When Donald J. Trump walked into a Georgia courthouse on Aug. 24 to be booked as part of his fourth criminal indictment, becoming the first former president (and only current presidential candidate) to have a mug shot taken, the picture seemed destined to become a symbol of this fraught, unprecedented moment in American history. As has become increasingly clear, however, Mr. Trump and his team have come to see the mug shot in a different way.
Specifically, as the source material for a new strain of political pop culture mythmaking and memorabilia.
Almost overnight they splashed the image, with Mr. Trump’s signature glower, across mugs, T-shirts and posters in their campaign store, using it and all it represents as a key component of their fund-raising. Then, this week, NFT INT, the official licensee of the Trump name and image for digital trading cards, began selling a special “Mugshot Edition” NFT set that includes, for a certain few willing to buy the whole thing, pieces of the blue suit and red tie Mr. Trump wore in the photo.
Or, as the NFT INT website calls the garment, “The most historically significant artifact in American history.”
The 47 cards on offer were created by the artist Clark Mitchell and depict Mr. Trump as, for example, Captain America, and sitting in for Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial. Cards can be bought individually for $99 or as a full set that runs for $4,653 and includes a physical trading card (some of which will be signed by Mr. Trump) with a swatch of suit fabric and an invitation to a special dinner at Mar-a-Lago. Those who buy 100 of the NFT cards receive a swatch of the jacket or pants, plus a swatch of the tie and the dinner at Mar-a-Lago.
According to the NFT INT website, the suit is “priceless.” There are enough tiny suit pieces for 2,024 buyers (because, you know, election year), and enough tie pieces for 225.
In other words, it’s not just a suit. It’s a font of potential relics — one that positions the mug shot suit as the most important suit of Mr. Trump’s career so far, rather than, say, Mr. Trump’s inauguration suit.
The mug shot edition is just the latest in a series of NFT cards released on the site portraying former President Donald J. Trump.Credit…NFT INT
The mug shot edition is the third set of NFT cards released, with the first two drops selling out in “a little more than 24 hours,” according to Kevin Mercuri, a spokesman for NFT INT and the chief executive of Propheta Communications. The new offering comes complete with a video of Mr. Trump endorsing the drop — and the suit — at the top of the web page.
Mr. Mercuri said the idea for selling the suit swatches came from NFT INT and was inspired by the way sports figures sell pieces of their jerseys to fans. Mr. Trump was “aware of the trend and receptive” to the proposal, he said, and “generously gave the suit to NFT INT. He felt that members of the public would want to have a piece of history.”
The suit was then authenticated by MEARS, a company that specializes in validating sports memorabilia. Troy R. Kinunen, the chief executive of the company, said that “the team at CollectTrumpCards provided the suit directly from the President” and that MEARS then verified certain design elements of the garment against photos and video, including pocket placement, buttons, and the collar of the suit jacket, which Mr. Trump had sewn down in the back to keep it in place. (Though given the number of blue suits Mr. Trump appears to own, it is hard to know how anyone could tell them apart.)
Selling the mug shot suit tracks, to a certain extent, with other examples of fan culture. Paige Rubin, an assistant vice president and the head of sale for handbags at Christie’s, said there was an almost insatiable public appetite for souvenirs of the famous and infamous, and often the most valuable pieces of memorabilia at auction are determined by provenance: “Does the object you are selling resonate with the fan base? Does it connect to an iconic moment in a career?”
Similarly, there is a long tradition of auctioning memorabilia from public figures, including many presidents, as Summer Anne Lee, a historian of presidential dress at the Fashion Institute of Technology, noted. Scraps of Abraham Lincoln’s bloodstained bedsheets regularly come up for auction, and a pair of Richard Nixon’s eyeglasses from around the time of his resignation were sold in 2005 for $1,955. In 2019, a pair of underpants believed to have belonged to Eva Braun, Hitler’s wife, were gaveled at almost $5,000.
However, despite the fact that Melania Trump likewise sold one of her most notable White House outfits — the white hat she wore during the French state visit in 2018 — as part of her own NFT drop, and despite Mr. Trump’s own history of monetizing his own brand in a way other political candidates might not dare, it is almost unheard-of for a living president to hawk his own memorabilia for his own profits, Ms. Lee said. Though NFT INT is not related to the Trump organization and Mr. Trump is not a part of the company, as a licenser Mr. Trump would probably receive a percentage of sales.
Which makes it in his interest to divide the suit into as many pieces as possible — both financially and, even more pointedly, conceptually.
After all, if a garment is considered “historic,” keeping it whole would seem the more desirable choice. That would allow it to be exhibited in a museum, or a presidential library (or, in the case of Marilyn Monroe’s “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” dress, Ripley’s Believe It or Not! museum).
On the other hand, most tiny scraps of clothing that exist in collections are religious curios, fragments of martyrs’ gowns. Treating the mug shot suit in the same way “suggests Trump believes the suit he wore for his mug shot will be even more motivational to his fans than any other,” Ms. Lee said. “They are offering it like pieces of religious clothing, which implies Mr. Trump is a saint who has been through trials and tribulations for the country.”
Indeed, said Sean Wilentz, a professor of American history at Princeton University, the sale suggests a “quasi-religious element, as if the suit Trump wore in court has special charismatic qualities.”
Well, one of the cards in the set does depict Mr. Trump as a golden god.