No, I’ve never really gone out of my way to find autographed copies of books or waited in line to get a book signed. During the 2007-2008 Obama campaign, at certain events, there would be a small table backstage with maybe a dozen or so copies of Obama’s books for him to sign, usually for top donors or local civic leaders/surrogates. Early in the campaign (I think it might have been in Oakland), I made sure to slip my copy of The Audacity of Hope (BOOK•KINDLE) in there for Obama to sign, but I really think that’s the only time I have actively sought a signed copy of a book by an author.
The other autographed books that I have were basically accidents. A few years ago, I was buying some books in an outlet mall at a book store that was going out of business and liquidating its merchandise for cheap. I bought Behind the Oval Office: Getting Reelected Against All Odds by Dick Morris, who helped Bill Clinton during Clinton’s 1996 reelection campaign, and who happens to be a world-class slimeball with no actual political soul. Anyway, I paid maybe $3 for the book and realized later that it was an autographed copy. I’m guessing a non-autographed copy of that book would have cost about 50 cents.
The only other autographed copy of a book in my library that I can think of was actually a pretty cool find. When I lived in Sacramento, there was a little used book store on Marconi Avenue not far from where I lived called Book Chek (yes, that is how it is spelled). Book Chek has been in the same little shopping center since I was a little kid and, quite frankly, they have never had that great of a selection. They were cheap, though, and every once in a while, I could find a few good history titles. On one trip to Book Chek, I found the autobiography of professional wrestling legend Bret Hart, Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling (BOOK•KINDLE). On its own that was a great find at Book Chek because it had only recently been released and was, in fact, on the New York Times best-seller list at the time. Plus, it’s a fantastic book — one of the best ever written on wrestling or by a wrestler because Hart is a talented writer, kept meticulous details about his career, and was unabashedly candid about the good and bad that he experienced. Anyway, I opened it up when I got home and it was autographed — not bad for $7.
I think that’s it, though. I’m pretty sure that there aren’t any others I have that been signed. When I visited the Nixon Library several years ago, I was definitely drawn to the signed copies of Richard Nixon’s Memoirs and Gerald Ford’s autobiography, A Time To Heal, on sale in the gift shop. Then I saw the price tag and bought magnets instead.
I do have autographed 8”x11” photos of President Ford, President Carter, and President George H.W. Bush, so that’s cool. I’d love to somehow get an LBJ autograph. I’m sure he probably signed some surplus copies of his autobiography, The Vantage Point, or a bunch of photographs for his office to send out to people who wrote him letters. Now, I could be wrong, of course, since LBJ has been dead for nearly 40 years, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there are a stack of signed photos somewhere in the LBJ Library.
(So, ummm, hello to my buddies down there at the LBJ Library in Austin! I just want to throw this out there, but if you find an LBJ autograph that you are just dying to send to me, you know how to get in touch with me! Have I mentioned that you are my favorite Presidential Library research staff lately? Because you totally are.)
I do have some memorabilia that I’ve collected but, other than about a dozen autographs of political leaders, there is not as much as I imagine most people would guess considering how extensive my interest is in the Presidents and in history.
It was primarily autographs which I wanted to collect when I was a teenager. Like a lot of kids my age, my friends and I would go to Sacramento Kings games and then wait after the game near the automatic door to the underground garage at ARCO Arena where the players would park. Some players were totally cool about stopping and signing autographs, but others would speed out of that garage as quickly as possible as if they were pissed about the team’s performance (understandable considering the fact that the Kings were embarrassingly bad back in the early 1990s). Once I was able to finally get autographs from my two favorite Kings players — Mitch Richmond and Olden Polynice (don’t judge — teenage Anthony thought O.P. was cool and wanted a #0 jersey back in the day) — I aimed at loftier heights for my autograph targets. While I was just like any other kid when I was waiting outside of ARCO Arena to get the autographs of famous basketball players, not many other kids did as I did and sought autographs from famous politicians. My friends thought (and still think) that I was quite the nerd.
After Richard Nixon died in April 1994, I set out to get the autographs of all of the living former Presidents and wrote letters to their offices with my request. Unfortunately, Ronald Reagan shared that he was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease just a few months later, so I never was able to get his autograph. Reagan’s office, however, did send a really nice letter stamped with a copy of Reagan’s signaturewith a short book on the Presidents and another short book on the White House. Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and George H.W. Bush all sent color photos with personalized autographs and I’ve had those framed.
Since then, of course, we’ve had three more Presidents. I don’t have the autographs of Bill Clinton or George W. Bush, but because of my work on the campaign, I have several autographs from President Obama. One is on a yard sign, another is on the back of my Obama For America business card from 2008, and yet another is in my copy of The Audacity of Hope (BOOK•KINDLE).
One piece of memorabilia that I constantly kick myself for losing is from the first campaign I ever worked on — the Gray Davis for Governor of California campaign in 1998. At a fundraiser, I was able to get autographs on the same access credential from Governor Davis (well, he was Lieutenant Governor at the time) and Sacramento’s legendary Mayor Joe Serna, a civil rights activist who fought the good fight for farm workers in the Central Valley alongside Cesar Chavez. Mayor Serna died in office a year later and I really wish I still had that autographed credential pass. Speaking of civil rights, I also have autographs from two political leaders who were once about as far apart from one another on the issue as possible. One is Julian Bond, the longtime chairman of the NAACP, former Georgia lawmaker, and one of the founders of the Southern Poverty Law Center AND the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. The other? None other than the 1948 Dixiecrat nominee for President, former Governor of South Carolina, one of the longest-serving Members of Congress ever, and the oldest person to ever serve in Congress, Strom Thurmond. Senator Thurmond was 95 years old and his handwriting was obviously shaky when he signed the photo that his office sent me. I also have a signed photo of Missouri Governor Mel Carnahan that I received less than two weeks before he was killed in a plane crash.
Other than the autographs, there’s not much else. I have buttons and bumper stickers from various campaigns — mostly those that I worked on, particularly the 1998 Gray Davis campaign for Governor and Obama’s race for the Democratic nomination and then the Presidency in 2007 and 2008. I do have a really cool little “We Shall Overcome” button showing white and black hands clasped together. Next to my front door is a “LBJ FOR THE USA” campaign poster from 1964.
The most unique political memorabilia I have was kindly sent to me by former Congressman James E. Rogan, now a Superior Court Judge in California. Congressman Rogan was one of the managers from the House of Representatives who prosecuted the impeachment trial of President Clinton in the Senate. That would seem to make us diametrically opposed in our political beliefs — and we are. However, the Congressman wrote a book called Catching Our Flag: Behind the Scenes of a Presidential Impeachment (BOOK•KINDLE) that was not only fascinating but exceptionally fair, as I noted in my review of the book. The Congressman sent me a nice e-mail thanking me for my review and, after I mentioned something about the interesting political memorabilia that I noticed in the background of his office in one of the book’s photos, I received a package a few days later. Congressman Rogan sent me the staff/observe badges from several days of the House Judiciary Committee’s hearings on the Articles of Impeachment, including a rare pass from the actual day that the Judiciary Committee reported out the Articles that led to Clinton’s impeachment. What Congressman Rogan sent me are so cool that I don’t even know how to display them, but I’m eternally grateful for his generosity, even though I still think impeaching President Clinton was wrong!
It probably sounds like I have more stuff than I do, but that’s just because I’m long-winded. I’m probably forgetting something else that is pretty cool to have but, really, the only thing that I collect are books (and I definitely have A LOT of those). I’d certainly be interested in having some more political memorabilia (particularly campaign posters) but, quite frankly, I have nowhere to put it and absolutely no one who comes over to my apartment. If I actually had visitors, it might be fun to display stuff, but I don’t. Ever. I should make some friends, shouldn’t I?