Kennedy’s rosary beads could reach $1M at auction
An odd little bit of Camelot hits the market later this month: Almost exactly a month before the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, his rosary will go on sale at Boston’s Omni Parker House hotel on Oct. 24.
The seller, New Hampshirebased RR Auction House, described the rosary in the auction catalog as being “arguably the most personal possession associated with John F. Kennedy ever offered at public auction.”
Kennedy, the only Catholic to serve in the White House, gave the rosary as a gift to his close personal friend and assistant, David Powers.
Powers, who died in 1998 at 85, frequently campaigned with Kennedy from 1946 to 1963. He was also in the Dallas motorcade when Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963. Later, Powers served as the museum curator of Boston’s John F. Kennedy Library and Museum for 30 years until 1994.
“I can imagine that reflecting with these rosary beads gave my father comfort in the years after the president’s death,” reads an enclosed letter written by Powers’ son, David Powers, in part to authenticate that the rosary genuinely belonged to the nation’s 35th president.
Although bidding will begin at $10,000, the beads could reach up to $1 million, according to RR Auction House Vice President Bobby Livingston.
The younger Mr. Powers “sold his collection in January, but he sold it privately. This is the finest piece of the collection. The leather bomber jacket [worn by Kennedy] sold for more than $600,000. Since this is a more personal piece, we expect it to fetch a much higher price,” Mr. Livingston explained.
The earlier JFK memorabilia sale vastly exceeded expectations, with the late president’s U.S. Navy jacket fetching more than 14 times the anticipated $40,000 estimate. An annotated “final hours” itinerary also netted far more than the $5,000 “high” estimate.
RR Auction House, which specializes in offering manuscripts and historical documents, rarely has a personal item for sale.
“We have just doubled our registrations,” Mr. Livingston said, noting the widespread interest in the rosary.
The rosary itself suggests that the owner was a high-status Catholic, as the cross is engraved with Kennedy’s name and the beads are made of fine onyx. Its origins date to the early 1960s, when stylistic tastes changed for crucifixes, according to the auction house. The crucifix corpus on Kennedy’s rosary is much more stylized, a stark contrast from the realistic styles prevalent in earlier decades.
Although the rosary is not in mint condition, the chipped onyx beads and chafed sterling suggests that the rosary was well used and served its purpose as a guide to prayer.
In addition to the rosary, the auction also includes four photos of Kennedy and Powers taken in 1961 and 1962, depicting the pair at St. Edwards Church in Palm Beach, Fla., and the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington.
Some 290 other items will be up for auction, including the hotel phones used by Kennedy to make his last phone calls, a white Lincoln Continental that he rode in on the morning of Nov. 22 and the flag flown by the White House during the mourning week.
A portion of the rosary sale’s proceeds will benefit the nonprofit David Powers Foundation, which helps military families and the Boys and Girls Club.