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What Would You Do With A Letter From the President?

November 3, 2010 · 31 comments

in Life, Personal Finance

In December 2009, Monroe MI resident Jennifer Cline wrote President Obama a letter.  She thanked him for her unemployment benefits, and explained some of the hardships her family has been experiencing. ( Cline, a Pharmacy Technician, had been unemployed since 2007, and also has been stricken with skin cancer.  Her cancer is in remission now, but her unemployment benefits have run out, and the family also does not have health insurance.)  Husband Jason repairs swimming pools, which I imagine is not real profitable during the winter months in Michigan.   In other words, times are incredibly tough for the Cline family.

This past January, Jennifer went to the mailbox and found a letter from the White House.  Imagine her surprise when she opened the envelope and found a hand-written letter from President Obama, along with his original signature.   I am sure the family felt quite honored to find out  that  The President not only took the time to read Cline’s three page letter, but also hand-wrote a brief response.  I know I personally would be shocked to get a letter from a President;  I would appreciate it whether I liked the President or not.

The interesting twist is what happens with the letter itself.   New York autograph collector Gary Zimet heard about this letter and offered the family $7,000 for the original.  The Clines hemmed and hawed over what to do.  It was a difficult decision as this letter was truly treasured by the family.   The Clines had visions of showing this letter to their grandchildren one day, and wanted to keep it in the family.  (Zimet had different visions.  He  hoped to re-sell the letter for $18,000.)

In the end, the Cline family did sell the letter (after making photocopies of course) to Zimet.  I was a little surprised at first, but then I remembered that this family is struggling in ways I can only imagine.   The money is desperately needed by the family; they are hoping the $7,000 will cover their bills through the winter.  In reality, they almost do not have a choice.   My only issue with the sale of the letter is I wish someone with collectibles experience had offered to help them sell it.  I don’t know if it would have made a difference or not, but if Zimet thinks he can turn around and sell it for $18,000, I am sure someone local could have gotten more than $7,000.  I even wonder if Ebay would have gotten the family a higher return?

The decision to sell the letter also makes me think of all the times I have watched Antiques Roadshow.  I love when I see some old painting end up being  worth $80,000.  So often, the owner will say “I have to keep this.  It has been in the family for so long”.  Meanwhile, I am screaming “sell it, sell it!”.  Of course, who knows what they really end up doing- they could be stopping at the nearest auction house on the way home for all I know.

So, the question for you is:  If a hand-written letter for a President arrived in your mailbox, would you frame it, or sell it?  Me personally?  If I didn’t need the money, I would probably hold on to it, hoping its value would increase over time.  If I needed the money though, I would sell it immediately.

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