By Patricia Reaney
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The personal archive of former Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara, who served under President John F. Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis 50 years ago, will be sold at auction later this month, Sotheby's said on Tuesday.
The sale, which will include personal papers, letters, furniture and memorabilia, will be held on October 23 and mark the half century anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which brought the United States and the Soviet Union to the brink of nuclear war.
McNamara, who died in 2009, helped to broker a deal to end the confrontation over the Soviet Union's plans to place nuclear weapons on Cuba.
"This is an extremely intimate portrait of an extremely significant American cabinet officer, which is highly unusual," David Redden, vice chairman of Sotheby's, said in an interview.
"So often this kind of material would go off to a university or to the Library of Congress or the National Archives, or any number of various places. To have it become available is an unusual opportunity for buyers of history."
Items in the auction, which will be on view to the public in a pre-sale exhibition that opened on Tuesday, will include McNamara's formal appointment to the defense position signed by Kennedy, which could sell for up to $15,000.
Another highlight is a silver engraved paperweight, given by Kennedy to close staff, showing the month of October engraved with the 13 days of the crisis.
"It is a paperweight created by Tiffany," Redden said. "I think that is going to be extremely vivid for people whether they lived through that (the crisis) or not."
A letter from Jacqueline Kennedy to McNamara expressing her gratitude has a pre-sale estimate of up to $20,000. But the top-selling item could be two cabinet room chairs from the Kennedy administration, along with a second signed letter from the then first lady, that together are expected to fetch as much as $250,000.
"Those should be enormously desirable," said Redden. "Anything that connects with the mythic world of John F. Kennedy should be extremely desirable. In fact, the intersection of McNamara's life and Kennedy's life is significant for both of them."
All of the items are being sold by his estate. The total sale could bring in $1 million or more.
McNamara, who died at the age of 93, served as secretary of defense for both Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson from 1961-1968. During the Johnson administration, McNamara's time was dominated by the Vietnam War, which he later described in his memoir as "terribly wrong."
Among the 109 lots in the sale are a collection of political cartoons of himself, many of which were very critical of him.
When he left the defense department in 1968 to head the World Bank he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom with Distinction, which is also included in the auction with a pre-sale estimate of $5,000 to $7,000.
"He had so many important roles in our story, our history. The sale has so many examples of the story. It is a living history," Redden added.
(Reporting by Patricia Reaney. Editing by Jill Serjeant)