The Audacity of Greed
April 5, 2011 11:28 AM   Subscribe

Does the story behind this signed book increase its value at all? What's the smartest thing I can do with it?

It's October 2006. I'm a student at the University of Chicago. I get an email on the dorm mailing list about an event at the local bookshop. Our local rising star, Senator Barack Obama, will be signing copies of his brand new book on the very morning of its release. I miss the first half hour of bio class to get there early, because I like the guy and I have a crazy idea that he might run for president someday. I meet my friends in line. I get my copy, shake the Senator's hand, run out, and sneak into class.

Fast forward a few years. I'm checking Ebay and Abebooks and signed first printings of The Audacity of Hope are going for several thousands of dollars. Here's the thing: I don't have a Certificate of Authenticity, or a receipt, or a dated video of Obama shaking my hand. I do have a print-out of the email from October 2006, announcing the event. If need be I even have friends I waited in line with who could corroborate that I was there.

I have a few questions. First, would this story (including the fact that the book was purchased in Obama's home neighborhood, at his local bookstore, on the first day of its public release) make the book any more valuable than another signed first printing? If so, is my evidence enough to establish provenance? Finally, what's the best thing to do with it now? Put it in a safety deposit box? Sell it before Obama's real birth certificate turns up? Should I just wait until I'm fifty and bring it in when Antiques Roadshow rolls around?
posted by theodolite to Work & Money (11 answers total)
It's worth what someone will pay for it.

That is to say, sure, to someone that will equate to paying a higher prices, but to many others it wouldn't matter. For me, when I buy a first edition, or a book from the first public printing, I personally don't care a whole lot about the particulars around it getting signed unless I am an insane fan of the author.

If you want to sell it then you might as well price it high and see if someone will buy it. As for the authenticity, if someone doesn't believe you then apologize and tell them to move along.
posted by zombieApoc at 11:37 AM on April 5, 2011

I haven't worked in the collectible book biz for a decade. But when I was trained in various aspects of collectibility, stories aren't worth anything.

I agree with zombieApoc. Unless you find a hardcore fan who simply relishes the details of your story, I wouldn't expect you to get a better price than other signed first editions of similar condition.

The signature, condition of the book, and the condition of the book jacket will be the prevailing factors, I think.
posted by Anephim at 12:02 PM on April 5, 2011

If what I've leaned watching Auction Kings and Pawn Stars is accurate, there are services out there that will validate the signature. Weigh the cost of that service against the increase in value to decide if it's worth it.
posted by COD at 12:02 PM on April 5, 2011

About what to do with it:

That's a hard choice. The market supply and demand have a lot to do with the value of a collectible book. It's not as simple as getting more valuable over time.

By the time you're fifty, history will have a different perspective on Obama and his presidency. That perspective will factor into the demand and collectibility. It might go up, it might go down.

From your description, it sounds like the market is flooded with copies. But if those copies are moving at thousands of dollars each, it's probably a good time to sell.
posted by Anephim at 12:16 PM on April 5, 2011

Response by poster: Alright, thanks. I was hoping that maybe a first-day book would be worth more than a mere first printing, but I guess not!

I don't know if the market is "flooded" with copies -- right now there's only one result on Ebay for "audacity of hope signed printing", for example. I think I'm going to hold onto it at least until there's someone else in the White House.
posted by theodolite at 1:02 PM on April 5, 2011

I searched for "obama signed audacity hope" on ebay and found 12 current results and 12 completed items. All of the expensive ones aren't selling. Of the 5 completed items that actually sold, prices ranged from $314 to $755.
posted by Slinga at 1:32 PM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: From what little I know of book collecting, first editions and especially first printings are significantly more valuable than ordinary signed hardcovers.
posted by theodolite at 1:51 PM on April 5, 2011

I'm actually surprised that they're going for $314. They shouldn't be that hard to come by. When Audacity came out, I worked at a bookstore that had an event with Obama where at least 1500 signed copies were sold. Possibly more. There were several events like this across the country.

I'm also kicking myself because I worked the event but passed up the opportunity to meet Obama and get a signed copy of the book.

As an aside, Obama also went to a political rally in Milwaukee and then had to leave to take his kids trick or treating.
posted by drezdn at 1:59 PM on April 5, 2011

What I've learned from Antiques Roadshow:

- When a person signed it is important. A signature from community organizer Obama is different from IL Senator Obama is different from federal Senator Obama is different from President Obama. IMHO, to collectors, the signature from President Obama will be the most valuable.

- Rarity of a signature is important. It sounds like Obama has personally signed many, many things. It isn't a rare signature, it's not going to be that valuable.

- Rarity of a book is important. First editions of this book aren't hard to come by.

- In modern additions of books the condition of the dust jacket is important. More than important, it is paramount. Protect that dust jacket!

- The only place that stories really affect the value is if you can prove this is one of the first copies he signed, that the event was a personally significant moment in Obama's life, or that it's a Civil War artifact (knowing the story of the owner of a Civil War artifact always increases the value). I don't think any of those apply here :)

Ultimately, I think that with Obama's books right now you're seeing speculation prices, not prices based on desirability or rarity. That is, if people are selling these books at $1000 it's because the buyers think that in the future the book will be worth much more than that.
posted by sbutler at 3:29 PM on April 5, 2011

Also, the best thing you could do is to write down as much detail about the book and event as you remember. The signing, the serial number/edition/copyright/condition of the book. Anything that ties this book to that event. Then get your friends' signatures (witnesses) notarized. That's better provenance than most people have.
posted by sbutler at 3:32 PM on April 5, 2011

I'm checking Ebay and Abebooks and signed first printings of The Audacity of Hope are going for several thousands of dollars.

Don't be confused: people arelisting copies at those price, but rest assured man, they are not sellling at those prices. Christ, that's the kind of price you can get a first edition George Orwell with - a much rarer and deader book and author.

My experience would be that you'll be lucky to get a coupla hundred bucks for it - lucky. Probably more like a hundred. And stories don't make it sell better except insofar as they're a form of marketing. Also, as stories go - you lined up to meet an author at a signing, and the author subsequently signed your book - it's not exactly Dr Zhivago, you know?
posted by smoke at 3:52 PM on April 5, 2011

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