Collecting the Perks of the President
When you are the president of the United States, you get a lot of perks. Many items related to those perks are collectible.
So, you’ve been elected president of the United States. Maybe not by popular vote, but the Constitution is quite clear that the Electoral College can elect a president, too. Either way, things will change quickly at least for you and your family. Aside from the obvious responsibilities, getting paid ($400,000 per year), making agency appointments, meeting other heads of state, health care and so on, what are the some of the perks of the office you now have that you might share with collectors?
White House Residence
Sitting on 18.5 acres of prime Washington, D.C. real estate, the principal residence of the president is located on the second and third floors of this 55,000-square-foot historic property first occupied in 1800. Overall, the president and his family have about 15,000 square feet of living quarters that can be made uniquely their own. Access to tennis courts, swimming pool, bowling alley, basketball courts, running track, gardens and a putting green is all yours, too. However, you do have to pay for your basic living expenses such as food, personal cleaning and any costs associated with a personal event. You’ll be billed monthly.
During the 19th century, the White House would occasionally replace furniture, glassware, tableware and other items throughout the White House. However, that was all stopped by Edith Wilson, who didn’t like to see White House items on sale at antique stores where she was a frequent buyer. However, early White House dishes, glassware, paper items, linens and such can still be found, especially the unique state dinner service of President Rutherford B. Hayes.
This lot of invitations, menus and other White House ephemera from the 1981 State dinner with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat brought $89 on eBay.
Event programs, state dinner menus, hand-held flags for arriving ceremonies, matchbooks, M&Ms, paper items—such as birthday greetings—presidential patches, official cufflinks and jewelry, signing pens, photos, and challenge coins are all part of the items that come with your job and that collectors, visitors, volunteers and others can share in.
Notice I didn’t list the yearly Christmas card or Christmas ornament. Technically, as the presidential family, you choose the design of the yearly Christmas card, but it is produced and mailed by the president’s political party, not at taxpayer expense. The Christmas ornament is a fundraiser item created and overseen solely by the White House Historical Association and not associated with official White House functions. Still, a great way to share in the holidays.
Blair House for Guests
Having buddies over? They don’ need no stinkin’ hotel room! If you don’t want those rowdies to share in the 35 guest bedrooms in your official digs, guest quarters can be arranged at this early 19th-century set of rowhouses just across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House. At 70,000 square feet (more than the White House), there are 119 rooms, 14 bedrooms and lots of personal privacy, even for heads of state who visit.
There are not many Blair House items on the market, but this porcelain replica of Blair House, the President’s “Guest House,” a hand-painted and signed Hurley Porcelain piece, realized $30 on eBay recently.
For collectors, though, Blair House memorabilia is rather difficult to find, as so few official items have surfaced, apart from pens, pencils, matchbooks and letterhead. Press photos show the interiors before and after major renovations, but mostly the complex is almost a state secret and strictly off-limits to regular folk, as it should be. The 1951 Truman White House Christmas card is the only card to ever feature the Blair House complex and only because Truman and his family stayed there during the White House renovations at the time.
The Oval Office
The official office of the president of the United States, your new government work space, is located in the West Wing set of offices dedicated strictly to the president and the closest staff. All other offices are located in the Old Executive Office Building next door. Just know that your immediate staff will be measuring their proximity to the Oval Office to show just how important they are to you.
This Bill Clinton Oval Office ball point pen was actually used in the Oval Office, says the seller. It went for $150.
Proximity can also be found in the amazing types of official gifts that a president can bestow on guests high and low. Signing pens are a favorite, especially if the pen was used as part of an official signing ceremony. Official cufflinks with the presidential seal and the president’s signature engraved on the reverse of each one are also a particular collector favorite.
Other official items of the past included bookmarks, glassware, tie bars, key chains, paperweights, small brooches, charm bracelets, wallets and all manner of special gifts bearing the seal of the president. Keep in mind, though, these official items can be anything you want them to be.
U.S. Secret Service
As president, you are protected 24/7/365 by an elite group of armed bodyguards. You and your family are unable to go just anywhere without these experienced defenders anymore… sorry. They will put their very lives on the line to protect you at all costs, even if they have to stand in the rain to do it. The only exception to the rule is when you are in the family quarters in the White House Residence and even then, they know exactly where each family member is at all times (no, there are no cameras in the Residence).
This Secret Service Counter Assault Team challenge coin sold for $36 in 2014.
Proud of their commitment to the office of the president and other protectees, as they are called, this elite group is a special agency within the Treasury Department, with offices around the world. Each of the offices issue their own challenge coin that collectors can buy and trade. The U.S. Secret Service also sends out its own Christmas card and ornament each year, has special items such as lapel pins, tie bars, cufflinks, patches, special-issued badges, pens, lighters, tote bags, special clothing and even stuffed bears (our favorite when we had a young son at home) in their gift shop at their main headquarters.
As president, you are also no longer able to get behind the wheel of any vehicle unless it is on a closed course, such as your official vacation home, Camp David or on the White House driveway. You will be driven everywhere. But you also don’t ever have to stop for red lights or fight for parking, either.
Now, you have your own motorcade, usually consisting of at least two dozen vehicles, not counting press or emergency vehicles moving at speed along roads cleared of traffic ahead of time (I understand that you do pay tolls, though). The official presidential limousine is called “The Beast”—a specially upgraded Cadillac built on a medium-duty truck platform outfitted with all manner of life saving special features. With up-to-date communications, you are in touch with the world even if you are completely sealed inside against a gas attack.
The Beast is a specially upgraded Cadillac built on a medium-duty truck platform outfitted with all manner of life saving special features.
The U.S. Secret Service Special Services Division oversees the official fleet of presidential limousines and officers are issued official patches, challenge coins and lapel pins for the most part. Otherwise, except for the official White House photos and gift shop items, relatively few official collectibles emerge for this rather secret of presidential perks, but woven presidential patches from the limousine emerge now and then.
If you need to go a great distance, Air Force One is the only way to fly. Well, actually, the planes themselves are an identical set of Boeing VC-25s, which have been in service since 1990. Known officially as SAM 28000 and SAM 29000 for Special Air Mission, the United States Air Force operates these long-distance planes at the command of the president. Only when you are aboard as president of any aircraft, including these, are they called Air Force One. Even a crop duster can be designated Air Force One if you step aboard.
This is a deck of Air Force One playing cards that sold, without the box, for $22.
Here again, official items associated with these planes—or others that came before them—are very hard to identify and collect. There have been blankets, pillows, dish and glassware, uniforms, patches and other items from presidential airplanes, dating to from Eisenhower’s era to the present that have surfaced now and again. They are very scarce and are a uniquely valuable part of presidential history. You can collect smaller items, such as M&Ms, chocolates, mints, napkins, plastic water cups, challenge coins, patches, photos, playing cards, stationery, note cards and other items throughout the presidential years at any time.
Just getting from one place to the next, even by motorcade, can be a long and winding road. That’s where your own helicopter comes in. Known as Marine One, once the president is aboard, this fleet of specially built Sikorsky SH-3 Sea King or VH-60N White Hawk helicopters gets you, your staff and guests safely through shorter distances.
Managed by the U.S. Marine Helicopter Squadron (HMX-1) today, the first helicopters in presidential use were in 1957 during Eisenhower’s frequent trips over the mountains from Camp David, Md., or his farm in Gettysburg, Penn., to the White House grounds. Then, the Marines and the Army had joint jurisdiction until 1976, when the U.S. Marines were put in overall command. During that time, the helicopter was code named Army One.
Marine One is a specially built Sikorsky SH-3 Sea King or VH-60N White Hawk helicopter.
That makes Marine One collectibles rather unique. The reason? Before the designation changed to Marine One in 1976, relatively few official items were produced under the Army One designation. Glassware (mostly whiskey glasses) and official patches are what collectors usually find apart from the rather odd official item here and there. Marine One collectibles are more common with challenge coins, Christmas cards and ornaments, patches and specialty gift-shop items predominating.
Unless you have your own vacation spot (as I think you do), Camp David is the most secure presidential place to unwind and relax with maybe an official meeting or two in between. Located in the Catoctin Mountains of Maryland, this heavily guarded retreat is run by the U.S. Navy as Naval Support Facility Thurmont. Just don’t expect the luxury of the White House grounds here. The place is rustic with outdoors the predominant theme here. Walk, jog, ride horses, throw horseshoes, chase squirrels. That’s about it.
The lodge at Camp David is located in the Catoctin Mountains of Maryland.
For the collector, there is relatively little to collect. There have been ashtrays, lighters, pewter items, matchbooks, cufflinks, tie bars, playing cards, coffee mugs, and photos, but most of the items are more of the gift shop items and never officially used.
And lastly, if things go terribly wrong, you have your own military to make it right again. With restrictions, of course. Threaten, cajole, persuade, and insist are all different ways to suggest a compromise with the military might of the United States as your final negotiating ploy. And we do mean final.
Each of the branches of the armed services issue their own unique challenge coin and, as commander-in-chief, you have your own as well. President Barack Obama gave his out only to wounded service personnel. We’d rather there weren’t many of those, thank you, but consider how to recognize the sacrifices of your own military personnel. The challenge coin could help with that.
Oh, and be careful what you sign as president. Collectors will want any signature that isn’t official most of all.
We all wish the best to you and your family in your new government job. All of us, the world, and History will be watching.
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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