Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Kennedy Scalfaro Box by Pampaloni


If you come from a family like mine, you grew up with a very deep respect for the Kennedys. My parents deeply admired all the Kennedys. There was always a light and a sadness in my mother's eyes when she spoke about President Kennedy, and about Bobby too. These men had inspired my parents in the 1960s and that enthusiasm for these men who led our country through change and turmoil and gave it all for us permeated down into me.

If my father and I ate at Martin's, we always asked for "the booth". I always felt like royalty when I ate there in that booth thinking about our President and his beautiful bride, the pride of our nation. And later in life, while hiking in Ireland I was touched again by President Kennedy. I was far away from everyone walking across farm fields near the coast of County Clare. I spotted the ancient ruins of an old farm cottage, surely abandoned for decades. I let myself in of course. It was sparse. There was a bed and a weathered farm table, plastered white wash walls and a thatch roof. These people had little, and they probably suffered greatly working the land to survive. But, there on the wall was a crucifix and under a thin layer of dust was a photograph of JFK. I felt a tear of pride well up for our great fallen leader.
Brant Point, Nantucket
 
In my late 20's I began to summer in Nantucket and would always feel that same sense of pride as we rounded Brant Point and looked back to the left. You would throw a few coins and stare at the beautiful Kennedy compound there on the beach. Last year while hiking near Sconset, I reached Great Point. It's a place that many Nantucketers know with it's barking seals, but not a place most Americans know. There at that solitary point is a beautiful isolated lighthouse. It is one that was saved from certain destruction by Senator Ted Kennedy. Reading the simple bronze plaque, that same surge of emotion washed over me.

Kennedy Avramopoulos Charger
Recently, I was watching a charity auction (that supports employment opportunities for the needy) and made a startling discovery. There was a box for sale in sterling silver engraved to the Honorable Patrick J. Kennedy from the Mayor of Athens. With an inscription like that, I knew it would be very difficult to win. Coincidentally, in the same auction, I noticed two other silver boxes. The first was a small round box by Pampaloni. Inside this second box was the calling card of Oscar Luigi Scalfaro. If you don't know who that is, you're not Italian. Oscar Luigi Scalfaro was the 9th President of Italy from 1992-1999. In the same auction was a third larger Pampaloni box. This box was itself engraved with the signature of Oscar Luigi Scalfaro and had the seal of the President of Italy. If you're like me, you're thinking that the odds are very slim that all three of the boxes didn't belong to Mr. Kennedy. But before I tried to win, could I prove it? There was no connection initially.

A thorough search revealed a 1996 blurb in the New York Times detailing how Mr. Kennedy did indeed meet Scalfaro on April 2, 1996. It was the only visit to the United States that Scalfaro made during his presidency and he only made a couple of stops on the journey. The provenance seemed likely enough to take the gamble. Besides, Pampaloni makes some of the most beautiful silver in the world. Their craftsmanship is comparable to Cartier or Tiffany in the world of fine silver.

And with that, I was privileged to win the spectacular Pampaloni Box. The box features a seal in the top in the form of an inset coin. This coin is the Seal of the President of Italy and reads, "Il Presidente Della Repubblica Italiana". There is a figure of a man's head and it is flanked by a wreath of olive branches. On the interior is the opposite side of the coin and it has the Palace of the President. The box is marked for Pampaloni on the bottom and on the lid. And on top of the lid, it is engraved deeply with the signature of the Italian President, "Oscar Luigi Scalfaro". It was a stunning piece. Of course it had some patina, but a very careful treatment removed all of that and showed the fine finish that brothers Francesca and Gianfranco Pampaloni bring out of the metal. The box weighs about 1.25 pounds.

It was hard to deny that this was a Scalfaro box. But was it a Kennedy box too? I was in Lawrence Miller & Co on other business and ran into the legendary antiquarian, Frank Milwee. We were chatting about a really unusual piece of Dutch stamped silver when I mentioned the box. "Can you tie the box directly to Patrick Kennedy?" he astutely asked, "Because otherwise all you really have is a defaced box". It was a valid point from a respected veteran in the silver trade. I took it as a friendly challenge.

I started searching about the Scalfaro meeting. There were a few newspaper articles, and no photos that I could find. I wrote an email to the Italian embassy. They didn't write back. I wrote to the House of Representatives and asked where to find declared gifts. Nothing. And then I discovered Mark L. Pisoni. Mark was the translator who accompanied President Scalfaro during his meetings. I figured it was worth a shot. Mark was approachable and extremely friendly. He remembered that there were gifts exchanged, but he didn't go into details. I realized, of course, he may not have been at liberty to go into details. After all, the better part of valor is discretion!
The Kennedy Scalfaro Box

I was giving up hope when I got a curt form email reply from the Clerk's Office at the House of Representatives. While they maintain disclosable gifts for about the last seven years, something like this they do not have. They said, "To obtain the information requested, please check with your closest Federal Depository Library." I reached out to mine. It was at the University of Maryland. I called and got a return call from McKeldin Library Government and Criminal Documents Librarian, Celina McDonald. She was exceptionally kind and professional. Celina looked up the records and said I could come down to the library to research them. I explained that I was looking to document the Scalfaro box and hung up. When I arrived, minutes before she was supposed to leave. She stayed late for me and said that she had found the record! There in the arcane records of the US House of Representatives was a line of text that said it all in the 1997 Schedule VI Form of Mr. Patrick Kennedy..





And with those few words, the Beautiful Scalfaro box by Pampaloni was reunited with its critical history where two important world leaders came together. And now what once may have been merely a defaced box became the Kennedy-Scalfaro Box.


References:
1.) New York Times, "Italian President to Visit R.I.", April 1996.

2.) Financial Disclosure Reports of Members of the U.S. House of Representatives For the Period Between Jan. 1, 1997 and Dec. 31, 1997, Vol. 2, Communication from the Clerk of the House of Representatives

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