The almost 700 items that constitute Heritage
's November 13-14 Americana & Political Signature® Auction are, in the end, time travelers. Among the auction's numerous offerings: flags and banners, leather satchels and paper posters, silver badges and gold-engraved cigarette cases, dinner plates and license plates. Were it not for their previous owners, proud relatives or grateful caretakers, all these things might have long ago landed in the dustbin of history.
They survive today because of their connections to milestones and memories, presidents and peacekeepers, landmarks and legacies. These pieces of yesterday serve as teachers and tour guides better than any history book; words don't carry the weight of a Texas Ranger badge, weren't held by John Kennedy, weren't flown over one of the first federal properties in the 1790s or recovered from the World Trade Center. These are tangible relics to be appreciated, admired and, yes, acquired; and we're fortunate for their survival and the stories they continue to tell.
Look no further than the 32 offerings from the Zaricor Flag Collection, which "collectively tell the American story," as the Robb Report noted in 2014. Each is what Zaricor, who founded the Good Earth Tea Company and died last year at 74, liked to call a "silent witness" to history, and all come with lengthy exhibition and publication histories.
That includes one of the most significant flags Heritage has ever offered: a 13-star U.S. Flag with the four-five-four star pattern, coveted among collectors as few flags from the Union's earliest days survive and only a tiny handful reside in private collections. Here, too, is this John F. Kennedy Presidential Automobile Flag with Presidential Arms, which Zaricor acquired from the collection of David Powers, a close friend of Kennedy's who served as his special assistant and, later, as curator of the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum.
Read more about the Zaricor Flag Collection offerings here.This auction features some 120 items connected to Kennedy, celebrating the president's life and times. Among its extraordinary offerings: Kennedy's leather satchel, which is gold-stamped "J.F.K." beneath its handle, and an accompanying business card for the young senator from Massachusetts. According to a letter of provenance supplied by the consignor, the uncle of the bag's previous owner worked on Kennedy's political campaigns in the 1950s as part of a group organized by Powers and Kenny O'Donnell.
"Collectors highly covet personal items owned by presidents," says Heritage's Americana Director Curtis Lindner, "especially pieces owned by President John F. Kennedy."
And such items are myriad in this event, including his cuff links bearing the presidential seal; a limited-edition presentation copy of The White House: An Historic Guide signed by the president and wife Jacqueline; a letter written to PT 109 shipmate John Edward Maguire upon publication of John Hersey's classic New Yorker story in 1944; and even an Omega wristwatch gifted to the president by Jerry Lewis.
There are, of course and as always, numerous presidents represented in this auction, each by items scarce and singular. There exists but one of these: a nine-inch stoneware crock with a scalloped rim and cobalt floral decoration made to commemorate President John Quincy Adams's election; hence the inscription "J.Q. Adams." Says Lindner, "It is the only piece of John Quincy Adams political stoneware of which we're aware."
Abraham Lincoln is represented by more than 100 pieces, among them one of the most coveted items from his White House: a dinner plate in the Solferino pattern ordered by Mary Todd Lincoln from E. V. Haughwout & Company of New York during her May 1861 buying trip. Presidents Johnson, Grant and Arthur reordered the service. Says Lindner, "It's always a privilege to offer Lincoln White House china, whether plates, platters or egg holders," especially since only two years ago, a celery dish from the Lincoln White House realized $93,750 at Heritage.
There are plates of inauguration china from Ronald Reagan's White House, too, but even more extraordinary are these two license plates from the 1985 inauguration each numbered "1," each bearing the Inaugural Seal and each inscribed "The 50th American 1789 Presidential Inaugural 1985." Multiple sets were produced, with the plates used by Reagan donated to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library; these were gifted to White House staff and members of the president's inner circle.
Rarities abound in this auction; stories, too, enough to fill a library, from the scarce women's suffrage poster and 1917 Uncle Sam recruiting poster to the circa-1857 U.S. House of Representatives desk to William "Buffalo Bill" Cody's presentation chest containing some of his things. Triumph and tragedy abound in this auction, whose offerings tell the larger American story in miniature.
Look no further than the 21k-gold cigarette case that belonged to World War I hero William J. "Wild Bill" Donovan soldier, lawyer, diplomat and, as the CIA notes, "the Father of American Intelligence' and architect of CIA's World War II predecessor, the Office of Strategic Services." He was a major and then lieutenant colonel in the165th Infantry Regiment, which The New York Times once called "the cocky, mostly Irish New York regiment whose exploits during World War I had made Donovan a national hero and earned him the Medal of Honor." They didn't call Donovan the "swashbuckling spymaster" for nothing.
The cigarette case dates from the end of Donovan's historic, well-documented career: In 1953, President Dwight Eisenhower wanted to make Donovan ambassador to France, which Donovan declined. He chose to go to Thailand instead, given its proximity to Vietnam, which Donovan feared was becoming a Communist country. Vanity Fair reported in 2011 that "as ambassador, Donovan was deeply involved in setting up C.I.A. operations in Vietnam and throughout Southeast Asia.
"Thai officials revered Donovan, but he began to show signs of dementia during his time there, and in 1954, the spymaster returned home. Before departing, Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram who attempted in the 1950s to transform Thailand into an electoral democracy gifted his friend this cigarette case, which bears Phibunsongkhram's engraved signature and a farewell to his friend, "With best wishes and high esteem."
But as Lindner says, "As a Texas-based auction house, we would be remiss if we didn't offer significant pieces of Texana," chief among them in this auction the Texas Ranger badge that belonged to John Henry Wilmoth. He was an Arkansas native who enlisted in Tyler, Texas, in 1922 and served until his discharge three years later. Wilmoth, a violent man, didn't live much longer: After going to work as a special agent for the Kansas City Southern Railroad, Wilmoth was shot to death by his wife on Nov. 19. 1925, as he was beating their 17-year-old an incident well chronicled in by newspapers throughout Texas and the South. Wilmoth was among the "brutal" Rangers chronicled by former Dallas Morning News writer Doug Swanson in his acclaimed history Cult of Glory: The Bold and Brutal History of the Texas Rangers.
There were no official Texas Rangers badges made before 1935. If a Ranger wanted one, he had to have it made and pay for it. Most of these early badges were hammered from silver coins. Badges from any era seldom surface, especially those accompanied by enlistment papers and other documents verified by the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame Museum in Waco. In 2018, the museum's director, Byron Johnson, called the badge "a rarity for many purported late 19th and early 20th century badges," with the museum further telling the consignor it "was one of the best-looking badges from the 1920s era that we have seen."