NEW YORK (Reuters) - The personal archive of former Secretary of Defence Robert S. McNamara, who served under President John F. Kennedy during the Cuban missile crisis 50 years ago, sold for over $1 million (626,000 pounds) at auction, far exceeding a pre-sale estimate, Sotheby’s said on Tuesday.
The top-selling items in the sale were two cabinet room chairs from the Kennedy administration, along with a second signed letter from the then first lady, Jacqueline Kennedy, that together fetched $146,500.
The sale included personal papers, letters, furniture and memorabilia, and marked the half century anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which brought the United States and the Soviet Union to the brink of nuclear war.
McNamara, who died in 2009, helped to broker a deal to end the confrontation over the Soviet Union’s plans to place nuclear weapons on Cuba.
“For two hours, the history of the 1960s became a vivid reality for those who participated in this auction. The sale was filled with extraordinary pieces from the remarkable life of this pivotal figure,” David Redden, vice chairman of Sotheby’s, said in a statement announcing the results.
A silver engraved paperweight given by Kennedy to close staff, showing the month of October engraved with the 13 days of the Cuban Missile Crisis, sold for $95,500, more than three times its pre-sale estimate.
“It is a paperweight created by Tiffany,” Redden said in an interview ahead of the auction, adding it would be “extremely vivid for people whether they lived through that (the crisis) or not.”
Another highlight of the auction was the Presidential Medal of Freedom with Distinction, which he was awarded when he left the Defence department in 1968 to head the World Bank. It sold for $34,375, nearly five times its pre-sale estimate.
All of the items were sold by his estate.
McNamara, who died at the age of 93, served as secretary of Defence for both Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson from 1961-1968. During the Johnson administration, McNamara’s time was dominated by the Vietnam War, which he later described in his memoir as “terribly wrong”.
Reporting by Patricia Reaney; editing by Andrew Hay