Teddy Roosevelt watch, Wernher von Braun hardhat unique to Blackwell sale Jan. 14
CLEARWATER, Fla. – On Saturday, Jan. 14, Blackwell Auctions LLC will conduct its monthly Exceptional Estates auction, with an emphasis on 20th century art, design and history. Absentee and Internet live bidding will be available through LiveAuctioneers.
Two of the more notable lots are a pocket watch and a hardhat. The watch is a 14K gold Waltham – unremarkable as a timepiece (other than the fact that it runs perfectly well and is in superb cosmetic condition). But this particular watch has the U.S. presidential seal engraved on the lid and an inscription beginning with “From the President of the United States” and bearing a 1904 date. The watch was awarded to a British ship’s captain by President Theodore Roosevelt in recognition of the captain’s rescue of several American sailors from a sinking ship. Beginning in the mid-19th century through the first part of the 20th century, U.S. presidents have customarily given these tokens of thanks to foreign ship’s captains who had rescued Americans in peril at sea. These presentation watches are scarce and desirable, and rarely come up for sale.
The hardhat is slightly worn, painted black and dates to the mid-1950s. Applied letters on the front spell out the name “V. BRAUN.” It was personally owned and worn by Wernher von Braun, the man who – according to Space.com – “led the development of the rockets that carried the first Americans into space and onto the moon” during his tenure at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Ala. The hardhat was obtained from the family of a Marshall Space Flight Center employee who worked with von Braun on several projects, including Apollo 15 and 16. Searching for additional provenance, Blackwell Auctions located a newsreel clip of von Braun actually wearing this very hardhat. The employee’s family shared that von Braun gave the hardhat to him upon his retirement, along with a signed photo (also in the auction).
Additional items from the Marshall employee include his personal invitation to the launch of Apollo 11, his numbered credential badge allowing him access to the event, one of the jacket patches he wore as a member of the Lunar Roving Vehicle development team and other NASA-related items.
Also included in the auction is a rare and important Clemens Friedell “Poppy” sterling silver centerpiece bowl, circa 1915. According to spencermarks.com, Friedell was “one of the most famous silversmiths of the California arts and crafts movement during the early 20th century. He worked as a chaser for Gorham in their Martelé line and later executed his own pieces in Pasadena, California.”
Mid-Century Modern furnishings include a Milo Baughman living room set with original upholstery, two Arredoluce floor lamps, a Danish chest of drawers and outstanding Italian glass light fixtures, as well as some earlier furniture items, such as a pair of desirable French Art Deco leaf chairs.
Local Tampa history is recalled in five lots from the home of Santo Trafficante Jr. (1914-1987), one of the last of the old-time Mafia bosses. He allegedly controlled organized-crime operations in Florida and Cuba, which previously had been consolidated from several rival gangs by his father, Santo Trafficante Sr. Reputedly the most powerful mafioso in Batista-era Cuba, he never served time in a United States prison. The auction items are from Trafficante’s home and include furniture, a decorative front-door gate, and even an unopened bottle of cherry brandy.