> TELEPHONE US 212.355.5710

Presidential Rocking Chair Soars

May 13, 2022

With summer just around the corner, maybe it’s time to sit back, relax and enjoy the warmer weather in a new rocking chair. Perhaps a slightly used presidential rocking chair. One lucky person might be able to do that, as one of President John F. Kennedy’s treasured rocking chairs recently sold at auction.

JFK was known to have issues with his back and underwent surgery before becoming a senator in 1955.  Upon a follow-up visit to his doctor, Janet Travell, he sat in a rocking chair in her office and found it so comfortable that he bought one for his senate office.

wood rocking chair with beige seat and back cushions

JFK Rocking Chair

When JFK became President and moved into the White House, the rocker came with him. Unfortunately, his back pain worsened and he decided to purchase additional rocking chairs for the White House, as well as Camp David, his family homes in Hyannis Port and Palm Beach, and of course, for Air Force One. In total, JFK had 12 chairs made.

The rocking chairs became Kennedy’s favorite pieces of furniture. To share his enjoyment of the rocker, he gifted several of them to friends and supporters. Kennedy gave one of the chairs to former New York governor Averell Harriman (1891 – 1986). Upon Harriman’s death, the bulk of his estate went to his third wife, Pamela Harriman (1920–1997).

After Pamela died in 1997, the treasures left in the Harriman’s three homes were auctioned. More than one thousand items were sold over six sessions, many exceeding their estimates. Melvin “Pete” Mark, a Portland businessman and philanthropist, purchased the Harriman’s rocker, as he had a passion for collecting presidential memorabilia.

Melvin Mark passed away in 2017, and, to respect his wishes, his family consigned most of his collection for auction, with the proceeds going to a foundation for the arts. The bidding for the chair started at just $57.5K and rocked the room when the hammer finally fell at $480K ($591K w/p). This sale made the Harriman rocker the highest-valued of the Kennedy rocking chairs, beating out two similar chairs from the Jackie Kennedy auction in 1996 that sold for $442K and $453K, respectively.