Museums Want Change You Can Collect

The Smithsonian's Museum of American History has long been curator of presidential memorabilia. But in a few years, the Smithsonian will be opening a new museum — of African-American History and Culture. And both museums are on the lookout for collectibles from the campaign of the first black president.

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The Barack Obama memorabilia industry is in full swing, unofficially on eBay and officially with the guardians of American culture, the Smithsonian Institution. The Smithsonian's Museum of American History has long been curator of presidential memorabilia. But in a few years the Smithsonian will be opening a new museum of African-American history and culture. Both museums are on the lookout for collectibles from the campaign of the first black president. NPR's Libby Lewis reports.

LIBBY LEWIS: The Museum of African-American History and Culture won't open until 2015. But history doesn't wait. So yesterday, museum curator Michele Moresi was in Falls Church, Virginia waiting for a garage door to open. The garage belongs to Ed Gerwin(ph), a retired lawyer who volunteered for the Obama campaign. The museum decided to preserve the content from the campaign's northern Virginia field office.

Ms. MICHELE MORESI (Curator, Museum of African-American History and Culture): Great, it's so neat. I'll take some more pictures.

Mr. ED GERWIN (Retired Lawyer): This is your annex, I guess.

Ms. MORESI: Yes, my annex for our collections.

LEWIS: They start making their way through a pile of stuff that could be for a garage sale. But context is everything in the eyes of historians.

Mr. GERWIN: We have these banners which - I think on one side were for a grand opening of a new taco restaurant. And on the other side people have spray painted Obama. And then were placed over the interstate highway.

Ms. MORESI: Oh, that's beautiful. Look at that.

LEWIS: It's like Graffiti with a purpose, Moresi says. She measures the Lazy Boy recliner where campaign workers crashed. They look over a coffee maker, complete with original coffer grounds.

Ms. MORESI: And you found a children's chair.

LEWIS: The office had an area for kids to play while their parents worked. I'm betting that little green chair makes it to the final exhibit, and so may a colorful artifact of this campaign's pursuit of diversity - the white board.

Mr. GERWIN: And there's a note here, they're going to the Korean Festival on the 26th.

Ms. MORESI: Right, and the Greeks in Falls Church.

Mr. GERWIN: Governor's Hispanic summit.

LEWIS: It's interesting to think about how the African-American history museum will tell the Obama story compared to the traditional American history museum. But there's not time to tell that story now, so I'll just ask Michele Moresi, is there a friendly competition?

Ms. MORESI: Very friendly, but it - you know, it is a competition. Everyone wants to have the best stuff.

LEWIS: The two museums have had talks about the Obama story, and the American History Museum has shared items from the Democratic Convention in Denver with their colleagues. Both museums say competition isn't the point. Adding different perspectives, they say, is. Libby Lewis, NPR News, Washington.

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