by Brooke Kennedy
60 years ago, President John F. Kennedy was tragically assassinated as his motorcade drove through Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas. To this day collectors still find fascination in Kennedy’s life, so RR Auction featured a dedicated section of artifacts relating to his career and presidency, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, and America’s enduring fairytale, Camelot. Along with this special auction category, RR’s November monthly sale gave bidders 500+ lots to browse in every genre.
Presidents and Founding Fathers
Published over the course of several years, this set of American Statesmen books holds a greater distinction over other printed copies. Each of the volumes has been extra-illustrated with a letter or document featuring the attributing subject’s signature. Former presidents Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson as well as Founding Fathers Patrick Henry and John Jay are just a few highlights out of the 40 volumes.
In some cases these documents were signed while in office. In one letter, Alexander Hamilton writes as the first Secretary of Treasury to “The President, Directors & Company of the Bank of the United States.” Prior to his presidency, Thomas Jefferson served as the Secretary of State, when he wrote to William Hill to announce his appointment as the United States District Attorney. In 1863, President Lincoln endorsed “Mr. Francis H. Harrington” for “a position in the Marine Corps.” This set is numbered 57/500, and ended the evening with a selling price of $68,181.
Prior to ‘President,’ JFK added the title of ‘best-selling author’ to his list of accolades. Working towards his degree at Harvard, Kennedy based his thesis on England’s actions – or lack thereof – leading up to World War II to eliminate the German threat. He later took this thesis and published it under the title ‘Why England Slept,’ which quickly became a bestseller with more than 80,000 copies sold.
RR Auction sold two copies in this sale for a combined value of over $9,000, one inscribed to his former press secretary Bob Thompson and JFK’s own personal copy. His personally-owned edition can be found in a photograph of him consulting paperwork at his Oval Office desk, the book sitting right beside him.
Beyond items related to his presidency, several pieces surrounding the assassination earned high prices. From the history of the assassin, a phone call receipt dated to the day after the shooting is a quick glance into Oswald’s time in custody.
After his arrest and transport to the Dallas jail, press and reporters questioned Oswald about his role in the assassination. In recorded footage, Oswald responded that he needed legal representation, and in interrogations with police specifically named New York lawyer John Abt.
While in custody, he was recorded as saying, “I want that attorney in New York, Mr. Abt. I don’t know him personally but I know about a case that he handled some years ago, where he represented the people who had violated the Smith Act… I don’t know him personally, but that is the attorney I want… If I can’t get him, then I may get the American Civil Liberties Union to send me an attorney.”
Oswald attempted several phone calls in the two days prior to his death but received no answer from Abt. At the time, Abt was on vacation with his wife, but would later testify to the Warren Commission about the attempted phone calls.
The Civil Rights Movement
On May 18, 1963 Martin Luther King, Jr. paid his first visit to St. Augustine with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, where demonstrations to end segregation had begun a summer prior. During this time, the Civil Rights Act had been passed in the House on February 10, 1964, but had soon stalled due to a Senate filibuster. However, King and SCLC joined protests in St. Augustine in hopes that it would help with the Act’s passage. King’s hope is expressed in a letter to Pennsylvania-based supporter and poet, Alban Wall.
In part he writes, “I wish to express my very deep appreciation for these expressions of your personal commitment to our search for freedom and justice. Without hope, all things become meaningless, and thus we who are so deeply involved in this nonviolent revolution must always keep in mind the conviction that our nation is moving towards its proper and pronounced ideal of real democracy and equality for all citizens. Support such as you have indicated provides us with additional strength to continue our struggle with ever-increasing vigor, and love for those who would perpetuate injustice.”
A month after this letter was written on June 19, the filibuster ended and the Civil Rights Act passed. President Lyndon B. Johnson then signed it into law on July 2. This historic letter that captures King’s dedication towards his cause earned a final price of $29,283, nearly double its original estimated value.
Though 2023 is almost over, we hope you’ll join us for our upcoming auctions in 2024. We are currently accepting items for our January and February Fine Autographs and Artifacts monthly auction, and we will be holding a special Remarkable Rarities event to auction off items worth $10,000 and up. Give our experts a call and dial 800-937-3880 or submit your artifacts below to one of our future events.
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