How Much Are Presidential Signatures Worth?

John F. Kennedy's signature in a letter to Sen. Olin Johnson i i

John F. Kennedy's signature in a letter to South Carolina Sen. Olin Johnston on Aug. 20, 1963. A genuine Kennedy signature is worth $2,500, even if the letter says simply "happy birthday." Courtesy Stuart Lutz Historic Documents Inc. hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy Stuart Lutz Historic Documents Inc.
John F. Kennedy's signature in a letter to Sen. Olin Johnson

John F. Kennedy's signature in a letter to South Carolina Sen. Olin Johnston on Aug. 20, 1963. A genuine Kennedy signature is worth $2,500, even if the letter says simply "happy birthday."

Courtesy Stuart Lutz Historic Documents Inc.
Ronald Reagan's signature is worth $750 and up. i i

Ronald Reagan's signature is worth $750 and up. Courtesy Stuart Lutz Historic Documents Inc. hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy Stuart Lutz Historic Documents Inc.
Ronald Reagan's signature is worth $750 and up.

Ronald Reagan's signature is worth $750 and up.

Courtesy Stuart Lutz Historic Documents Inc.

After President Obama's address Tuesday evening, he worked his way out of the House chamber through a crowd of senators and representatives who wanted his autograph on a copy of his speech. Even Republicans were asking for it.

It's happened before, but this was presidential celebrity on a new scale.

Some of those signature-seekers claimed they were asking for it on behalf of someone else — and it might even be worth something.

Stuart Lutz, an autograph dealer, tells NPR's Michele Norris he's seen Obama's signature and it's "not the most legible thing in the world."

He says he'll wait to guess the worth of the signed speeches from last night, but he said he expects to see them on eBay in the coming days. Lutz says he's seen an Obama signature on a document go for $500 and an Obama-signed baseball commanded more than $1,500. Those are items he signed since his inauguration.

His signature is worth less if it was captured before he became president.

These days, in terms of the modern presidents, Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy command the highest prices. Reagan's signature starts at $750 and a genuine Kennedy is worth $2,500, even if it says simply "happy birthday." The content of the letter can quickly elevate the price. Jimmy Carter's and Gerald Ford's signatures command the lowest prices.

But that can change, Lutz says.

"Fifteen or 20 years ago you couldn't give away Harry Truman," he says. "Then after David McCullough wrote that wonderful biography of him, everybody on the planet wanted a good Harry Truman letter, so his value escalated."

Right now, Obama's signature averages in the high hundreds, while George W. Bush's signature is less, according to Lutz. Bill Clinton's signature, signed when he was president, is worth $500 and up. George H.W. Bush's signature on presidential letterhead is worth between $300 and $500.

When asked which president had the best handwriting, Lutz says, "Hands down, George Washington, no doubt about it."

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