Mystery seller has JFK items up for bid. Ex-Gov. Jerry Brown wants to know who

JFK, Pat Brown
Sen. John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts meets with California Gov. Pat Brown in July 1960 in Los Angeles.
(Associated Press)

Former California Gov. Jerry Brown wants to know who is trying to sell his father’s memorabilia related to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Private letters and other items that had belonged to Pat Brown when he was governor are being offered by Sotheby’s auction house, which estimates the value at $20,000 to $30,000. Sotheby’s says the seller wants to remain anonymous.

The elder Brown, who died in 1996, was California’s top elected official from 1959 to 1967, and eight years later his son started the first of his record four terms as governor. Jerry Brown was not consulted or informed of the sale and believes the items should reside at UC Berkeley.

“I’d sure like to know why the seller is claiming anonymity and why these documents aren’t at the UC Berkeley archives with the rest of my father’s papers,” Brown said in a statement to the Associated Press.

Sotheby’s touts Brown’s materials for sale as unique because “it comes from a single source” and that it “chronicles a country in mourning.” The auction opens Monday.

Kalika Sands, who works in Sotheby’s Book & Manuscripts Department, didn’t disclose how the anonymous seller acquired the collection.


Among the items are a letter from Kennedy to Brown written days before the assassination. In it Kennedy thanks Brown for supporting his tax-reform program. There’s also a handwritten note from President Lyndon Johnson sent 10 days after he succeeded Kennedy. Johnson wrote: “Pat, I’m depending on you in the West.”

There’s also a copy of the first AP news bulletin sent after Kennedy was shot. It reads: “President Kennedy was shot today just as his motorcade left downtown Dallas. Mrs. Kennedy jumped up and grabbed Mr. Kennedy. She cried, ‘Oh, no!’ The motorcade sped on.”

Other items being sold include a letter from Kennedy’s widow, Jacqueline, sent two years after the assassination. She expressed her “deepest appreciation” to Brown for contributing oral interviews to the John F. Kennedy Library.

While they were political allies as fellow Democrats, Brown and Kennedy were not particularly close personally, according to Ethan Rarick, who researched Brown for the biography “California Rising.” He suggested the items on auction may come from someone in Brown’s administration.

Peter Hanff, deputy director of UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library that houses Pat Brown’s archives, shared that sentiment.

“I’m guessing that someone in Pat Brown’s administration probably just saved those pieces for autograph value,” Hanff said. He added a collector would have more use for it than a scholar.

“There’s not as much value for research,” he said.

The auction is part of Sotheby’s Americana collection sale, which includes a letter from John Hancock announcing the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, estimated to be worth up to $800,000.

Dil writes for the Associated Press.