Raab on Forbes: Why People Collect Mementos Of JFK

As originally published on Nathan's blog on Forbes.com: http://www.forbes.com/sites/nathanraab/2013/11/22/why-people-collect-mementos-of-jfk-and-what-they-buy/

Why People Collect Mementos Of JFK (And What They Buy)

A signed photograph of John F. Kennedy as President

A signed photograph of John F. Kennedy as President

About two weeks ago, we received a call from a 35-year-old British man who had an interest in collecting historical documents but did not where to start.  We told him to start by collecting pieces signed by people he admired.  His is a common question, and our answer rarely varies.  Collect what you love, and then you will always love what you collect.   His choice?  John F. Kennedy.

The day after this man called, a long-time client called to buy a Kennedy historical document. This man is 82-years-old.  One was 32 when JFK was killed; the other wouldn’t be born for 15 years and is not American.  Their hero? The same man.

Our business may well be the single best gauge for whether a President’s legacy is an enduring one.  People can speak with their money.  Simply put, if a lot of people want your letters and documents and are willing to spend money for something you signed or touched, you have a legacy.  If this lasts a long time, your legacy is secure.  Fifty years after the Kennedy assassination, the jury is back from deliberation: Kennedy’s legacy is solid.

So what would compel both men, and the many people in between, from different generations, continents, and backgrounds, to collect mementos of JFK?  Here are a few of the reasons.

1) Recapture the energy and optimism of the era. Many Americans associate Kennedy’s Presidency with positive feelings of progress and hope, which they also attach to the entire era. These feelings of progress perhaps best encapsulate Kennedy’s legacy.  Signed photographs of Kennedy, like the one pictured, which our business, The Raab Collection, sold earlier this year, capture JFK’s looks and dynamism.  A signed quotation from Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you”  inaugural address, owned by the Forbes family, was offered several years ago for sale by Christies with an estimate well into 6 figures.

2) Remember and mourn the assassination. With the positive comes the negative. The assassination tore the nation apart and is among the most memorable events of the 20th century and perhaps American history. It shaped a generation, and those alive at the time, and others born after, seek to feel closer to this transformative event. Such was the case with the man who purchased a letter from us from Jacqueline Kennedy to Walter Annenberg, thanking him for his support of the other man shot that day, Officer J.D. Tippit. Or the woman who purchased a document signed by Ted, Robert, and Jacqueline Kennedy relating to the slain President’s estate. The other, more grim side of this is a fascination with Lee Harvey Oswald, whose wedding ringsold last month for a whopping $108,000, besting many of the most expensive John Kennedy documents ever sold.

Jacqueline Kennedy: "For the last thing we all do together for Jack."

Jacqueline Kennedy: “For the last thing we all do together for Jack.”

3) Be a part of Camelot.  The whole era of the Kennedy Presidency was infused with style and culture.  This was intertwined with John’s relationship with Jackie and the family, and their relationship with the White House.  Several years ago, we sold an archive of Jacqueline relating to her historic White House redesign, complete with sketches and notes by her.

4) Revisit the nuclear standoffs of the Cold War.  The Kennedy Administration presided over the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Bay of Pigs failed invasion, and the deployment of the nuclear submarine and related technology.  Earlier this year, we sold an archive of letters of President Kennedy to the father of the nuclear Navy, Hyman Rickover.  In one such letter, he writes, ”Now, we truly have the ability to strike from out of the deep any target on the face of the earth. However, unless this system serves the real purpose for which it was conceived and built – to deter rather than to destroy – we will have failed in our mission.”

5) Experience scandal. Several years ago, someone paid top dollar for the program for the event where Marilyn Monroe sang “Happy Birthday, Mr. President.”  The dress she purportedly wore that day sold for $1.26 million in 1999.

Kennedy is among the most actively collected historical figures and interest in him is truly global.  Everyone has his or her own reason for collecting but one thing is universal: a desire to be close the person or the event.

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