MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
Here's something from last night's speech that got congressional historians talking. You may have seen it, too. After the speech, the president worked his way out of the chamber through a crowd of senators and representatives who wanted his autograph, even Republicans were asking. It's happened before, but this was presidential celebrity on a new scale.
Some of those signature seekers claimed they were asking on behalf of someone else, and it's a pretty nice keepsake. The president's signature on a copy of his speech, it might even be worth something. So, we called an autograph dealer, Stuart Lutz, and he joins us now. Welcome to the program.
STUART LUTZ: Hi there.
NORRIS: Have you ever actually had a chance to see Barack Obama's signature?
LUTZ: I have seen them at autograph shows, and I do attend auctions where they are sold.
NORRIS: Could you describe it?
LUTZ: Not the most legible thing in the world. He has a good B and then kind of a line, and then an O for the Obama and then a line for the B-A-M-A at the end.
NORRIS: Now, how much generally is a presidential signature worth, if you just have it on a piece of paper? And how much does that increase in value if you have it on something like a speech, a speech delivered by the man who actually signed the document?
LUTZ: Well, a presidential autograph depends on the president. So, if somebody like Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford who signed thousands of items, it's the law of supply and demand, so, there's not a lot of value for them. For some of the more valuable presidents in recent memory - that would be John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan - they increase in value quite a bit.
I do not know how much Barack Obama-signed speeches from last night will be worth, but we may see them on eBay in the coming days.
NORRIS: And because he appeared to sign so many of those speeches, does that reduce the value?
LUTZ: No, I think there's just quite a lot of demand for him. In recent auctions, a genuine signed photograph and genuine signed books have been selling for over $500. I saw in one auction a signed baseball sold for over $1,500.
NORRIS: If your signature was acquired when he was candidate Obama and not president, does that affect the value?
LUTZ: Yes. If he is good enough to date it during his presidency, it'll be worth a lot more than when he was senator or candidate.
NORRIS: How do you know when you're actually looking at a real signature as opposed to a forgery?
LUTZ: At this time there's not been a lot of work done on what's genuine, what's not genuine, what's machine signed and what's secretarially signed, at this point, on Obama.
NORRIS: Now, that requires some explanation. Machine signed and secretarially signed?
LUTZ: Yeah. Many of these senators and presidents have secretaries who sign for them. And many of the presidents have machines that will sign their name for them, so they can churn out thousands of letters a day.
NORRIS: Now, this may be crass to do this, but I'm going to ask you, if you could, to attach a dollar amount to the most recent presidents, just to get a sense of what their signatures are worth.
LUTZ: Sure. This point, President Obama is really easily in the high hundreds, if not, over $1,000 for something genuine. President Bush, the most recent one, is lower. I've sold President Clinton as president for - in the $500 and up range on White House letterhead. President Bush, Senior on presidential letterhead also goes in the three, four, $500 range. And President Reagan as president probably starts at $750 and goes up from there.
NORRIS: Does the value of the presidential signature ride up and down in the way that the markets on Wall Street ride up and down? If you're looking to maximize profit, do you want to sell that signature when the president's riding high in terms of the popularity in the polls?
LUTZ: Yes. And, also, presidents and their autograph values go up and down over time. Fifteen or 20 years ago, you couldn't give away Harry Truman. And then after David McCullough wrote that wonderful biography of him, everybody on the planet wanted a good Harry Truman letter. So his value escalated.
NORRIS: I'm curious. Which of the presidents, to your mind, has the best penmanship?
LUTZ: Of all 44 presidents, hands down George Washington. No doubt about it.
NORRIS: Well, Mr. Lutz, it's been a pleasure to talk to you. Thank you very much.
LUTZ: Thank you very much for your time.
NORRIS: Stuart Lutz is an autograph dealer. We talked to him from Newark, New Jersey.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SIGNED, SEALED, DELIVERED, I'M YOURS")
STEVIE WONDER: (Singing) Ooh, baby, here I am, signed, sealed, delivered, I'm yours.
NORRIS: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.
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