|By Jim Rutledge
AMESBURY, Mass. — President John F. Kennedy’s Air Force One bomber jacket sold for $570,000 in auction on President’s Day weekend, selling to an unidentified telephone bidder; all part of the private collection of the President’s personal aide.
More than 2,000 photographs, books, notes, articles of clothing and other gift items came from the collection of David Powers, JFK’s personal assistant for nearly 20 years, sold by John McInnis Auctioneers.
The never-before-seen collection had been tucked away in drawers and file cabinets in Power’s home in Arlington, Va. The collection was discovered last year as the Powers’ family cleared out his house, said Dan Meader of McInnis Auctions.
A total of 723 lots sold in auction for more than $1.66 million – not including the buyer’s premium of 18 percent. The size 44 bomber jacket, in near perfect condition, was expected to fetch from $20,000 to $40,000. When the hammer finally fell after bidding started at $10,000, a loud cheer went up in the gallery with a standing ovation for the telephone buyer who asked to remain anonymous.
Final price with buyer’s premium was $629,000. It was the highest estimated item in the auction. The brown leather jacket with the presidential seal was made by the Ralph Edwards sportswear company. Prior to the start of the auction, there were eight registered online bids. But during the auction, several dozen bids competed among phone bidders, as McInnis gave “fair warnings,” several times. Before the hammer fell, another bid squeezed in before McInnis declared a winner.
Collectors and dealers had gathered in the small New England community of Amesbury leading up to the auction – 36 miles north of Boston. The auction began during the morning of Feb. 17 and lasted late into the evening.
“There’s never been an auction like this. The amazing thing about this whole (auction) is that it shows the personal connection” that Powers had with the President, Meader told a reporter. “This is stuff that’s true; it’s pure, it’s right from the family home … right from the president’s best friend.”
The second-highest item was among seven lots of documents, notes and photos Powers maintained of those tragic days in November 1963, when the President was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Powers had prepared the two-day schedule, including the motorcade on Nov. 23. The six-page agenda sold for $65,000 in what Power’s called, “The President’s Final Hours.” Color photographs of Jackie and JFK in the motorcade sold in another lot for $11,000.
The JFK Presidential Banner Flag embroidered with the Seal of the President, sold for $50,000. It was one of two flags that existed. It was Powers’ duty to make sure the flag was flown on all Presidential trips, in motorcades and on boats. The 18 inch by 26 inch flag was made by the Phila Quartermaster Deport Co. It sold for five times its estimate. The Kennedy White House American flag sold for $21,000. It was made by the Valley Forge Flag Co. with 50 stars. The 4 foot, 4 inch by 5 foot, 6 inch flag showed signs of wear and tear having flown atop of the West Wing of the White House during the Kennedy Administration.
Selling for three times its estimated, the Kennedy White House Presidential seal sold for $16,000. The 15 1/2 inch “Seal of the President of the United States” hung on Powers’ office wall from the beginning of the administration, all throughout his career. It was a painted plaster casting.
There were many personal Kennedy family mementoes in the auction that were given to Powers by the First Family, including a birthday card from “John John” to his father on his 46th birthday, signed “John xx oo xx o.”
Included in this same lot, were color photographs of John Jr. in the garden and Powers with John Jr. There was a descriptive note by Powers: “This is the only birthday card that John Jr. gave to his father, which was written in his own hand.” The lot sold for $17,000.
A number of books were in the auction including a single-bound edition of Inaugural Addresses of the Presidents of the United States from George Washington 1789 to John F. Kennedy 1961. It was published by the U.S. Government Printing Office in l961. Signed in the flagleaf, “The President was going to give you this for Christmas … Jackie.” The maroon-bound, leather volume sold for $32,000.
The president was a long-time friend of Hollywood celebrities, including the famous “Rat Pack” including the President’s brother in law, Peter Lawford, plus Sammy Davis, Jr., Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra.
Sinatra gave JFK a 15 inch by 19 inch, black-and-white photo signed, “We chaps listen to our President – Milk is great!! F.S.”
Among a couple of portraits of the president Powers had in the collection was a 1963 portrait of JFK reading in his rocking chair by artist Elaine de Kooning. She was later commissioned to paint the official White House Presidential portrait for which she is most known. The “rocking chair” portrait was 15 1/2 inches by 13 inches and singed “E de K.” It sold for $31,000.
The entire sale was estimated at just under $800,000, half of the auction’s total.