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JFK's Golf Clubs Rake In the Green at Camelot Sale

Auction: Former president's woods and irons sell for $1,160,000. Famous fake pearls are purchased for $211,500.

April 26, 1996|JOHN J. GOLDMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — President John F. Kennedy's golf clubs, split into two lots of woods and irons, sold Thursday for a combined $1,160,000 during Day 3 of the phenomenon known as the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis estate auction.

Amid gasps and applause, four MacGregor woods and a Wilson 2 wood were hammered down for $772,500, while a set of Ben Hogan irons sold for $387,500. Both sets of clubs, which had estimated values of $900 each, were contained in golf bags with the logo "JFK, Washington, D.C."

"You never know," said Sotheby's auctioneer William W. Stahl Jr., amazement in his voice, as the bids for the woods mounted.

Both of the purchasers preferred to remain anonymous, Sotheby's said.

The late president's Robot K-44 putter went for $63,000. His MacGregor putter, called "the crook," went for $65,750 to James F. Heinz Jr., an insurance executive from Chicago who collects historic clubs. He was in London but relayed bids by phone to Don Mudd, his representative in the auction room.

"He decided he wanted to go for it," Mudd said.

Most players these days favor metal woods, and at the discount price for the popular Great Big Bertha titanium driver, the buyer of Kennedy's woods could have bought 1,931 high-tech clubs.

But he or she wouldn't have owned a piece of history, and that is the cache that Sotheby's used in its promotion of the auction to drive prices for the former first lady's possessions sky high.

With one day remaining, the sale has brought in $28,311,666. Sotheby's extremely conservative estimate for the complete auction was $4.6 million.

A triple strand of fake pearls, memorialized in a 1962 photograph of young John F. Kennedy Jr. playing with them around the neck of his laughing mother, sold Thursday for $211,500.

The sale of the simulated pearls, which had a pre-sale estimate of $500 to $700, typified the consuming interest in anything Jackie. Sotheby's president Diana Brooks said Thursday's costume jewelry session alone set a record for exceeding a pre-sale estimate: $2.5 million, or 61 times the pre-sale estimate of $39,000.

The winning bidder for the necklace was the Franklin Mint, a suburban Philadelphia company specializing in collectible reproductions.

Jack Wilke, the company's vice president of communications and marketing, said the pearls would be exhibited at the mint's headquarters and at a number of the mint's stores around the country. He did not discount the possibility of eventually offering reproductions for sale, but said that motive was "not the driving force behind the purchase."

Nevertheless, the purchase and some others like it underline that more than nostalgia is involved in some of the successful bids at the Kennedy auction.

On Thursday, a black-beaded, double-strand necklace of costume jewelry, which Mrs. Onassis wore when her first husband announced his candidacy for president and when she met French President Charles De Gaulle in Paris in 1961, was purchased by French clothing company Gerard Darel for $101,500.

Through a translator, Danielle Darel, owner of the company, said it would be worn by models in print and television ads. The company's slogan is "the story of charm," she said and Mrs. Onassis was "the representation of charm."

During a promotional appearance before the sale, Brooks had predicted the necklace would sell for more than $1,000, but she noted that a similar necklace could probably be bought for about $10 at a jewelry counter.

Throughout the day, bidding was spirited for all manner of Kennedy objects. An Italian marble relief went for $63,000. Three of Mrs. Onassis' riding saddles sold for $90,500, $46,000 and $34,500, respectively.

Peter Lerner, a Toronto businessman, spent $125,000 over three days on 11 items, including 12 silver ashtrays with the initials "JBK," which cost him $42,550. He also bought a silver cigarette box, books, salt and pepper sets and bangle bracelets--some destined to be gifts.

"I don't believe in building my wealth in the bank. I'd rather have things I can enjoy and look at," he told the Associated Press.

Not everyone was so fortunate. Linda Dyer, president of Finishing Touches, an etiquette school brought $2,500 for a piece of history. She walked away empty-handed.

Dyer thought $2,500 "was more than realistic, but who knew? . . . My little bubble is burst."

A losing bidder for both sets of the golf clubs was Don Carter, a private investor from Old Brookville, N.Y., who said he was in the 11th grade when President Kennedy was assassinated. Carter said he had wanted the clubs to put in his bedroom, but dropped out of the bidding for the woods when he realized his competition appeared prepared to bid whatever was necessary.

"I mentioned to the auctioneer I was teed off," Carter said, adding he regarded both sets of golf clubs as the "heart of the auction."

Carter didn't walk away empty-handed, however. He said he earlier had purchased three book lots and a painting, and that he was getting ready to bid at today's final sale.

The last item for sale tonight will be Mrs. Onassis' 1992 four-door BMW 325i sedan.

The total for the four-day Kennedy auction is not likely to reach the league of the Dorrance family estate in Philadelphia, which was auctioned for $130 million in the late 1980s. That estate included many highly valuable impressionist paintings.

But the Onassis sale has already eclipsed the $25 million raised when artist Andy Warhol's estate was auctioned in 1987. And it could approach the $50 million raised for the Duchess of Windsor's estate the same year.

Mrs. Onassis died of cancer in May 1994, but before her death she discussed the possibility of an auction with her lawyer, Alexander D. Forger, and with her children, John F. Kennedy Jr. and Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg. The proceeds will help the estate pay taxes.

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