Get your inaugural doo-dads!

Rich Hood

January 20, 1993|By Rich Hood

Hey, buddy! Wanna buy a sterling silver Bill Clinton trademark saxophone lapel pin?

Just $35.

Or maybe you'd like a silver-plated, engraved, official inaugural-seal photo frame with genuine imitation official reproduction of an invitation to William Jefferson Clinton's inauguration? It's only $58.

Or what about a commemorative cherrywood box, custom-crafted with the official inaugural seal and a blue velvet lining? It's 7 1/2 inches long, 5 7/8 inches wide and 2 3/8 inches deep, and a steal at $75. Plus $8 for postage and handling.

How could you possibly go wrong with bargains like those?

Lots of ways, in the view of Allan Cigler, a political science professor at the University of Kansas.

"I don't see that as much more than fluff," Cigler said. "I don't know what the U.S. government is in the business of doing that for."

The professor, who collects coins and stamps, said the official inaugural commemoratives have little value as collectibles.

But don't tell that to the official inaugural planners. They are counting on this posh flea market to help foot the bill for the $20 million-plus inauguration.

The first official inaugural commemorative store in downtown Washington is a hole in the wall that can accommodate few more than a dozen customers at a time. For days now a line of prospectors outside has been hoping to spot the one official Clinton bargain.

The official paraphernalia has just moved to two suburban Washington malls to accommodate more customers. But most people will try to get their Clinton kicks by ordering from the official catalogette or the much larger catalog that takes four to six weeks to obtain.

For those prowling the streets of Washington this week, the inaugural collectibles come in two flavors: official grossly overpriced items that help pay for the event and unofficial commercial kitsch that range from the merely cutesy to the outrageous.

Jimmy Carter, the last Democrat to be inaugurated, was a peanut farmer who inspired various unofficial put-downs of the peanut in connection with his inauguration. But it was Ronald Reagan who made an edible memento official in 1981 with his appropriately filled official plastic jelly-bean containers. Mr. Reagan switched to official inaugural mints at $7.50 a package in 1985.

At these quadrennial affairs, private vendors sometimes have to eat their profits if they miscalculate. For example, a commercial vendor from New York is marketing a 3-inch-wide button containing a picture of Mr. Clinton and the words "Inhale to the Chief."

Rich Hood wrote this for the Kansas City Star.

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