JFK license plates sell for $100,000 at auction

JFK limo license plate front
  • Image Credit: Heritage Auctions
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  • JFK limousine assassination
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A set of license plates sold for six figures at auction this week, and they weren't even vanity plates. These were plain old DC government tags. They just happen to be the ones that were on the Lincoln limousine that President John F. Kennedy was in when he was assassinated in 1963.

After that fateful day in Dallas, JFK's limo was sent back to Cincinnati to be retrofitted with additional security equipment by Hess & Eisenhardt. During the modification process, an FBI agent discarded the yellow plates bearing the number GG 300. Willard C. Hess, owner of the company, rescued them from the trash.

Hess literally kept them on the shelf before passing them on to his daughter Jane Walker, who kept them in a drawer in her kitchen. She recently consigned them to Heritage Auctions in Dallas. The auction house put them up for grabs as part of its Americana & Political event on Nov. 7, where an unnamed collector paid $100,000 for them. That's a lot of cash, especially when you consider that bidding opened at $40,000. Still, it just may be as close as a collector could get, since the limo itself resides at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn.
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License plate from JFK's Limo, saved from the trash 52 years ago, bring $100,000 in Dallas auction

Offered by Heritage Auctions, Nov. 7, 2015, as part of its Americana & Political Auction; the plates were saved a half century ago in Cincinnati after an FBI agent discarded them while JFK's limo was being retrofitted after the President's 1963 assassination in Dallas.

DALLAS — The license plates used on the Presidential limousine carrying President John F. Kennedy when he was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963 in Dallas — saved from the trash 52 years ago by Willard C. Hess, the owner of Hess & Eisenhardt, the company that retrofitted presidential limousines — sold for $100,000 at Heritage Auctions on Nov. 7, 2015, more than doubling the $40,000 opening bid.

The plates were purchased by an ardent Kennedy collector who wished to stay anonymous. They were consigned to Heritage by Jane Walker, Hess's daughter, who kept the license plates for the last half century in a drawer in her Ohio kitchen. While her father was alive, said Walker, he kept them between a pair of books on his bookshelf.

"I was very aware of their significance," said Walker. "On occasion, I would take them out and show them to friends."

"The response to these license plates was immediate," said Don Ackerman, Consignment Director at Heritage Auctions. "Kennedy collectors from all over, as well as historians and admirers of the late president, expressed their amazement that these plates had survived in such great condition for so long. In the end, we saw what that meant to the collector who bought it by the very strong price realized."

The Presidential limousine was ordered from Ford's Advance Vehicle Group and outfitted by Hess & Eisenhardt of Cincinnati. Known within Secret Service circles as SS-100-X, it was placed in service in March 1961. After the assassination, it was sent back to Hess & Eisenhardt for upgrades (additional armor plating and a bullet-proof roof), painted black and used through 1977. It now resides in the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.

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