John F. Kennedy (1917-1963), the 35th President of the United States, is a particularly revered figure of the 20th century, less for his deeds while in office than the fact that his presidency was tragically cut short. In fact, Kennedy stumbled early in his administration with the debacle at the Bay of Pigs. And according to Lyndon Johnson biographer Robert Caro, by the fall of 1963, the President was in danger of being embroiled in a sex scandal due to an alleged affair with a reputed East German spy. But on November 22nd, Kennedy’s incomplete record and extramarital dalliances were all but forgotten when the 46-year-old president was gunned down in Dallas, Texas.
Almost immediately, the newspapers that trumpeted the news of his assassination, the campaign buttons from his presidential bid of 1960 and his senate race in 1952, and first-edition copies of his 1956 book, “Profiles in Courage,” became instant collector’s items. In the weeks, months, and years that followed the tragedy, countless more pieces of memorabilia would be produced and snapped up by those who mourned the premature passing of the nation’s most charismatic leader since FDR.
Since 1963, Kennedy coins have been an important subset of JFK collectibles. These include everything from the encased pennies produced for his 1960 campaign to the silver inauguration medals from 1961. And, of course, there are the hundreds of millions of Kennedy 50-cent pieces, which were authorized by Congress on December 10, 1963, to replace the Franklin half dollar, and have remained in circulation ever since. Only those minted in 1964 were made of silver, and in 1976 a special bicentennial version of the coin was struck, in which the eagle on the coin’s reverse was replaced by Philadelphia’s Independence Hall.
Campaign buttons are another area of interest to Kennedy collectors. Slogans on his presidential campaign buttons ran the gamut from the ordinary (“Our Next President,” “New Leadership”) to the snarky (“Mamie Start Packing The Kennedys Are Coming”). A real find is a silver stud of Kennedy’s famous PT 109 boat, the scene of his heroics during World War II, with “KENNEDY 60” on its side. Buttons produced for Kennedy’s inauguration include one with his signature on it and another featuring photos of Kennedy and his running mate, with a red-white-and-blue ribbon and gold donkey charm hanging below.
Kennedy’s image also made its way onto commemorative china plates. Compositions included portraits of the President and his First Lady, sometimes presented formally against a field of blue, other times looking more relaxed. In Italy, plates were even made pairing Kennedy with Pope XXIII, which was something the candidate took great pains not to do in 1960. There were also ceramic coffee mugs, salt and pepper shakers featuring Jack and Jackie, and a famous set consisting of a porcelain president sitting on his rocking chair, which he favored due to his bad back. The rocking chair also appeared as a motif in JFK costume jewelry brooches and pins.