Appraisal Video: (4:44)
J. Michael Flanigan
Folk Art, Furniture
J. M. Flanigan American Antiques
GUEST: The desk came off of a boat called the Honey Fitz, which was one of the presidential yachts for John F. Kennedy, and it was named after his grandfather. Doing some research on it, the yacht really goes back from FDR all the way through Nixon. And it was in the master stateroom. A group of us from Biloxi went over to Mobile, where the boat was being refurbished. And I saw the desk, and I made him an offer. I got it in 2002, and I offered the guy $500 for it.
APPRAISER: And this came with it?
GUEST: And this came with it, yes, the sign.
APPRAISER: The boat that we're referring to as the Honey Fitz started out as the Lenore.
GUEST: That's correct.
APPRAISER: It was built in 1931. And the guy that built it is fascinating. He was a man named Sewell Avery, and he was chairman of Montgomery Ward. And he hated Roosevelt. And Roosevelt, they claimed, in retaliation seized his boat during the war. Now, they used it for troop tender and things of that sort. But after the war, Truman, they think, might have used it a little, Eisenhower a little more. But its real fame is Kennedy.
APPRAISER: And there are some really iconic pictures of Kennedy taken on the yacht. There are wonderful stories, some of which may or may not be true, (laughing) about what happened on the yacht. And just as interestingly, Jacqueline Kennedy is reputed to have redecorated the yacht. Its moment in the Kennedy administration is its moment of fame. Richard Nixon changed the boat's name to Patricia.
APPRAISER: And he then sells the boat as surplus in 1970. And that's now 40 years ago, okay? So those intervening 40 years are what we're interested in in trying to understand this as a collectible. Now, in 1998 it sells for $5.9 and change... Six million, somewhere around there. So, close to $6 million. Then its history gets really sketchy, I have to say. When you try and research it, it's moving around. It's supposed to be in a dockyard in Louisiana, it's supposed to be in Mobile, it's now down in Florida.
GUEST: West Palm Beach, yeah.
APPRAISER: So I'm going to start with the bad news, okay?
APPRAISER: I think it's highly unlikely that this board is from 1963.
GUEST: No, I agree with you on that.
APPRAISER: And I think this was put on when one of the refurbishings…to make it more Kennedy-esque.
APPRAISER: I think this one is just a few hundred dollars as a nice keepsake, okay? But this is a more interesting piece. And I know you've got a photograph of it.
GUEST: Yeah. You see the photograph here. Now, it took me, I'd say, at least four or five years researching on the Internet to find this one picture here. And there it is, the interior of the stateroom. And there's the desk right there. And one of the things I noticed was this marking here is the same marking that's right there. So that was a good indication of being authentic.
APPRAISER: Let me tell you, that's very important, documenting it in situ during the Kennedy administration. Because what's really important about this is this is a built-in.
APPRAISER: That means it's not freestanding. It was screwed to the wall. In the rear, there's no back.
GUEST: It's open.
APPRAISER: So I think you're absolutely right. This is from the Kennedy administration. The desk, which is made of mahogany, which is perfect for marine work, has got what appear to be the original brasses, with the exception of this one here, which may be a replacement. If you look at this drawer and this drawer, they don't quite match up, so it has led the hard life, which gives us some sense of use.
APPRAISER: Which is what we like to see. Now, here's the hard part. (chuckling) Provenance in presidents is everything. You have the right provenance in that you have the photograph, you've got the piece. Do you have the paper?
APPRAISER: The paper is what really counts.
APPRAISER: The photo's good. It seals the deal in the sense of there's no question it comes from the yacht.
APPRAISER: Okay? But the paper gives you the provenance to say, "I got this from the owner, and the owner said I could, and here's my bill of sale," and this can be tracked. I really think you need to go back and get somebody to write you a nice little note saying...
GUEST: A little bill of sale?
APPRAISER: Right, a nice bill of sale. Because I think it's a risky proposition. Having said that, Kennedy memorabilia, like everything else, has gone up and down and up and down. And right now, it isn't in a real strong moment. I think this piece, just as is, $5,000 at auction. If everybody signs off and we have all the correct paperwork, I would not be... think it crazy to go double, maybe even triple that estimate.
GUSET: Well, that's nice. It's a lot more than I expected for it. But anyway it's a nice piece, and I'm going to keep it in the family.
GUEST: Along with the sign.
APPRAISER: And the sign.