Adams Family History Shows How Fate Can Be Generous, Cruel

A Liverpool Creamware Pitcher showing President John Adams sold for $6,875 at a December 2016 Heritage auction. Liverpool pitchers were produced for the nation’s first four presidents, with examples picturing Adams among the rarest.

By Jim O’Neal

Abigail “Nabby” Adams (1765-1813) was the first presidential child in American history.

Nabby had a difficult personal life, despite having both a father and brother become president of the United States. Her marriage to William Stephens Smith was rocky, not made any better by Smith’s financial difficulties due to poor investments and business ventures.

In 1810, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, tantamount to a death sentence in those primitive medical times. Her treatment started with a mastectomy (without anesthesia) with typical 19th-century surgical tools: a large fork, a pair of six-inch prongs, a wood-handled razor, and a thick iron spatula heated in a small oven.

Within 2½ years, she was dead as the malignant cells left behind spread throughout her body, rendering her inoperable.

She had three younger brothers. John Quincy Adams is arguably the greatest of all presidential children. Charles Adams was a bright, engaging lawyer who died an alcoholic at age 30. Thomas Adams – also a lawyer – drank excessively and died in debt.

John Quincy Adams’ story is legendary. He would become the sixth president of the United States and, until George W. Bush, the only president’s son to become president himself.

His 1778 voyage to France with his father proved to be a defining event in both their lives. An important bond filled the emotional needs of an adolescent boy, and he became indispensable to his famous father. Fellow commissioner to France Benjamin Franklin was fluent in French, but often too busy to offer help. In a foreign country and ignorant of the native tongue, the future president had only his son to alleviate the striking boredom.

It developed into a strong intellectual, emotional and spiritual relationship, clearly evident in their correspondence for the remainder of their lives. Writing to wife Abigail, John Adams declared their son “is respected wherever he goes, for his vigor and vitality, both of mind and body. His rapid progress in French and general knowledge is highly unusual for a boy of his age.”

John Quincy Adams

When their work in France was done, father and son returned to America. But Congress dispatched Adams back to France, and then to the Netherlands with JQA in tow. Then fate struck again. When he was 14 years old, John Quincy Adams was asked to join a diplomatic mission in Russia to obtain recognition for the new United States.

In 1794, JQA was appointed by President Washington as Minister to the Netherlands, an assignment that would take him all the way to the White House. At various times, he also served as ambassador to Prussia, England and Russia. He would help negotiate the end of the War of 1812 and find time to squeeze in service as a U.S. Senator from Massachusetts. Like father, like (some) sons.

In 1789, John Adams learned that son Charles was bankrupt, an alcoholic and faithless. The Founding Father, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and second president of the United States, renounced him. He died a hopeless alcoholic, just days before John Adams learned he had lost the 1800 presidential election.

Fate can be a cruel master and Lady Luck a fickle companion.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

It’s Hard to Overestimate the Role of Washington in our Independence

A 1776 $1 Continental Dollar, the first representation of the basic unit of the U.S. coinage system, sold for nearly $1.53 million at a January 2015 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

From Sept. 4 to Oct. 26, 1774, a group of delegates from every colony except Georgia met in Philadelphia in response to the British imposition of the Intolerable Acts. Although declaring independence was not the purpose of the meeting – sympathies ranged from loyalty to rebellion – they did pass 10 resolutions enumerating their rights and agreed to meet again if their grievances were not addressed by the Crown.

They met again in May 1775 and in June they appointed George Washington commander of a newly founded Continental Army. On July 4, 1776, the Congress issued a Declaration of Independence.

This upset King George III, who was an insecure man of average intelligence, but bewildered by the rash of constitutional arguments the Americans were asserting. He was the third of the Hanoverian Kings (his father had died and his grandfather still spoke with a deep German accent) and was firmly convinced the welfare of Great Britain was heavily reliant on the American Colonies.

The Colonies had become a major importer of British goods, surpassing even the West Indies, and his greatest nightmare was any interruption of this trade. “If we lose the American Colonies, we shall sink back into obscurity and be just a small, insignificant island once again.” He was adamant about not letting this occur.

George Washington by Joseph Christian Leyendecker.

By then, the population in America was 2.5 million (500,000 slaves, of which 200,000 were in Virginia), living in 13 Colonies and uniting for independence, despite the government being in total disarray. Some had colonial governments in place, but in colony after colony, revolutionary leaders had supplanted official British rule.

The Second Continental Congress convened in May 1775 in Philadelphia right after the Battles of Lexington and Concord and soon evolved into a national entity. After the formal Declaration of Independence, all that was left to do was defeat a vastly superior British Army, which was supremely confident its 5,000 soldiers could march the entire length, quashing any resistance as they went. We all know how this ended, but the tribulations of an underfunded, out-manned army are still inspiring.

It would be hard to overestimate the personal contributions and leadership that George Washington provided, and to call him “indispensable” is an understatement. Absent his presence, a very different outcome was highly likely. The “Father of Our Country” is one individual who will not be lost in the sands of history.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Bell’s Invention Had Rocky Start, But Has Conquered Nearly 7 Billion People

Alexander Graham Bell Autograph Letter Signed
A letter from Alexander Graham Bell, on Volta Laboratory letterhead, sent to Joseph Stanley-Brown, private secretary to President James Garfield, and dated Aug. 2, 1881, sold for nearly $6,000 at an April 2014 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

In 1861, a German schoolmaster named Johann Philipp Reis built a device he called a telephone. Apparently, many Germans tend to credit him with the invention instead of Alexander Graham Bell.

The one thing that Reis’ device didn’t do was work. It only produced a series of clicks like a telegraph might. After his death, it was discovered that when the device got dusty or dirty, the contact points were able to transmit speech with remarkably clear fidelity. Reis had kept his equipment impeccably shiny and clean in the finest Teutonic tradition.

Three other men, including American Elisha Gray, were close to perfecting their versions of a telephone when Bell made his famous “Mr. Watson—Come here—I want to see you” breakthrough in 1876. Gray actually filed a patent caveat (a sort of holding claim) on the exact same day Bell filed for his patent. Alas, it was a few hours too late and Bell prevailed.

Bell displayed his invention at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, but it did not attract much attention. Most people considered it a novelty with no real understanding of its purpose.

Bell tried to explain what it did by writing: “The telephone may be briefly described as an electrical contrivance for reproducing in different places the tones and articulation of a speaker’s voice so that conversation can be carried on by word of mouth between persons in different rooms, in different streets or in different towns. … The great advantage it possesses over every other form of electrical apparatus is that it requires no skill to operate the instrument.”

Say what?

It is not clear how much this helped, but some expect cellphone subscriptions to soon exceed 7 billion – or more than the total population of Earth.

Reach out and touch someone.

P.S. An interesting obscure fact is that Thomas A. Watson had about 40 patents himself and one was for the bell that rang with a call. For the first seven years, people had to pick up the phone occasionally to see if anyone was on the line.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Washington Recognized the Chaos of Autonomous States

Bronze Sculpture of George Washington at Valley Forge
The bronze sculpture George Washington at Valley Forge by Henry Merwin Shrady, modeled in 1905, cast circa 1906, sold for $54,970 at an April 2007 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

It had been a long war and George Washington was both tired and relieved to be returning to his plantation in Virginia for a well-deserved retirement. Mount Vernon was badly in need of his full-time attention and his finances were frayed.

However, he was apprehensive about a central government that consisted of a chaotic, ramshackle Congress considered by GW to be “wretchedly managed.” The legislature was a one-vote, one-state body that required a quorum of nine states to operate and a unanimous vote for major laws. This was no “United States,” but a loosely governed confederation of 13 states that were largely autonomous.

It seemed clear that the Articles of Confederation were impotent and in need of major revisions. However, it would probably require a crisis to force the changes and GW could sense that others would be looking to him (once again!) to provide the leadership needed, retirement or not.

He was right on both counts.

The crisis came when thousands of farmers in rural Massachusetts rebelled against tax increases on land the state had imposed to help pay off heavy debts. The farmers, many of whom had lost their land to foreclosure, swamped courthouses and threatened judges using their pitchforks.

They were led by Daniel Shays (hence “Shays’ Rebellion”), an ex-militia captain, and they finally marched on the Springfield arsenal intent on seizing muskets and powder. This anarchy was met by the Massachusetts militia, who fired point-blank into the crowd, and then by General Benjamin Lincoln, who arrived the next day with 4,000 soldiers to quell the rebels.

Washington was mortified by these events, since he feared disgrace from the Europeans who were still skeptical of American self-rule. More importantly, it galvanized him to join James Madison, James Monroe and Edmund Randolph to strengthen the Articles of Confederation they had fought so hard for.

Eventually, an executive branch was established and in February 1789, all 69 presidential electors chose GW unanimously to be the first president of the United States. In March, the new U.S. Constitution officially took effect and, in April, Congress formally sent word to Washington that he had won the presidency.

He borrowed money to pay off his debts and travel to New York again, this time to be inaugurated. After a second four-year term, he was finally able to resume his retirement. This time, it only lasted two years since he died on Dec. 14, 1799.

President Jimmy Carter bestowed the rank of “six-star general” and “General of the Armies of Congress” in the hope that Washington would be the highest-ranking military person of all time. Irrespective of future grade inflation, I’m betting this rank will not be surpassed.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

First NCAA Tournament Lost Money. How Things Have Changed

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Hank Luisetti is considered one of basketball’s great innovators. This 1940s-era photo was among a group of signed photographs that went to auction in October 2009.

By Jim O’Neal

In 2010, the NCAA and CBS entered into a 14-year contract for broadcasting rights of the March Madness basketball tournament. The terms added up to a staggering $10.8 billion. For perspective, consider the initial year of the championship in 1939.

It was held on the elm-shaded campus of Northwestern University, which stretched along the western shore of Lake Michigan in Evanston, Ill. It was there in a cramped Patten Gymnasium, before a raucous crowd of about 5,000, that the national champion would be crowned.

It was a different time when the backboards were painted white and players wore high-top black leather shoes, indistinguishable from those worn by boxers. Players shot free throws underhand and the two-hand set shot was standard. The jump shot was practically unheard of, although Hank Luisetti had introduced the “running one hander” at Stanford in 1936.

The first tournament consisted of only eight teams selected by eight regional districts, then narrowed down to two by single-game elimination playoffs. The two teams that survived were Oregon and Ohio State. Both had breezed through the eliminations, but Oregon simply overwhelmed OS 46-33.

One “highlight” was when Oregon guard Bobby Anet dived for a loose ball, crashed into a table and broke the championship trophy.

The tournament ended with a net loss of $2,531.

Undaunted, the tournament continued and today ranks as one of sports’ big events that include the World Series, Super Bowl, Kentucky Derby and Masters Golf Tournament at Augusta Country Club.

Things change and television advertising is a major factor. Get ready for another weekend of basketball mania.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

The California Golden Bears Came Out of Nowhere to Win It All in 1959

Late 1950's Oscar Robertson Photograph Archive, One Signed
Oscar Robertson (No. 12) led the Cincinnati Bearcats to the Final Four at the 1959 NCAA Tournament. This signed photo went to auction in October 2008.

By Jim O’Neal

The big question in 1959 was which one of the year’s big stars would lead their team to the NCAA championship: Oscar Robertson of Cincinnati, Bob Boozer at Kansas State, or “Zeke from Cabin Creek” Jerry West of West Virginia.

The answer was none of them, although Jerry and Oscar would guide their teams into the Final Four. The winner in 1959 was Coach Pete Newell’s starless California Golden Bears. They had won the Pacific Conference, but weren’t even ranked in the top 10 teams when the tournament started. They had a bye into the second round, where they were expected to be eliminated by a strong Utah team. Instead, they held the high-scoring Utes to a mere 53 points, while 6-10 center Darrall Imhoff monopolized the rebounding.

However, most eyes were looking to the east where West scored 25 points in an easy 82-68 win over a tough Dartmouth team. Then, several nights later, the 6-3 superstar chalked up 36 points to edge St. Joseph’s 95-92.

Kansas State had been ranked No. 1 at the end of the season and started strong by blistering DePaul 102-70 for only the third time a team had scored 100 points. Then they ran into Cincinnati and lost despite Boozer’s 32 points.

Meanwhile, California put away small Saint Mary’s in a game barely noticed and snuck into the Final Four.

Most thought Cincinnati would easily dispense with California in the semifinals given the explosive nature of the team that averaged 81 points a game complemented by the extraordinarily talented Oscar Robertson’s 29-point average. However, Coach Newell’s smothering defense prevailed in a 64-58 surprise upset.

West Virginia made the finals behind a sterling 38-point burst by West and easily beat Louisville 94-79.

So the stage was set to see if California could hold off Oscar Robertson one night and then Jerry West the next. When the final buzzer sounded, it was California 71 and West Virginia 70 in the biggest surprise of the year.

However, the next three years would clearly belong to the state of Ohio as Cincinnati and Ohio State fielded some of the best talent in tournament history.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

‘March Madness’ Might Apply to More Than Just College Basketball

1982 NCAA Basketball Championship Game Net from Michael Jordan's Game-Winning Shot
The game net from the 1982 NCAA Basketball Championship, which swooshed from Michael Jordan’s game-winning shot for the UNC Tarheels, realized $31,070 in an August 2011 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

The first reference to the “Final Four” in an NCAA publication was in the 1975 Official Collegiate Basketball Guide. On page 5 in the review section written by Ed Chay of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Chay wrote:  “Outspoken Al McGuire of Marquette, whose team was one of the final four in Greensboro, was among several coaches who said it was good for college basketball that UCLA was finally beaten.”

The first time “Final Four” was used capitalized was in the 1978 Basketball Guide.

In 1994, Bill Clinton was the first sitting president to attend the Final Four. Clinton saw his home state Arkansas Razorbacks win the National Championship.

Sitting presidents who did not make it when teams from their home states made the Final Four include FDR (NYU 1945), Ike (Kansas 1953 and 1957), Nixon (UCLA 1968-74), and Gerald Ford (Michigan 1976).

The only player to play for two schools in the Final Four Championship game was Bob Bender in 1976 with Indiana (won) and in 1978 with Duke (lost).

I am waiting for some clever news writer to associate the current presidential primary races with the March Madness sobriquet. If not, you heard it here first.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].