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At Auction, Reagan's Blood Is Pricey But A Bargain Compared To Flag Signed By Fidel

It's safe to say that when it comes to recent presidents, Ronald Reagan is the most venerated, especially among Republicans but not exclusively so. Some even accuse conservatives of beatifying the 40th president as though he were on the road to sainthood.

So it's not surprising there would be a Reagan relic out there, specifically a medical-lab vial purportedly containing the dried remains of a blood sample taken from the president on the day he was nearly assassinated in March 1981.

That the vial is up for auction has caused a controversy, with some denouncing the possible sale of the blood sample as a new and crass low in presidential memorabilia.

In a report that aired Wednesday on "CBS This Morning," Rice University historian Douglas Brinkley says:

"It's just basic human dignity, and this strikes me as being tacky. It's taking the presidential memorabilia notion to a bizarre new level."

Our news blog, The Two Way, had a post Tuesday with more of the opprobrium that's being directed toward the anonymous seller.

The online auction, being conducted by PFCAuctions.com, which is on the British island of Guernsey in the Channel Islands, is scheduled to end Thursday.

The auction firm's website explains that the seller of the vial has had it in his family for 31 years. The owner's account of how it came into his family's possession and how he recently decided to sell it after being told that the Reagan Library wasn't interested in buying it deserves to be read just as he wrote it.

While it's lengthy, read it all the way through to the end. The reason he gives for selling it and not, say, just giving the item to the Reagan family is priceless:

"These articles have actually been in my family's possession since 03/30/1981, the day that President Reagan was shot in Washington D.C. Back in the 70's and 80's, my mother worked for Bio Science Laboratories in Columbia, Maryland.

Her laboratory was the laboratory contracted by Walter Reed Army Medical Center as well as the George Washington University Hospital to handle blood testing as well as other types of testing. Her lab did the blood work and testing for President Reagan.

The test tube and the lab slip that I have are for his blood work to be tested for lead on [Monday] 03/30/1981. The testing was completed and the test tube was sitting on my mother's desk. At the end of the week, she asked the director of her laboratory if she could keep the paper work and the test tube.

The director of the lab told her no problem and really never gave it a second thought. It has been in my family ever since. My mother passed away back in November last year [2010] and my father passed away in January 2009. Prior to their passing, they knew that it was the only thing that I wanted with regards to their personal property or money that they accumulated over the years...

"About 3 to 4 months ago, I contacted the Reagan National Library and spoke to the head of the library, a Federal Agent. I told him what I had, how I came across it and so on. We spoke for about 45 minutes. The reason that I contacted the Reagan National Library was to see if they would like to purchase it from me.

He indicated that if I was interested in donating it he would see to it that he would take care of all of the arrangements. Prior to hanging up the phone, he said to me, do me a favor, don't move from where you are, I will call you back within 30 minutes but I have to make a couple of phone calls to seek legal counsel, consult with National Archives, the FBI and other three or four letter agencies that I have heard of.

I said am I in any kind of trouble or will there be some black cars/suv's or helicopters hovering above my home and he said not yet but possibly in the very near future depending on what he learned from the phone calls he had to make.

I told him alright, I will not move from where I was sitting and would await his return call. He called back in 25 minutes and said that everything was ok, National Archives was not interested in what I had, nor was the Secret Service, the FBI and other agencies.

Since 30 years had passed by, he thought that it was simply something that was of no importance at this time and that I was free to do with whatever I wanted with it. He then stated that he felt the family would be interested in it being returned to them and if I was interested in doing so to contact him and he would make all of the arrangements.

I told him that I didn't think that was something that I was going to consider, since I had served under Pres. Reagan when he was my Commander in Chief when I was in the ARMY from '87-'91 and that I was a real fan of Reaganomics and felt that Pres. Reagan himself would rather see me sell it rather than donating it."

As I said, a priceless explanation. Hard to argue with that logic, that the leading advocate in his era of American free enterprise would want to see the owner of his blood sample profit from his valuable item instead of giving it away and getting nothing in return but a warm glow inside.

Meanwhile, the blood vial has a very real price. At the current exchange rate, the latest bid places it at about $14,418.

The auction firm's website also indicates it's selling a flag signed by both retired dictator Fidel Castro and his friend Che Guevara. The current bid on that is about $30,604, more than twice the Reagan blood bid. But, hey, that's free-market capitalism for you.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Frank James joined NPR News in April 2009 to launch the blog, "The Two-Way," with co-blogger Mark Memmott.