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    Description

    President John F. Kennedy's Personal Rocking Chair from his White House Bedroom. John F. Kennedy suffered from well-documented back problems, which led him in 1954 to consult Dr. Janet Trevell in New York City. Trevell recommended the use of a rocking chair, and allowed Kennedy to try the one she used for personal back relief in her own office. JFK liked the chair so much that he ordered an identical one, from the P & P Co. of Asheboro, North Carolina. Over the years, he bought or was gifted approximately 14 virtually identical chairs from that maker for use in the Oval Office, on Air Force One, in his suite at New York's Carlisle Hotel, in his White House bedroom, and other documented locations. Chairs from the presidential years may be distinguished by the unique upholstery added by official White House upholsterer Larry Arata, who used thick arm pads and seat cushion (the chair offered here still has the original Arata upholstery).

    It is well documented that Mrs. Jacqueline Kennedy gave the rocker from Jack's White House bedroom to his longtime valet George Thomas in December 1963. Jackie's longtime personal secretary, Mary Barreli Gallagher, wrote poignantly of the event in her 1969 memoir My Life with Jacqueline Kennedy (New York: David McKay Co., 1969). She was helping Mrs. Kennedy apportion various highly personal mementos among the late president's close associates, and notes that Mrs. Kennedy assigned the rocking chair from the White House bedroom to Thomas, telling Gallagher, "It was always in his (JFK's) bedroom. I know he would want (George) to have it." (p. 339).

    The chair remained with George Thomas until his death in 1980, and it was subsequently purchased from his family (a notarized letter detailing that transfer of ownership will accompany this lot). Furthermore, some skilled "sleuthing" has clearly established this present chairto be the one from Kennedy's bedroom. The chair's owner commissioned the respected Boston furniture conservator firm of Robert Mussey Associates, Inc. to investigate this particular chair and how it fits into the genre. Their August 10, 2005 report (which will be provided in full to the buyer) reached some impressive conclusions. While all the other chairs in this style were manufactured by the aforementioned P & P Co., this one carries a manufacturer's plaque from "M. Havat & Bros./ Peshawan/ Pakistan." While nearly identical to the P & P versions, the Havat chair differs in important respects that help establish its White House provenance. Exhaustive research by the Mussey firm turned up August 1963 photographs of the President's bedroom at the Kennedy library. The unique details of the chair in that photograph clearly match those of the present Havat Bros. chair. In addition, it still has the original and quite unique Arata upholstery (although the chair must have continued in use for years after it was given to Thomas by Mrs. Kennedy, as the upholstery is now much more worn and soiled than when it was in the White House).

    The President of Pakistan, Ayub Khan, visited the Kennedy White House twice, and in 1962 Mrs. Kennedy made an extensive state tour of India and Pakistan. Khan made numerous state gifts to the Kennedys and Mussey speculates that perhaps, having noted how highly the president prized his unique rocker, Khan obtained the specifications in order to have one made of native Pakistani wood as a gift to Kennedy. However, no documentation to support this plausible theory was encountered. Nonetheless, the unique details and Arata upholstery would seem to clearly confirm the chair now offered as the one from the White House bedroom.

    Several of JFK's rocking chairs have appeared on the auction market, and have proven among the most sought-after and highly valued of Kennedy relics. At the famous 1996 New York Auction of Jacqueline Kennedy's possessions, two Kennedy rockers were sold, one for $442,500, and one for $453,500. In a 1998 auction the rocker from Kennedy's suite at the Carlisle Hotel fetched $332,500, while an example lacking its Arata upholstery sold at the 2005 auction of Kennedy Family Property for "only" $96,000 (against an estimate of $20,000-$30,000). The famed Robert White Collection, auctioned in New York in 2005, contained two Kennedy rockers. The better one was actually withdrawn from the sale, while the lesser example sold for $60,000 plus the buyer's premium.

    We feel that the present chair is an especially desirable one, both because it is a unique example, and because its use by Kennedy personally in his private White House bedroom gives it a closer personal connection to JFK than many of the other Kennedy rockers. It is difficult to estimate an auction value for such a historic and emotionally-charged item. We feel that, taking into account the auction history of these chairs as well as current market conditions, our estimate is quite realistic.


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    Auction Dates
    June, 2006
    7th Wednesday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 20
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 18,104

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