Heritage to auction on May 18 one of 10 known Kennedy Center medals in gold

Dedication piece originally presented to close JFK friend Lem Billings
By , Coin World
Published : 04/28/15
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One of a reported 10 gold medals issued in conjunction with the Sept. 8, 1971, dedication of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts will cross the auction block for the second time in two years in Heritage Auctions’ May 18 Americana and Political sale in Dallas.

The 63.5-millimeter, 14-karat gold medal containing 6 troy ounces of gold was originally presented to Kennedy’s longtime friend, Kirk LeMoyne “Lem” Billings in recognition of his work involving the center’s construction.

The Kennedy medal was last consigned to John McInnis Auctioneers’ Nov. 23, 2013, sale where it realized $5,900, which included the 18 percent buyer’s premium.

The Kennedy Center gold medal was designed and sculptured by German-born American sculptor Carl Paul Jennewein

Jennewein signed his name as C.P. JENNEWEIN on the truncation of the obverse portrait of Kennedy

The reverse of the medal depicts a rendition of the center structure, above which appears the inscription JOHN F. KENNEDY CENTER / FOR THE / PERFORMING ARTS with DEDICATED BY / PRESIDENT / RICHARD M. NIXON / SEPTEMBER 8, 1971, in the field below the building.

The medal was struck by Medallic Art Company, whose hallmark appears as MACO under Jennewein’s signature, with 1971 to the right of MACO. The medal is also marked 14K incuse on the edge.

Known primarily as an architectural sculptor, Jennewein also executed a number of noted pieces of medallic art. 

Among Jennewein’s contributions are the official inaugural medal for President Harry S. Truman in 1949 and Glory and Fame in 1933, the seventh issue in the long running Society of Medalists series.

The Kennedy Center medal was also produced in a 63.5-millimeter size with 14-karat gold filled composition, a .999 fine silver composition and a bronze composition. It was also produced in a 38.1-millimeter size in gold-filled, .999 fine silver and bronze.

A four-piece set containing the gold-filled and silver versions in both sizes, with each numbered 1 and originally presented at the 1971 dedication to President Nixon was offered at auction on May 31, 2004, by Lelands.com.

The small and large size medals, housed in separate presentation cases, did not sell and were returned to the consignor.

The Lelands auction lot description claims President Nixon left the four medals behind at the Kennedy Center the night of the dedication ceremony.

Close friends

Billings and the future 35th president of the United States met in 1933 as teenagers while both were students at The Choate School, an elite preparatory school located in Wallingford, Conn.

Billings and Kennedy remained close friends for three decades.

Billings left his job in 1960 as an advertising executive with Lennen & Newell to work on Kennedy’s presidential campaign. Billings managed Kennedy’s campaign in the Third Congressional District in the Wisconsin primary and then  served as a troubleshooter and coordinator of television initiatives in the West Virginia primary. 

Billings saw Kennedy for the last time when they dined together at the White House with actress Greta Garbo on Nov. 13, 1963, nine days before the president was assassinated in Dallas.

Early in 1961, Billings declined Kennedy’s offer to appoint him as first head of the Peace Corps or director of a new agency to promote tourism, the U.S. Travel Service.

In September 1961, however, Billings did accept appointment to the board of trustees of the planned National Cultural Center, which later became the Kennedy Center.

Billings eventually headed the committee that oversaw the construction of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. He also served as a trustee of the Kennedy Library at Harvard University.

Billings died in 1981 at age 65.

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