A spectacular selection of timepieces owned by the men and women who helped shape the 20th century in America — including the likes of Babe Ruth, Bob Hope, Lyndon Johnson and Joe DiMaggio — are being offered in New York on June 21
One of the most important arterfacts related to the Kennedy presidency to have emerged in recent times, this gold Cartier Tank watch was presented to Jackie Kennedy by her brother-in-law, Prince Stanislaw ‘Stas’ Radziwill, in February 1963.
The watch, which is being offered in Rare Watches and American Icons in New York on 21 June, appears on the First Lady’s wrist in many now iconic photographs. Engraved with the inscription ‘Stas to Jackie, 23 Feb. 1963. 2.05am to 9.35pm’, it is a remarkable link not only to the lofty ideals of the ‘Camelot’ presidency, but also to President John F. Kennedy’s unique charisma.
In an article for Sports Illustrated published on 26 December, 1960, John F. Kennedy wrote, ‘The physical vigor of our citizens is one of America’s most precious resources.’ The new president was a keen sportsman, and was eager to use his influence to create a fitter and healthier society. ‘We want a nation of participants in the vigorous life,’ he told the annual Conference on Youth Fitness some 14 months later.
In early 1963, a 1908 memo from President Theodore Roosevelt emerged concerning the speed at which Marines could then be expected to cover 50 miles on foot. The White House publicised the discovery, and before long Americans everywhere were being challenged to hike 50 miles and prove themselves as fit as their forefathers had been.
Although he would not take part personally, JFK organised his own representative 50-mile hike at Palm Beach. The assembly included his brother-in-law, Prince Radziwill, an émigré aristocrat who had escaped from the German invasion of Poland to London at the end of the Second World War, and later married Jackie Kennedy’s sister, Lee; Chuck Spalding an old Harvard friend; and Max Jacobson, a doctor who applied first aid along the route.
According to the memoirs of Clint Hill, Jackie Kennedy’s secret service agent, who also did the hike, Jackie and Lee were driven out to accompany the party on a section of the journey. There were frequent cigarette breaks. Spalding asked for steaks to be sent out to help keep up the walkers’ strength. The Prince requested champagne and orange juice by way of refreshment.
The President also joined the party along sections of the hike, and it seems to have been a jolly occasion. As such, it was commemorated not only by the Prince’s gift of this watch to Jackie, but also by a painting made by Jackie, which is being offered together with the watch. Featuring portraits of the Prince and Chuck Spalding, it bears the dedication, ‘February 23, 1963 2.05am to 9.35pm / Jackie to Stas with love and admiration’. The walkers accomplished their challenge in a commendable 19 hours and 30 minutes.
Jackie Kennedy’s Cartier Tank (estimate $60,000-80,000) is only one of several watches with compelling provenance being offered in New York. They include pieces that have been owned by socialite and businessman J. J. Astor VI; fashion designer Bill Blass; United States Secretary of the Treasury Joseph Barr; actors Bob Hope (above) and Alan Ladd; and a rectangular stainless-steel Omega Marine wristwatch from 1940 (estimate $5,000-10,000) that was formerly owned by The Duke of Windsor and left to Wallis Simpson upon his death.
A gold Cartier $20 coin watch with an estimate of $50,000-100,000 was a gift from baseball legend Babe Ruth to his friend, the New York gangster Bumpy Johnson — aka the Al Capone of Harlem. Ruth was known to enjoy walking on the wilder side of life from an early age, and during the years of Prohibition mobsters such as Johnson inevitably acquired celebrity associates. The watch, inscribed ‘To Bumpy from Babe, Dec 25th, 1937’, seems likely to have been a Christmas present.
Three watches that belonged to another icon of baseball, Joe DiMaggio, are also being offered on June 21. An Eska $10 coin watch is inscribed ‘Happy 50th Joe, Harrah’s’, and is accompanied by a letter of provenance from DiMaggio’s family. It is offered together with a Relide desk clock that was also owned by DiMaggio.
A white gold Audemars Piguet features the dedication, ‘To Joe from Aaron, Oct. 1962’. And a gold Elgin pocket watch bears the engraved words, ‘Sport’s Champion of the Year from the Editors of Sport Magazine January 1, 1948’ — a token of esteem towards the athlete in commemoration of the 1947 season in which he led the New York Yankees to the World Championship.
Lyndon B. Johnson
Another watch in the sale with a link to the White House was owned by the 36th President of the United States, Lyndon Baines Johnson. With its unusual asymmetrical case design and interesting arrow-shaped numerals, the Hamilton wristwatch with black dial (estimate $15,000-30,000) is readily identifiable in numerous photographs of LBJ taken at various political events — indeed, the watch is accompanied by a booklet featuring the images. The case back is engraved, ‘Presented to Senator Lyndon B. Johnson by the McDowell County Democrats, Welch. V. VA. Oct. 18-58.’