From Watergate to watertight investment: why we're backing Nixon memorabilia

If you were to ask anyone what they remember of Richard Nixon's time in The White House, the answer would be invariably the same. Watergate.

The break in at the Democrat headquarters of the Watergate hotel in June 1972 was the beginning of a two year saga that would eventually see Nixon resign from the Presidency on August 9 1974.

To date, Nixon is the only individual to be elected twice to the Vice Presidency and the Presidency but also the only President to resign from the office.

And yet while in office Nixon was able to end the conflict in Vietnam, oversee the Apollo 11 moon landings and introduce reforms that benefitted women and previously segregated racial groups.

From an investment perspective, the controversy and significance of the Nixon era only adds to the value of his­­ memorabilia from the period, as Nixon played an important if also infamous role in the development of America.

His resignation also sets him aside from other Presidents, as the only one to ever leave office in such a way.

And the good news for any would be investor is that Nixon memorabilia remains relatively undervalued in comparison to other political collectibles on the market.

In June 2005, Nixon's Bausch and Lomb glasses came up for auction.

Nixon's 1974 reading glasses

Originally given to White House maid Clara Richardson, the glasses were worn by Nixon around the time of his resignation and sold for £1,250 ($1,955).

The piece offered something of a bargain to collectors. Especially when you consider that a half-smoked cigar belonging to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill fetched more than three times this price at auction in January 2010 selling for £4,500 ($6,750).

Yet for those considering investing more significantly in Richard Nixon collectibles the market offers an array of unique autographed memorabilia.

The signed "Oath of Office"

In October 2008, an "Oath of Office" document signed by Nixon along with the four succeeding Presidents came up for auction.

The document featured lines like the promise to "protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

Given that it was dated "August 9, 1974" there was little doubt that the name of Nixon was most significant.

It was also ironic given that his actions in Office proved anything but constitutional, and the piece sold for £2,400 ($3,600).

To collectors, this autograph offers another relative bargain with signatures of significance from other Presidents fetching much higher at auction.

A newspaper signed by Kennedy on the day of his death reached £26,000 ($39,000), while letters signed by JFK are available to buy for £3,950 ($5,925)

Similarly a copy of the famous pardon granted to Richard Nixon and signed by Gerald Ford, is available to buy on the market for £2,500 ($4,125).

Considering that the unique signed document is likely to be the only one of its kind ever given to a President such a piece could reach a high price at auction.

The Gerald Ford Pardon

Coupled with this is the inclusion of President Gerald Ford's autograph, with some polls indicating that the signing of the pardon saw his approval rating drop from 71 to 45% and ultimately cost the subsequent election.

And Nixon memorabilia also touches on other valuable collectibles, like the famous Apollo 11 moon landings.

We previously reported on the document written by William Safire, Nixon's speech writer at the time for use if the mission had failed. 

Similarly significant pieces have sold at auction.

A photograph signed by Nixon along with the entire Apollo 11 crew of Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin came up at Christie's with an estimated price of £3,330 ($5,000) in May 2002.

The photo was of the plaque which marked the success and featured a NASA ink stamp and the description:

"Here men from the Planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon July 1969 AD. We came in peace for all mankind"

The photograph sold for £12,500 ($19,975) but based on current Apollo 11 autograph prices, it could be worth even more.

According to the PFC40 Autograph index, in the past ten years the value of a signed photograph of the Apollo 11 crew has risen 347.5% from £2,000 to £8,950. Even more impressive is the 900% rise in value of Neil Armstrong signed photographs which have moved from £550 to £5,500.

The autograph of Nixon alongside the Apollo 11 crew

With these rises in mind and the value of Nixon's signature, any Apollo 11 memorabilia signed by both the crew and Nixon could be worth investing in.

Memorabilia is often said to appeal to collectors for the insight it offers. During his time in office, Nixon's image was extremely formal, as he chose to distance himself from the public.

It was a strategy that ultimately led to his downfall but also one that has created some of the most revealing memorabilia to come out of the White House.

For instance, in the run up to the 1960 election the then Vice President Nixon, sent a signed and inscribed political cartoon by Bill Pause to his running rival John F. Kennedy.

The Nixon signed Cartoon

The cartoon depicted a view of the Senate Office building with Kennedy and Nixon looking at each other from behind their office doors.

In the late 50s, the two had occupied offices 361 and 362 and Nixon playfully writes:

"To my friend and neighbour Jack Kennedy with best wishes for almost everything! From Dick Nixon."

The Washington cartoon went against the perceived view of hostility between Nixon and Kennedy and sold for £19,610 ($29,375) more than four times the £4,670 ($7,000) pre-auction estimate.

Back in May 2000 a typed letter signed by Richard Nixon as Vice President and dated September 1959 came up for auction in New York. The letter focused on racial policy.

Nixon discussed his agreement with the landmark Supreme Court decision on "Brown vs Board of Education." This had abolished the notion of school segregation and Nixon added his belief that "racial injustice is not confined solely to our Southern states."

The letter came at a time when the civil rights movement was continuing to grow in the US and represented a forward thinking approach from Nixon. With an estimated price of £1,500 ($2,500) attached the letter sold for £31,400 ($47,000) a world record price for a Nixon collectible

The Nixon Invert

The letter shares a certain similarity with the famous George Washington letter to his nephew.

Washington writes about his endorsement of the potential idea of a U.S constitution with the letter selling for £2 million ($3.2 million) at a 2009 auction.

In years to come, a letter in which Nixon endorses the idea of civil rights - one of the most significant movements of the 20th century - could one day prove equally important and even reach another world record price at auction.

Yet Nixon collectibles have not been without controversy.

In February 1996, 160 rare inverts of a commemorative Nixon stamp appeared at auction, with some reaching £10,200 ($14,500).

But by December a former employee of the plant where the stamps were printed was arrested and charged with stealing from a "printer's waste" bin.

The stamps while still valued at £5,330 - £6,600 ($8,000 - 10,000) are not currently traded.

One final factor to consider when considering investing in Nixon collectibles is the global appeal of the President.

Whilst in office Nixon travelled frequently and was noted for building international relations in Russia and China.

With these visits coupled with the world wide news coverage given to the "Watergate" scandal in mind, Nixon could soon be attracting collectors from around the world.

It seems Tricky Dicky could soon be hitting the news headlines again.

This time for all the right reasons.


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