By Dave Rogers
---- — AMESBURY — It took longtime John F. Kennedy personal adviser and friend, the late David Powers, decades to amass more than 2,000 pieces of memorabilia related to the late president.
Sunday, those items — including personal photos, letters and a one-of-a-kind Air Force One leather bomber jacket that sold for a jaw-dropping $570,000 — were auctioned off over several hours to serious collectors, fans and everyone in between at a much-anticipated presidential auction at John McInnis Auctioneers in Amesbury.
The 723-lot auction began shortly after 11 a.m. and among the early highlights were a signed copy of Kennedy’s book “Why England Slept,” the published thesis he wrote while in his senior year at Harvard that went for $4,500, and a copy of Robert Donovan’s book “PT 109, John F. Kennedy in World War II,” signed by the president in 1961, which fetched $7,600.
Other highlights included:
$570,000: Price paid for Kennedy’s Air Force One leather bomber jacket; pre-auction price was $20,000 to $40,000.
$21,000: Price paid for an American flag that flew at the White House during the Kennedy administration; pre-auction price was $3,000 to $6,000.
$16,000: Price paid for a Kennedy administration White House seal used in the West Wing; pre-auction price was $2,000 to $4,000.
$9,750: Price paid for a photo of John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis on their wedding day signed by the couple; pre-auction price was $2,000 to $5,000.
$6,000: Price paid for Kennedy adviser David Powers’ desk from the White House.
$4,250: Price paid for a little photo of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis captured in the mirror taking a photo; pre-auction price was $100 to $200.
For decades, Powers, who died at 85 in 1998, was inseparable from Kennedy, serving as his longtime friend’s confidant during his political career. After Kennedy’s 1963 assassination, Powers became a driving force behind the creation of the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, donating thousands of items to the iconic library. But Powers kept many of the most personal items to himself; and after his family discovered the items while cleaning out his house, it was decided to put most of the pieces up for bid.
During Sunday’s auction, McInnis appraiser Dan Meader announced that the library would be interested in acquiring some of those items from whomever purchased them.
The early going was dominated by some of the more prodigious buyers bidding online or via phone, scooping up multiple lots of signed letters, documents and photos. But there were some bidders inside the building who snatched items for themselves.
Among them were Donnie Greenwell of Waverly, Ky., who won two items in the first hour: two patriot speeches written by Kennedy, “We Must Be Worthy Of Our Times” during his run for U.S. Congress in 1946 for $500 and another speech, “Why I am a Democrat,” written around the same time for $550.
“It (the price) sounded reasonable,” Greenwell said, right after purchasing “We Must Be Worthy Of Our Times.”
Perhaps the highlight of the auction was a brown leather bomber jacket encased in glass and displayed behind McInnis’ auction table.
The jacket, which has the presidential seal sewn on the front, was given to Powers shortly before the president was assassinated 50 years ago. It came with a color photograph of Kennedy wearing it while watching the America’s Cup race. It was apparently also loaned to President Ronald Reagan, and the auction includes a letter from Reagan to Powers thanking him for the jacket.
It was almost 8 p.m. before the jacket, which had a pre-auction price of $20,000 to $40,000, came up for bid. It was sold to an unidentified buyer on the phone, who shelled out $570,000, plus an 18 percent buyer’s premium and 6.25 percent sales tax, for the piece of nostalgia.
Amesbury resident and Newburyport historian Jay Williamson, the curator of the Cushing House Museum in Newburyport who helped create a full-color auction catalog, said he was excited to see what turned out to be months of preparation come to fruition in one day.
“To have such a horde of items here, great and small, it really gives you a glimpse into his entire life,” Williamson said.