It's a whole lot of history — in a little paperweight.
The silver and wood-framed memento was given by President John F. Kennedy to Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara to mark the October 1962 Cuban missile crisis.
Fifty years later, the paperweight along with letters, photographs and other items from McNamara's personal effects is going up for auction. Sotheby's is opening the collection for public viewing on Tuesday, and the auction is scheduled for Oct. 23.
McNamara, who died in 2009, served as the head of the Pentagon from 1961 to 1968, first for JFK and then for President Lyndon B. Johnson. He was part of that decade's major events — including the Bay of Pigs invasion in April 1961, the missile crisis, and the escalation of the Vietnam War.
The collection is "sort of a capsule visual history of the 1960s, which is certainly one of the most divisive yet vibrant decades in American history," said Selby Kiffer, senior vice president of books and manuscripts and one of the main auction organizers.
Kiffer said the paperweight, with a pre-sale estimate of between $15,000 and $20,000, is one of the highlights. It's one of a relative few that were made.
He noted that the days of the public exhibition and auction coincide with the 50th anniversary of the missile crisis, a tense 13-day nuclear standoff between the United States and the Soviet Union.
Afterward, Kennedy had given McNamara and others the paperweight with the October 1962 calendar page on it, the days of the conflict standing out and his and the recipient's initials on top.
The items up for sale in his personal archive also include a document signed by Kennedy that formally appointed McNamara to his position, estimated to sell between $10,000 and $15,000, along with two chairs from the Kennedy administration's Cabinet Room. They come with a letter signed by Jacqueline Kennedy, and have a pre-sale estimate of $150,000 to $250,000.
The material for sale also includes a collection of political cartoons, and signed books given to him by both presidents he served, as well as by Robert F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy.
There are also letters from Jacqueline Kennedy, like one from April 1963 in which she thanks McNamara and his wife for an engraving they had given the presidential couple. The letter is estimated to sell for between $8,000 and $12,000.
Kiffer said the overall estimate for the auction's sales was between $600,000 and $800,000.
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