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What Would You Do With A Letter From the President?

November 3, 2010 · 33 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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{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Money Reasons November 3, 2010 at 6:56 am

I would have kept it if I didn’t desperately need the money.


Kris November 3, 2010 at 8:12 pm

Well even though they did sell it, they have plenty of photocopies. To me, it is the perfect solution. They get the money, and they still have a piece of history.


Nicole November 3, 2010 at 7:44 am

I think that she made a good decision for her family.


Kris November 3, 2010 at 8:11 pm

She did make the right decision. In a sense, there was no decision, she had to do it. I would still frame the photocopy!


The Biz of Life November 3, 2010 at 7:56 am

I’d try to frame it and keep it for as long as I could, but if my financial situation was dire enough I would sell. You have to put food on the table and have shelter.


Kris November 3, 2010 at 8:11 pm

Biz, I agree. I just hope this money will be enough for them until they are able to find work.


Roshawn @ Watson Inc November 3, 2010 at 10:16 am

I would hold on to it, provided that I didn’t need the money.


Kris November 3, 2010 at 8:09 pm

Roshawn – I would hold on to it also, unless the value went super high. Then I would sell it and buy a second home in the tropics. 🙂 I totally get why this family sold it though. I feel awful for them, and there are a lot of families out there in bad situations.


Suba @ Wealth Informatics November 3, 2010 at 1:19 pm

I would have kept it if I didn’t need the money desperately. I think she did what is right for her family. On the other side of the fence, I don’t know if I will buy it for $18000 or even $7000. It is a letter written by someone (even though it is the President) to someone else. I might be weird here, but I would much rather treasure a letter that was written to me by someone I love.


Kris November 3, 2010 at 8:08 pm

Suba – I don’t get the autograph collecting thing either when it is specifically written to someone else. Maybe a museum or someone would be interested in a letter like that, but I wouldn’t. (If it wasn’t addressed to me.)


Invest It Wisely November 3, 2010 at 2:09 pm

I would also hold on to it, unless I desperately needed the money. While some might be inclined to look at the buyer as an exploiter, both people got something out of this. Maybe her family would be worse off with the letter and without the $7,000… but with every decision in life, there is risk.


Evan November 3, 2010 at 5:01 pm

You do what you need to do to survive and ultimately thrive. Take your blog for example, you seem to really love working on it…but you have your price! The price just gets lower and lower when it will not help you thrive but you need it to survive.


Kris November 3, 2010 at 8:05 pm

Very very true Evan. I guess a benefit of money that I never thought of before is that it almost gives you a position of power. (To make decisions)


Squirrelers November 3, 2010 at 6:38 pm

With no money issues, you have to keep it. I might be old-school, but to me, a personal, hand written, and personally signed letter from the President of the United States is something to hold on to and show to future generations. Frame it, hang it up on the wall.

Of course, if you’re really strapped for cash and can’t make ends meet, then practicality takes over. You do what you have to do, and feeding yourself and your family comes first.


Kris November 3, 2010 at 7:50 pm

I am in the same boat as you Squirrel. However, if I held onto it and it REALLY increased in value, I would be tempted to sell..


Financial Samurai November 3, 2010 at 9:52 pm

What a great story and a predicament! I would keep it and NEVER sell. I’d pass it along for generations!

Obama wouldn’t be upset if you did sell it for $7,000 though. I think he’d be happy his time was able to raise you some money to help with your finances.


First Gen American November 4, 2010 at 6:02 am

Although I grew up poor, I never considered myself destitute to the point where I’d need $7000 fast. I would keep the letter.

However, if I was in that family’s situation and needed the money badly, I’d probably shop the letter to various antiques dealers and got the best offer possible first.


Crystal @ BFS November 4, 2010 at 4:49 pm

Choices, choices…it would depend on the money in my case. Obviously if we needed the money to keep our house or something, we’d sell it even if it was “only” $7000. I’d also sell it whether we needed the money or not if the money was a life-changing amount (like $70,000 since that would pay off our house). But, if we were already set and happy, it would be framed for sure. 🙂


not given November 8, 2010 at 1:25 am

If someone offered me $7000 for it, I’d check around looking for a better offer. Then maybe play them off against each other to raise the stakes.


Carlton Hobbs November 10, 2010 at 1:53 am

A very successful 3rd generation antique dealer said his family uses the saying “sell it first, regret it at your leisure” in the sense that it tends to be better to do a deal than not and that it is then the seller’s luxury to ponder the ‘what ifs’ with the money safely in the bank. I think she did ok.


Kris November 10, 2010 at 10:54 am

I think it depends on how much you need the money. However, you never do know how something will every appreciate or depreciate. A bird in the hand…


Khaleef @ KNS Financial November 10, 2010 at 4:53 pm

Maybe they can ask him to sign a few more, so they can make a little more cash! I would definitely sell it, but for more than $7,000. If that was the first offer, imagine how much others would be willing to pay!


Kris November 10, 2010 at 8:55 pm

KNS -That is where I felt bad, I thought they could get more for it but they maybe didn’t know how. I wish someone would have helped them out. I am interested to see what the ‘collector’ ends up re-selling it for.


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