President John F. Kennedy’s first rocking chair, a Titanic deck chair, Jack Ruby’s wallet and an original Sputnik model are among the 80 items up for auction on Dec. 1.
“Heritage has once again brought together the best of the very best highlighting the great personalities and events of the last several centuries,” says Executive Vice President Joe Maddalena. “This auction serves as a profound reminder that history lives on through these tangible reminders still with us and still with stories to tell.”
Many of the items are accompanied by fascinating stories and documentation, like the rocking chair and deck chair.
Rocking chairs commissioned by Kennedy to soothe his chronic back pain are highly coveted by collectors. One sold in May at Heritage, from the Mark collection, for nearly $600,000. But this event features the first one Kennedy ever used, the very oak rocker in which he discovered a way to relieve the unrelenting agony that had necessitated four grueling operations.
This oak P&P Chair Company rocker, with its high back and seat made of fine interwoven steam-bent cane, belonged to Dr. Janet P. Travell, whom Kennedy first visited in 1955 to treat his back. In her oral history at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Travell spoke at length about this chair. She recalled how Kennedy asked to be measured for a comfortable chair.
“People have often asked me about the rocking chair,” she recounted. “I had one in my office at 9 West 16th Street. He sat in it, and he said, ‘This is so comfortable, why can’t I have one of these?’ I said he could.”
This chair, a sort of national symbol during the Kennedy administration, came from Travell’s estate.
Per the letter of provenance accompanying this fascinating wood-and-cane keepsake from the RMS Titanic, it was gifted to photographer Thomas Barker, who was invited aboard during the ship’s stop in Queenstown (now Cobh), Ireland, on April 11, 1912. Barker, who worked for The Cork Examiner, photographed what might have otherwise been the mundane day-to-day activities aboard a luxury liner. In fact, his are the sole photos depicting passengers embarking on the ship.
According to the handwritten 1959 letter of provenance addressed to a Mrs. Walker and signed by Judith Borrow (née O’Brien) of Merseyside, England, Barker was gifted one of the deck chairs after commenting that he’d love to use one in his garden during the summer. But only days later, like the rest of the world, Barker learned of the tragedy that had befallen the Titanic; his souvenir had become a grim, haunting keepsake he no longer wanted. Barker’s housemaid Patricia O’Brien, Borrow’s mother, asked her employer for the chair, which eventually made its way to England — and now, to auction at Heritage.
The opening bid for the rocking chair starts at $50,000 and the deck chair starts at $45,000.
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