Capital awash in Obama bling and bobble-heads

McClatchy NewspapersJanuary 17, 2009 

WASHNGTON — Barack Obama inaugural souvenirs are selling at three times the rate of the previous record holder, Bill Clinton, according to vendor Jim Warlick, veteran of eight inaugurals.

What's hottest? "Anything with Obama's image on it," Warlick said. This left about 150 possibilities at Warlick's Political Americana shop in downtown Washington.

"The bobble-heads are really popular," he added helpfully.

Warlick bet big on Obama, opening five locations for Obama gear exclusively. He dreams of lines "backed out the door."

Other vendors are smelling Obama memorabilia money, too.

"We're already running low on merchandise," said Gus Koutsothodoros of P&D Souvenir Factory near Ford's Theater. "Wholesale is so busy they don't have time to deliver!"

Koutsothodoros said rhinestone-encrusted t-shirts, hats and jewelry are among the best-sellers.

"These are new items," he said, "We never had Reagan or Bush bling."

The torrid sales pace "really conveys a sense of excitement in this town for change, and for Obama in particular," said Jane Schweiker, a busy browser at Political Americana. .

Though not usually a buyer of memorabilia, she said, Schweiker had an armload of calendars, pins and t-shirts for her family and Obama chocolates "for my Republican friends."

Internet Obamabilia vendors cater to more exotic tastes.

Among food products alone, there's hot sauce, energy drinks, wine, mini chocolate Obama heads and inaugural blends of tea and coffee. There's even Obama's face grilled onto on a piece of toast, a reference to the famous grilled cheese sandwich bearing a Virgin Mary image that sold on eBay for $28,000 in 2004.

For the table, there are glow-in-the-dark Obama wine-stoppers. For Republicans and die-hard Clintonians: pinatas shaped like Obama's head.

Plush dolls, paper dolls and nesting dolls abound. There's Obama on a pseudo-Greek coin, even Obama on a cologne bottle.

Larry Bird, memorabilia curator at the Smithsonian Museum of American History, momentarily taken aback by the cologne, recovered quickly enough to say that turning popular objects into political collectibles was an old tradition.

"In the 60's bubblegum cigars were popular, so they politicized bubblegum cigars," he said. "You can find cigarette packs with Stevenson and Eisenhower."

The current level of political commerce in all things Obama is unprecedented Bird said, and while that may be good for vendors, it could be bad news for collectors.

"If there's a lot of it, the rarity value will work against you in the marketplace of the future," Bird said.

Susan Kolodziejczyk, a shopper at Political Americana, wasn't buying it.

"These aren't gifts; they're memories," she said. "A piece of history."

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McClatchy Newspapers 2008

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