- The Washington Times - Monday, January 10, 2005

When it comes to President Bush 2005 inaugural memorabilia, Brian Harlin says the fever for collecting is spiking.

“People are definitely spending more money this time than last time,” says the 38-year-old vendor from Elkridge, Md.

Mr. Harlin’s company, GOPShoppe.com, was chosen as the official licensor of mugs, paperweights, ice buckets, cobalt tankards, coasters, money clips, tie bars and other presidential knickknacks being sold on the official Presidential Inaugural Committee Web site.

“Four years ago, the average sale was $74. Today it’s $122,” he said, adding that memorabilia from second inaugurations typically don’t sell as well as the first time.

The most popular collectibles for the nation’s 55th inauguration, he says, are the $50 personalized inaugural license plates. But, for the first time, the plates are just for decoration and can not be registered with states for use.

Coming in second? The $1,190 limited-edition Medallion Collection, followed by the $95 silver cufflinks.

The Medallion Collection, limited to 500 sets, features three medallions with the profiles of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney in a cherry wood presentation box.

“With each incoming president, the items get more elaborate,” says Jeffrey Mueller, a 50-year-old banker from Minnesota who boasts one of the largest collections of presidential inaugural memorabilia in private hands.

Mr. Mueller’s collection — which numbers more than 500 items — is valued “well into the six figures.” His most cherished possession in an invitation to Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural ball in 1865, which could fetch $5,000.

“I started with presidential autographs, then got into this. This is a one-day event, surrounded by a lot of hoopla. There are a lot of documents: programs, invitations, tickets, medals, buttons,” he said.

The “boom period” for inaugural souvenirs, he says, was between the Civil War and the election of President William McKinley in 1897.

In addition to his Web site, Mr. Harlin said 1.5 million catalogs have been sent out to the GOP faithful, and he expects more than $2 million in sales. He also will have a small shop up and running later this week at the Presidential Inaugural Committee’s headquarters on C Street SE. Official items will also be sold at the inaugural balls and other events.

The Republican Party receives a royalty on each item. The Presidential Inaugural Committee will use the money to help defray the estimated $40 million cost of the festivities surrounding the Jan. 20 swearing-in. More than $18 million has been raised so far from private donors.

And while street vendors are hawking cheap, unofficial imitations, Mr. Harlin says the official merchandise — all made in the United States — is of higher quality. “But we get enough business,” Mr. Harlin said. “I don’t need to be greedy.”

Indeed, the streets of Washington are already a conga line of souvenir trucks, selling everything from Bush-Cheney 2005 inaugural T-shirts to mugs.

The Internet has made collecting easier.

Ron Wade, a Texas friend of former President George Bush, does a brisk business on his online shop, buying and selling political memorabilia. He is also president of the Bush Political Items Collectors, a group that hosts a souvenir show every year.

“The usual rush happens after the inaugural,” Mr. Wade says. “That’s when most people really get excited, because of all the publicity.”

Mr. Wade has been buying, selling and trading since 1972. His most valuable inaugural item is a coat button made in 1789 for the inauguration of President George Washington. The button says, “GW Long Live the President.”

“He wore a set on his coat. I guess that’s when the souvenir business started,” Mr. Wade said.

Ribbons also were popular, especially pre-1840. Police badges issued by the District of Columbia to the police force are also highly collectible.

The most popular presidential inaugural items commemorate Teddy Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, collectors say.

“The least popular is Jimmy Carter,” says Mr. Wade. “Nobody wants anything of Jimmy Carter’s.”

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