabilia surrounding an event that didn’t happen would have more of a collector value over time. Sadly, that’s not normally the case. Therefore, it is better to rely on what collecting is all about in the first place; collect what you like. Sometimes that may be your only satisfaction.
Tom Carrier is a General Worthologist with a specialty in Americana, political memorabilia and the resident WorthPoint vexillologist (flags, seals and heraldry) since 2007, and a frequent contributor of articles to WorthPoint.
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