by Martin Willis
Check out our interview with Dan Meader prior to this auction here.
When you have so many objects of a great fallen president in one auction, anything can happen. The collection was from the estate of David F. Powers, special assistant to Kennedy and the first curator of the JFK Library. I made an appearance at the auction, braving four hours of dangerous travel in a typical New England snowstorm. I went as I said in the podcast, just to see the people and watch the event.
I want to start by saying, no one in the business could have done a better job, and that is not easy to say, considering that I am a competitor of my good friend John McInnis as well as a friend of Dan Meader who held the auction in Amesbury, Massachusetts. The one thing I certainly bet John wishes he had done differently is, make it a two-day auction. As fate would have it, the auction ended up being a two-day event after all (18 hours long), but not by choice.
As I sat in the audience, I noticed that the auction length time was in jeopardy. I sent a text message to the very busy Dan Meader asking him if he was aware the auction was moving at 40 lots per hour and for him to do the math at 723 lots. I was there to mainly see the Kennedy flight jacket sell, but quickly realized how late that would be. I was hooked to my mobile hotspot with my laptop and tweeted a bit, then left for the trek north… keeping an eye on the sale as I drove back in the snow (just as bad as texting I suppose). I watched the auction live on the Internet from my comfy home and could see the live video feed as if you were there. I finally started falling asleep at 1AM and they still had 200 lots to go. The auction was over at an unprecedented 5:00AM! Dan told me today, it was simply a matter that they could not stop taking bids. They were coming in slow but steady on the Internet. Every auction should have that problem.
Despite all odds, there was no lack in participation; prices seemed to be immune to the endless sale. I perused ahead in the online catalog and all but a few pieces had left bids on them, in other words, no bargains available for night owls sitting at their computer.
One of Dan Meader’s smart decisions in cataloging was, lotting the pieces in a chronological timeline. It was the first auction catalog that I ever read through that made me feel emotional. Dan told me that people were in tears at the auction preview.
Now for the results, some lots were affordable, as low as a few hundred dollars, but most lots seemed to sell in the multiples of the estimate. It was exciting to see the flight jacket sell, it took over ten minutes and slowly made it’s way $570,000, which is $665, 550 with the buyer’s premium! Another highlight I was interested in, was the Dallas schedule and notations of the day, including the assassination.. “My President is dead” writes Powers.. This sold for an astonishing $65,000!
This was an exciting sale with important historical items of a single owner and will be talked about for a long time. It grossed nearly $2 million, which I find incredible. It was an auction about the history of a fallen man held dear to David F. Powers and the country that loved him. The collection mostly sat in file boxes after Powers passing in 1998. It is now spread to the wind of collectors, institues and museums, for all to treasure and generations to enjoy.
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