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Collector sees gold in Obama isle signatures


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POSTED: Tuesday, February 03, 2009

When Gary Zimet started running newspaper ads in Honolulu, he thought he was looking for love, or at least love letters, in all the right places. Gary is a heavyweight in the historical autographs, letters, manuscripts and signed photographs industry (he says he weighs more than 300 pounds.)

Right now, the hottest find for collectors would be drawings, sketches, signed personal checks, signed high-school yearbooks or handwritten letters from newbie President Obama. And the mother lode would be an old handwritten and signed love letter from Obama.

“;For a love letter, I'd pay a minimum of $5,000,”; Zimet told me from his “;Moments in Time”; offices in New York.

Zimet thought the best place to find Obama memorabilia and signed works would be in Hawaii, where Obama was born and attended Punahou School. So Zimet has been running newspaper ads hoping someone pops up with an old Punahou yearbook with an Obama version of one of those cutesy little notes that students scrawl inside. (”;Boopsie, 1959 was a coooool year! Sorry about the mono! Hugz and Kizzes! Wilber”;).

But so far, Zimet's attempt to mine Obama's suspected graphological treasure trove has gone for naught.

“;So far I haven't bought a thing,”; Zimet said. “;Many people are curious but they don't have the material to offer.”;

  There apparently is big money in handwritten notes, letters and signatures from famous people. And it doesn't have to be old. Zimet said a handwritten note by Obama on White House stationary would go for at least $5,000. (Note to Barack: I believe you can stimulate the national economy if you start dashing off notes on White House stationary and selling them. If you could provide a few thousand signatures a day, the country would be on its financial feet in no time!)

“;What I need are handwritten (Obama) letters, which are rare,”; he said. “;Signed personal checks are also rare. And any drawings or sketches he did.”;

You would think some enterprising Punahou students might be replicating Obama signatures in as many old “;Oahuan”; yearbooks as they can get their hands on. But Zimet says it's easy to tell the fake Obamas from the real.

“;I'd say at least half the (Obama) stuff on eBay are forgeries,”; he said.

Some notable items Zimet says he's sold include handwritten letters of condolence from Richard Nixon to parents of two students killed at Kent State. Those sold for $25,000 and are worth three times as much today, he said. Letters signed by former President George W. Bush to parents or widows of soldiers killed in Iraq are also valuable.

I asked Zimet if dealing in those kind of items isn't a bit, well, ghoulish? “;I don't think it's ghoulish at all,”; he said. “;I love history and I'm fortunate to make a living off of it.”;

Zimet's Web site (momentsintime.com) offers everything from a Sigmund Freud letter ($5,750) to John F. Kennedy documents ($8,500). But so far, Obama letters (love or otherwise) remain elusive.