John F. Kennedy Memorabilia: The Most Valuable Items Ever Sold
John F. Kennedy is amongst the most iconic American political figures of the 20th century.
Memorabilia from his presidency is highly sought after by collectors, intrigued by his important political legacy, the rumours surrounding his life and the mysteries of his death. Here we list some of the most expensive items of JFK memorabilia ever sold at auction.
Letters to John E. Maguire
This collection of letters was written by Kennedy over the course of many years to his former PT-109 crew mate and close friend John E. ‘Mac’ Maguire.
Topics included his discharge from the Navy: "Went up before the Survey Board the other day, and I'm on my way out. It's going to seem peculiar paying full price at those movie theaters again. It won't seem quite right until everyone is out...."
The newspaper stories written about the sinking of PT-109 in August 1943: "...the Reader's Digest has bought the reproduction rights...and they have agreed to turn over the funds to Navy Relief...I worked it out so that Mrs. Kerksey [widow of one of the PT-109 crew who was killed] and her family get whatever portion of this they may need, [which] makes the whole thing worth-while as I have always been concerned about her..."
And Kennedy's political career: "Needless to say, I am very grateful for your interest and support in my campaign for the Presidency...."
The revealing archive sold at Christie’s in 2002 for $77,675.
Handwritten love letter to Mary Pinchot Meyer
This love letter was written by JFK in 1963 to his alleged mistress Mary Pinchot Meyer, a friend of the Kennedy family and wife of a CIA agent. Sources claim the couple met around 30 times during their long affair, and even smoked pot together in a White House bedroom.
Kennedy wrote: "Why don’t you leave suburbia for once — come and see me — either here — or at the Cape next week or in Boston the 19th. I know it is unwise, irrational, and that you may hate it — on the other hand you may not — and I will love it."
The letter remained unsent, and was kept by JFK's long-time secretary Evelyn Lincoln, who clipped the White House stationary marks from the pages. Meyer was later murdered in 1964, shortly after the publishing of the Warren Commission Report into Kennedy's assassination, and the case remains unsolved to this day. The handwritten note sold at RR Auction in June 2016 for $88,970.
18k gold presidential ring
This custom-made 18k gold ring, bearing the presidential seal and featuring the inscription "J.B.K to J.F.K", was given to Kennedy by his wife Jackie following his inauguration.
According to Kennedy's secretary Evelyn Lincoln, he left the ring in his Oval Office desk drawer prior to his fateful trip to Dallas in November 1963, and she later retrieved it on her return to the White House following his tragic death. In October 2013 the ring sold at RR Auction for $90,000.
Dallas limousine license plates
This set of license plates were taken from the Presidential limousine in which Kennedy was travelling when he was assassinated in Dallas in November 1963. Following his death, the car was returned to coachbuilders Hess & Eisenhardt for a refit, and the plates were removed and replaced by secret service agents.
Company owner Willard C. Hess kept the original plates as a memento for decades before passing them down to his family, and in November 2015 they sold at Heritage Auctions in Dallas for $100,000.
Love letters to Gunilla von Post
In August 1953, just weeks before JFK was set to marry Jacqueline Lee Bouvier, he took a holiday on the French Riviera and met the 21-year-old Swedish aristocrat Gunilla von Post. The pair later spent 18 months trading intimate letters and telegrams, before meeting in Sweden for a week in August, 1955.
According to von Post, Kennedy asked his father for advice and was told divorce was impossible, despite declaring his love for the aristocrat. Soon after, Jacqueline became pregnant with their first child, and the affair ended. In 2010 a collection of letters written by JFK to von Post between 1954 and 1955 sold at Legendary Auctions in the U.S for $115,537.
Rolex gifted by Marilyn Monroe
This gold Rolex wristwatch was reportedly given as a birthday gift to JFK from Hollywood star Marilyn Monroe, with whom many have alleged the President had a secret affair.
Bearing the inscription "Jack, With love as always from Marilyn May 29th 1962.", the watch case also included a poem written on a small piece of paper entitled 'A Heartfelt Plea on Your Birthday', which read:
"Let lovers breathe their sighs
And roses bloom and music sound
Let passion burn on lips and eyes
And pleasures merry world go round
Let golden sunshine flood the sky
And let me love
Or let me die!''
Monroe reportedly gave the watch to Kennedy's aide Kenneth O'Donnell, who then passed it on to the president - but when Kennedy saw it, he immediately told O'Donnell to "get rid of it". In 2005 the contentious timepiece sold at Alexander Autographs for $120,000.
"Happy Birthday Mr. President" Invitation
This official invitation to JFK's birthday celebrations at Madison Square Garden in May 1962 was sent to the guest who brought the house down – Marilyn Monroe. Her sultry performance of 'Happy Birthday Mr President' in a shimmering, almost transparent dress, did nothing to curb the rumours of their alleged affair, and it remains one of the most iconic moments of her career.
This invitation remained in Monroe's personal collection for many years, and sold at Christie's in October 1999 during an auction of her estate for $129,000.
Love letters to Inga Arvad
JFK met the married Danish journalist Inga Arvad during WWII, when she shared an apartment in Washington with his sister Kathleen. J. Edgar Hoover believed Arvad to be a Nazi spy, due in part to the fact that she had accompanied Adolf Hitler to the 1936 Olympics in her role as a reporter, and reportedly had her under surveillance as she conducted her affair with Kennedy, then four years her junior.
In this collection of letters, written during their relationship, Kennedy calls her "Inga Binga" and declares "knowing you has been the brightest point in an extremely bright twenty-six years". The letters sold at Christie's in 2007 for $144,000.
Cabinet Room chairs
These black leather mahogany chairs originally sat in the Kennedy administration’s cabinet room, and were gifted to Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara, accompanied by a signed letter of presentation from Jacqueline Kennedy, following her husband’s death. The chairs sold at Sotheby’s in 2012 for $146,500.
This U.S. Springfield M1 Garand rifle was presented to Kennedy in October 1959, whilst he served as Senator for Massachusetts, and was personally accurized and test-fired for him by Master Sergeant Raymond E. Parkinson.
It's believed the rifle accompanied Kennedy when he moved into the White House just over a year later, and when it hit the block at firearm specialists Rock Island Auctions in September 2015, it soared past its estimate to sell for $149,000.
PT-109 letters to the family of Harold W. Marney
Harold W. Marney was one of two crew members killed in August 1943, when Kennedy's boat PT-109 was struck by a Japanese destroyer during night-time patrols in the Solomon Islands. Following the incident, Kennedy wrote to Marney's family to express his sorrow about the incident.
Within the four letters of condolence, Kennedy writes, in part:
“This letter is to offer my deepest sympathy to you for the loss of your son. I realize that there is nothing that I can say can make your sorrow less; particularly as I know him; and I know what a great loss he must be to you and your family.
"When the crew was finally united around the floating bow, we could find no trace of him, although every effort was made to find him. I am terribly sorry that cannot be of more help or encouragement to you. I know how unsatisfactory is the word ‘missing’—but that is all that we can tell—that is all of the information we have.
"You do have the consolation of knowing that your son died in the service of his country."
The archive of material, including JFK's letters, the telegram sent to Marney's family informing them of his loss, and the Purple Heart medal posthumously awarded to him, sold at RR Auction in September 2014 for $200,000.
Presidential candidacy speech manuscript
This remarkable manuscript features Kennedy's original first draft of his speech announcing his intention to run for president of the United States. Written in Palm Beach circa 1959, the handwritten manuscript reads, in part:
"I am announcing today my candidacy for the Presidency of the United States. The Presidency is the most powerful office in the World. Through its leadership can come a more vital life for our people... For 18 years I have been in the service of the United States, first as a naval officer in the 2nd World War, and for the past 14 years as a member of the Congress of the US. I have always had an image of America, as fulfilling a noble and historic role as the defender of liberty in a time of maximum peril—and of the American people as confident, courageous and persevering."
Offered along with the original manuscript were two later typed versions of the speech, complete with pencil corrections in Kennedy’s own hand, showing the evolution of the historic speech. Together, the important documents sold at RR Auction in September 2015 for $200,000.
This bulletproof 1960 Continental Mark V 6 passenger Limo was part of the Kennedy White House motor pool, having been converted for presidential use by coachbuilders Hess and Eisenhardt. Featuring a divider window, passenger air controls, power steering and brakes and a rare two-way telephone in the back seat, the car was leased from Ford to the White House for $500 a year and used by Kennedy regularly whilst in Washington D.C.
Following Kennedy's death, Lyndon Johnson reportedly ordered new cars for the fleet and the Limo was returned to Ford, before being acquired privately in 1964 by Dr. James C. Walsh. It was later donated to Kirkland Hall College in Easton, Maryland, after the Kennedy Library declined to accept it due to space constraints, and in October 2013 it sold at RR Auction for $210,000.
PT-109 letters to navy widow Kloye Ann Kirksey
This archive of handwritten and typed letters was written by Kennedy to Kloye Ann Kirksey, the widow of crewman Andrew Jackson Kirksey with whom Kennedy served on PT109.
Kirksey, who Kennedy described as "the most promising man on the boat", was one of two crew members killed during their mission on August 1, 1943.
"You may already have heard what happened to us that night off New Georgia," Kennedy wrote. "We were sheared by a fast-moving Japanese destroyer as we turned into them for a torpedo shot. Some of us were left on the boat, others thrown into the water. It took several hours for all of us to get together, and when we finally had, two men were missing. One of them was Jack...I’m truly sorry that I cannot offer you hope that he survived that night. You do have the consolation of knowing that your husband died in the service of his country."
The archive, containing four signed letters written by Kennedy beginning in October 1943, sold at Christie's in December 2014 for $233,000.
November 22nd White Lincoln Continental
This white 1963 Lincoln Continental was used to transport JFK, his wife and Texas governor John Connally on the morning on November 22, 1963. They drove from a breakfast and speech at the Hotel Texas ballroom Fort Worth to Carswell Air Force Base, where they boarded a short flight to Dallas.
The car was loaned to the President by Bill Golightly, of Golightly Auto Sales in Fort Worth, and was later displayed for years at the Museum of American Tragedy in St. Augustine, Florida. The car sold at RR Auction in October 2013 for $318,000.
Omega gold Ultrathin wristwatch
In 1960, during his presidential campaign, Kennedy's close friend, Florida Senator Grant Stockdale, presented him with a gold Omega Ultrathin watch engraved with the message: “President of the United States John F. Kennedy from his friend Grant".
Jacqueline Kennedy later wrote a letter to Stockdale thanking him for the gift, stating it was "nicer than the watch I gave him", and JFK obviously believed the watch brought him good luck, as he wore it at his inauguration in January 1961.
In December 2005 the historic watch hit the auction block at Guernsey's in New York where it was acquired by the Omega Museum for $350,000.
Oval Office flags
This pair of flags – the American flag and the US Presidential seal – were hung in the Oval Office during Kennedy’s presidency. Following his assassination in 1963 the flags were gifted to his devoted personal secretary Evelyn Lincoln, and later sold at Heritage in 2013 for $425,000
Having been injured during WWII, Kennedy struggled with back pain for the rest of his life. In 1955 he was advised by physician Janet Travell to acquire a rocking chair, which would relieve tension in his lower back, and settled on a model by the P & P Chair Company.
Kennedy soon installed these rocking chairs in all his family homes, the White House and even on Air Force One, and several have since sold for huge sums at auction.
The most valuable examples hit the auction block in 1996, as part of the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis estate auction at Sotheby's. One chair used by Kennedy in the Oval Office sold for a remarkable $453,500, and another from elsewhere in the White House fetched $442,500. Both were initially expected to sell for around $5,000 each.
In 1998, another of Kennedy's chairs which sat in his suite at the Carlisle Hotel sold at Guernsey's in New York for $332,500.
Kennedy was a well-known cigar lover, and owned a humidor gifted to him by the renowned TV comedian Milton Berle, custom made by Alfred Dunhill of London.
Berle had contributed jokes to Kennedy's speeches, and was amongst the performers at Kennedy's inauguration ball. He marked the occasion by presented him with the walnut humidor which featured the inscription "Good Health. Good Smoking. Milton Berle, January 20, 1961".
The humidor remained in the Kennedy family's possession for 35 years, before being offered at the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis estate auction. According to reports, Berle himself was amongst the bidders on the humidor, but dropped out when it passed the $180,000 mark, and it eventually sold for $574,500 to Marvin Shanken, publisher of the magazine Cigar Aficionado, who had worked as a volunteer for Kennedy's presidential campaign back in 1960.
Air Force One bomber jacket
Kennedy gifted his official Air Force One leather bomber jacket to his close friend David Powers, who served as the president's White House special assistant and was the first curator of the JFK Library in Boston.
The jacket was discovered amongst a collection of memorabilia at Powers' home following his death in 1998, when his family began to clear the house in preparation for sale. Offered at a John McInnis Auctioneers sale in 2013 with an estimate of $40,000 - $60,000, the jacket eventually fetched a remarkable final price of $629,000.
Set of golf clubs
Despite suffering from severe back pain, Kennedy was also an accomplished golfer – perhaps the best to ever serve in the Oval Office, with a single-digit handicap under his belt.
A set of JFK's MacGregor woods golf clubs, complete with a red and black golf bag inscribed "JFK Washington D.C.", came up for sale at the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis estate auction at Sotheby's. Offered with an estimate of around $900, the clubs soared to a stunning final price of $772,500. The new owner was later revealed to be Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was then married to Kennedy's niece Maria Shriver.
Nuclear Test Ban treaty desk
The most valuable item of John F. Kennedy memorabilia ever sold is also perhaps the most historically important.
Having come within moments of nuclear war with the Soviet Union during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, Kennedy gave one of the greatest speeches of his career at the American University June 1963, in which he outlined a plan to curb nuclear arms and called for a comprehensive test ban treaty.
After intense negotiations, the U.S, the Soviets and the United Kingdom agreed to a treaty banning the testing of nuclear weapons on land, in the atmosphere and underwater, to prevent the dangers of nuclear fallout and slow the escalating arms race at the height of the Cold War.
The treaty was signed in Moscow on August 5, 1963, by US Secretary Dean Rusk, Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko, and British Foreign Secretary Lord Home, and two months later – having convinced the U.S public and the senate – Kennedy signed the ratified treaty on October 7, 1963 at the White House.
The Louis XVI mahogany desk at which JFK signed the treaty came up for sale in 1996 at the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis estate auction at Sotheby's, and sold to an unnamed European foundation for $1.4 million – making it the world's most valuable item of JFK memorabilia ever sold.
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