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Hail To The (Collectible) Chiefs

President Abraham Lincoln
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Americans have always celebrated the inauguration of a president. It truly was remarkable, for few governments allowed people to freely choose their leader. It deserved celebration. Saturday Early Show Collectibles Contributor Tony Hyman runs down a list of some memorabilia.

George Washington (president no. 1) wore fancy buttons on his inauguration jacket in 1879 and enterprising button makers sold copies (or very similar) to the public for a few cents. Today, these GW-inscribed buttons bring $1,000 and up, depending on who made the one you have.

Thomas Jefferson (president no. 3) was honored with a privately printed silver medal. It cost $4.25 in 1801 and is worth $10,000 today.

John Quincy Adams (president no. 6) had a similar fine silver medal in 1825. Andrew Jackson (president no. 7) was the first modern populist Democrat. There are many of his 1833 tokens around, worth about $100.

Starting with Jackson, for the next 50 years, inaugural commemoratives were mostly small medals and tokens. These medals were privately done.

Starting with 12th President Zachary Taylor in 1849, the committee in charge of Inaugural activities created a new, and "official" kind of collectible. That's the year they sent an engraved invitation to Washington's political elite to attend a grand Official Inaugural Ball.



Find out about other collectibles described by The Saturday Early Show's Tony Hyman in the Collectibles Archive or visit Tony Hyman's Web site.

If you think you have a collectible worth a lot of cash, send an email to sat@cbsnews.com with "What's It Worth?" in the subject line. Or write to "What's It Worth?" The Saturday Early Show, 514 West 57th St., 6th floor, New York, N.Y. 10019.


There was an elaborate invitation to 16th President Abraham Lincoln's Inaugural Ball in 1865. The committee sold tickets for $10 each, price to include midnight supper. Profits were for the needy Civil War veterans. There was such a big crowd, there was a near riot. They grabbed whole chickens and broke glasses, and there was nowhere to sit. If you had one of those invitations today, you could get $1,000

Modern ball invitations aren't nearly as big or as fancy. But I bet you'd like to get one! And if you didn't, you can always buy one today for around $5. George W. Bush's is for sale at $3.95.

The Inaugural Committee also issues invitations to the Inauguration Ceremony itself. Worth about $350 is the invitation for the 1905 inauguration of Theodore Roosevelt (president no. 26).

During the early days of the Depression, FDR's committee members came up with the ida of giving a special thank you gift to party faithful, donors, friends...and sent them an invitation to the inauguration. They couldn't be used, but were souvenirs of the event. Bush's committee will send out a lot of them, just like his dad did. Bush's is also for sale today for $3.95. (The Republicans sold souvenir medals back in 1929.)

The members of the Inaugural Committee were usually distinguished and hard-working folks. In exchange for all their work, they got to wear a little ribbon on their coat, which in the late 1880s became a ribbon with a medal on it.

In 1901, 100 years ago, the medal was separated from the ribbon and became the Official Inaugural Medal. One medal was struck in gold and given to incoming President William McKinley
(assassinated months later). Each president from then on received a gold medal upon taking office, and 3,000 bronze medals (now worth $125) were given to committee members.

In 1929, Hoover's Inaugural medals were the first to be sold. The Official Inaugural Committee bought 1,000 of them from the U.S. mint for 55 cents each and sold them to citizens of Washington, D.C., as souvenirs for less than $2. Not much of a fundraiser.

During FDR's four terms during the Depression and WWII, relatively few medals were struck. In 1945, they made 3,500 bronze medals for sale. Value: $150 to 500.

Truman's Committee made the first effort to mass market Inaugural medals in 1949. They sold 7,500 of them nationwide. Value: $200.

In 1953, Eisenhower's Committee started the practice of also marketing a silver Inaugural medal in addition to the bronze. They made 26,000 bronze and just under 800 silver ones which
sold for around $30. Value: several hundred.

Nixon's Committee upped the ante, commissioning the Franklin Mint to produce 23,000 silver and 106,000 bronze ($50 & $25 today).

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