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,
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.
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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