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Collecting JFK: Reviewing the Dave Powers Kennedy Presidential Auction

by Tom Carrier (05/09/13).

This 1960 campaign poster “Kennedy for President / Leadership for the 60′s,” measuring 44 by 28 inches, brought $2,250 at the Presidential Auction at John McInnis Auction Gallery, held earlier this year. The auction featured more than 700 lots from the estate of the late Dave Powers, a longtime personal friend and a special assistant to President John F. Kennedy while at the White House.

As WorthPoint’s Worthologist for presidential, political and White House memorabilia, one of my first articles, written more than five years ago, concerned the collectibles of President John F. Kennedy. In “Collecting JFK” I highlighted four collectible categories to consider when determining the value of any JFK item: personal, association, event and commemorative. The closer to a personal connection to JFK an item has, the higher the value.

The Presidential Auction at John McInnis Auction Gallery, held earlier this year, was uniquely suited to have the more personal connection to JFK because the auction items belong to the estate of the late Dave Powers, a longtime personal friend and a special assistant to President John F. Kennedy while at the White House. Powers was also in the limousine directly behind JFK’s and can be seen in part of the famous Zapruder film of the assassination in Dallas in 1963. After the White House years, Mr. Powers was the founding curator of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum until 1994.

As you might expect, then, many of the auction’s 723 lots featured photographs, letters, documents and personal gifts from John and Jackie Kennedy. Having started as a dealer and collector of presidential and White House memorabilia in the middle 1980s with a staff member’s collection of President Jimmy Carter memorabilia, I can say that many of the items offered at this auction aren’t dissimilar to what one might expect from having a close connection to a president. Lots featured signed photos, memorabilia from overseas trips, White House cards, personally addressed letters, staff gifts, books and campaign items made up the bulk of the auction itself, just as it should. But there were a lot of personal items, too.

Some of more historic moments of JFK’s presidency are represented here, such as the pen that signed the naval blockade order during the Cuban Missile Crisis (lot 455, est. $100-$200, sold $700), a file with photos pertaining to the Bay of Pigs (lot 234, est. $150-$300, sold $1,400), and photos and ephemera from the trip to Dallas and its aftermath (lots 486-489, ests. $200-$400, sold $2,500-$7,500). The photos of John Jr. and Caroline on Dec. 5, 1963, with Cardinal Cushing, one signed by Jackie Kennedy, were particularly poignant (lot 545, est. $500-$1,000, sold $800). Any collector of JFK should have some of these in their collection.

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A 50-star flag of the United States that hung in the West Wing offices was a curious item when considered its label (right) hows it to have been manufactured in June 1959, before Alaska or Hawaii were even admitted as states in July 1959 and 1960, respectively. That is rather interesting all by itself. It sold for an equally amazing price of $21,000, well above its $3,000-$6,000 estimate.

The presidential automobile flag, lot 481, wasn’t dated at all which, while a little unusual, its manufacture and tag (right) s still consistent with the period for government-produced official flags. That is where knowing the detail probably helped bring $50,000, well above its $5,000-$10,000 estimate.

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As a vexillologist (flags and seals) I noticed two different flags being offered. Lot 219, a 50-star flag of the United States that hung in the West Wing offices. What was very curious was that the label shows it to have been manufactured in June 1959, before Alaska or Hawaii were even admitted as states in July 1959 and 1960, respectively. That is rather interesting all by itself. It sold for an equally amazing price of $21,000, well above its $3,000-$6,000 estimate. The presidential automobile flag, lot 481, wasn’t dated at all which, while a little unusual, its manufacture and tag is still consistent with the period for government-produced official flags. That is where knowing the detail probably helped bring $50,000, well above its $5,000-$10,000 estimate.

Naturally, I noticed the presidential coat-of-arm patches on the bomber jacket expected to bring $20,000 to $40,000, instead brought in $570,000, an amazing museum piece. Another personal clothing item, a London Fog white jacket with presidential seal sewn-on patch, lot 723, sold well above its estimate of $1,000-$2,000 at $11,000. These fit very well within the personal collector category as each were no doubt handled by JFK himself. It’s also interesting to note that, except for JFK clothing, presidential clothing has yet to be seen at auction.

JFK’s leather bomber jacket, manufactured by Ralph Edwards sportswear for the USN Bureau of Naval Weapons, size 44 with a sewn patch of the Seal of the President of the United States, gaveled for a remarkable $570,000.

This London Fog white jacket with presidential seal sewn-on patch, lot 723, sold well above its estimate of $1,000-$2,000 at $11,000.

And just to be clear here, the seal, as shown on the jackets and elsewhere, is officially known as the Seal of the President of the United States, not the Great Seal of the President, as mentioned in the auction catalog. Additional items, such as a large ceremonial bowl, for example, were also mislabeled that way. It may be a small thing, but the Seal of the President was officially created for the office in 1945, while the Great Seal of the United States was created in 1782 and represents the entire country.

The large plaster cast of the full color presidential seal, lot 217, is a real rare collector’s find and, incidentally, is hand painted. It’s estimate of $2,000-$4,000 (where most of these presidential seals sell for) was easily eclipsed to finally sell at $16,000. 

As you might expect, then, many of the auction’s 723 lots featured photographs, letters, documents and personal gifts from John and Jackie Kennedy. Some of these less expensive lots were perfect for beginning collectors.

While it is described as the “Seal of the President of the United States,” this hand-painted plaster casting of the “Seal of the President of the United States” brought $16,000.

What a great surprise, though, to find Dave Powers White House desk being offered and that it sold at $6,000, well within the estimate of $5,000 to $10,000. The buyer should be sure not to remove any of the ephemera taped inside the typing drawer. That is the desk’s provenance.

Even more difficult to find are authentic Honey Fitz items, such as the glass box (lot 437, est. $1,500-$3,000; sold $2,000), a 1961 New Year’s Day card (lot 506, est. $300-600; sold $900), a presidential pen (lot 353, est. $300-400; sold $1,900), and a series of three Zippo lighters featuring the seal of the president (lots 312, 360 and 426, ests. $600-$3,000; sold $1,200-$4,000) used to commemorate state visits, most exceeded their estimates very well. These are association category memorabilia that will always do well.

This Lycoming Furniture Company double-bank mahogany veneer desk with cut and reeded corners, retaining Dave Powers’ original clippings (right), was here Powers worked while at the White House. It sold for $6,000, well within the estimate of $5,000 to $10,000.

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There really were quite the selection of items for the first time or casual JFK collector, such as the family photos, the files and notes for the historic events, the pens or the small White House cards, all within the $75 to $500 range. They are always a great place to start. For a little bit more, the signed books and photographs will always have a collector and historic value.

For the advanced collector, the White House desk, the jackets, the flags, the hand painted seal of the president, and the signed White House tour book (lot 315; est. $5,000-$10,000; sold $10,500) are all very good lots to consider for future acquisitions.

So many of the lots sold well over their estimates. Perhaps the evaluators were pricing based on what similar items in other presidential auctions have sold before. But, as I found out with my article on JFK collectibles, any and all associations with the presidency of John Fitzgerald Kennedy will continue to fascinate historians and collectors alike. And the closer the connection, the higher the historic value.

Amazingly, it will be the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy will come around this November. One of my very earliest memories as a boy of 6 is being totally fascinated with the large flags that were carried behind the caisson. It is still a fascination today and this auction, like all JFK auctions, brings back all those earlier memories full circle.


Tom Carrier is a general Worthologist, with an expertise in a wide variety of subjects, including vexillology, or the study of flags.

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4 Responses to “Collecting JFK: Reviewing the Dave Powers Kennedy Presidential Auction”

  1. george crystal says:

    Dear Mr. Carrier: Nice roundup of an auctionh I just missed entering, Please left me know of any jfk collectiblle auctions coming up this year. More important for me since I am needing to liquidate a lotr of collectibles and want to do so ASAP on 3 very desirable items probably to avid JFK collectors or ‘dealers’ who offer fast offers. Possibly the JFK museum would be #1–if they buy such items. What are my holdings– 1.Very rare two tickets to JFK stunning Birthday Partry at Madison Sq.Garden– excellent condiion; .2) Very rare fully- printed program of the event itself,good( not pristine) condition– highlighted b y the singing and the antics of Marilyn Monroe– with tight dress and innuendos– “hitting on” JFK about 200 feet away from her. 3) My own one- page eye-witness account of how I got the tickets and “politics” of the Happy Birthday event and a personal idea how this “collection” might bring $4000+… at an auction ( I’d rather avoid .) Your help would be very much appreciated.
    . Cordially GCCrystal

    • Tom Carrier says:

      Mr. Crystal:

      A quick scan of the Worthopedia here on WorthPoint shows that the JFK 1962 birthday party tickets had an auction value of $650 to $750 each in good to excellent condition.

      While I wasn’t able to find a value for the birthday program itself, it could be somewhat similar. Your personal reminiscences of the how you got access to the tickets would be interesting, but not particularly relevant to a final auction value.

      Your auction estimate of $4000 for the lot may be a bit high if donating them to the JFK library (I’m sure they already have these items in their collection), however, it is worth a try.

      Or, better yet, list them on WorthPoint and you may find a buyer there, too.

      All the best.

      Tom Carrier
      Worthologist

  2. Dear Tom: Nice roundup of JFK auction I just missed! Any more lke it this year.? I really Ineed to liquidate a lot of collectibles— especially3 very desirable RARE A+1 items probably to avid JFK collectors or ‘dealers’ who offer fast offers. 1)Rare Program to JFK Birhday Party at Mad.Sq Garden 2)Two Rare tickets to it. 3) My own Eye- Witness account and how i got these EXPENSIVE tickets (PRISTINE). Would the JFK Museum buy my collection ( I estimate its auction value of $4,000+). Thanks, George C

  3. Cookie Bowen says:

    I HAVE A FEW OTHER THINGS I WILL HAVE TO GET BACK TO YOU ABOUT ,SORRY ,BUT I WILL SOON !!!

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