President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's trademark fedora, the last check he ever signed, and watercolor sketches for the unfinished portrait he sat for on the day he died are among hundreds of historic artifacts and documents headed for the auction block.
The memorabilia and other items from the life and times of the nation's 32nd president come from the private collection of Joseph and Deborah Plaud of Whitinsville, Mass.
"This has been my life's passion and I just hope whoever becomes the owners of these special pieces treasures them and preserves them," said Joseph Plaud, 43.
He acquired his first piece — an autographed photo of Eleanor Roosevelt and FDR Jr. — while in junior high school.
The largest in private hands
Today, some experts consider Plaud's collection to be the largest in private hands. It's so vast that it's being sold in two installments, with the first — 568 lots — set for auction on June 7 by Heritage Auction Galleries. A second auction, of roughly the same size, will be held in the fall.
"Most collections tend to be kind of accumulations of whatever comes someone's way," said Tom Slater, director of Americana Auctions for Heritage. "This collection was systematically put together with the intention that it would be a museum display collection and a resource for scholars.
"It was a collection that was put together with thought, not accumulation."
The collection gives equal attention to both Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt as well as the New Deal, the series of economic and employment programs the president initiated to help pull the U.S. out of the Great Depression.
Among the items up for auction next month:
- An original land deed signed in 1696 in which five Native American chiefs, including Wappinger Chief Nimham, gave their land to early Dutch settlers. The land later became the president's estate at Hyde Park, N.Y. The document is valued at $40,000 to $60,000.
- FDR's Tiffany wristwatch, worn at the Yalta Conference. Value estimated at $4,000 to $6,000.
- FDR's 1934 Christmas gift to Eleanor Roosevelt, an 18K gold and diamond compact with engraved message, valued at $4,000 to $6,000.
- A signed copy of the D-Day Prayer the president gave from the White House for the Allies' landing in Europe on June 6, 1944, valued at $12,000.
- Artist Elizabeth Shoumatoff's original watercolor studies for her portrait of FDR, which was never completed. He was sitting for it at his "Little White House" at Warm Springs, Ga., when he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and died in 1945 at age 63.
- FDR's check register with 47 signed checks. One entry notes a deposit of his monthly salary for $4,866.65. The last check he signed was in the amount of $1,800 for Eleanor's account. It is dated April 9, three days before he died.
Plaud, a forensic psychologist, said his maternal grandmother sparked his initial interest in the president.
"She loved FDR and as a kid she regaled me with stories of him," Plaud recalled.
Items may find their way to Hyde Park
He collected so many books, letters, pop culture items and photographs that he and his wife opened their own museum, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt American Heritage Center, a few years ago in Worcester, Mass.
When the city opted to use that public space for private offices, the Plauds closed the museum last year and decided to sell the collection.
"This is really killing me," Plaud said. "It's been a difficult process but some things you just have to resign yourself to."
Roosevelt's home is now the FDR Presidential Library and Museum at Hyde Park, N.Y.
"Our hope is that anything belonging to FDR, that has significance to FDR, somehow finds its way home to Hyde Park," said Lynn Bassanese, deputy director of the museum.
She said the federally run museum doesn't have the funds needed to acquire items from Plaud's collection and instead is hoping for the generosity of donors.
Heritage Auction Galleries has taken numerous steps to ensure the authentication of Plaud's collection, said Michael Riley, the auction house's chief cataloger and consignment director.
Heritage recently had to refund thousands of dollars after auctioning off bogus Hollywood memorabilia. The auction house is suing the company that provided it with the phony items.