Auction King

John McInnis has auctioned off everything from John F. Kennedy’s bomber jacket to one of the first math books.
John McInnis has auctioned off everything from John F. Kennedy’s bomber jacket to one of the first math books.

Some days, auctioneer John McInnis is appraising and selling a small coin collection, personal antiques or fine jewelry. Other days, he’s organizing a major sale of John F. Kennedy’s personal items, including a bomber jacket that sold for $655,550. And other days, he’s auctioning off fragments of a historic battle flag that is now on display at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

“We never know where we’ll get called, what we’re going to look at,” explains McInnis from his warehouse and gallery in Amesbury, Mass., where he is based when not at his office in downtown Stuart. “We assess people’s things and what they have to sell. We bring things to auction all the time.”

Owner of John McInnis Auctioneers, with a small team of nine employees and independent appraisers, 54-year-old McInnis has been in the auction business since he first got his license at age 18. He grew up in Hampton Falls, N.H., and his father was an antiques dealer.

While he considers himself a generalist when it comes to knowledge about everything from American to Asian or European antiques, art and collectibles, he’s been studying and learning the market his entire adult life. When he travels, McInnis usually visits as many museums as time allows.

But beyond just understanding the value of collectibles, McInnis also recognizes that part of his job is to help people let go of their collections when circumstances require moving to a smaller house or dealing with the death of a loved one.

“The hardest thing people can do is figure out how to divest things. People can’t let go,” he says. “We do a lot of hand holding, talking with people and discussing what they want to keep and enjoy, and what they want to sell or give to charity. We have to build a trust level with our clients.”

That’s how his firm landed the auction of David Powers, the special assistant to John F. Kennedy, which included not just the jacket but photographs, books, briefcases and flags. He also auctioned off one of the first books on arithmetic, which included a congratulatory letter from George Washington, for $70,000. He sold a daguerreotype photograph of Lucretia Mott, a women’s suffrage activist, for $25,000. He even discovered a painting in the back of an attic that ended up selling for $1 million.

As a result, McInnis has been featured on national television and has developed a strong international reputation that allows him to bring hundreds of buyers from around the globe to bid online and in person during his auctions.

Married to Kathleen with three children, he offers his services to charity monthly for fundraising efforts. He spends his free time with his family, enjoying a healthy lifestyle of good food, and lots of water and snow sports.

Not surprisingly, he is a collector at heart – but not of one particular item.

“I love everything. That’s my problem,” he jokes.

Luckily, if his collection of art and antiques gets too large, McInnis will know just how to sell it to the highest bidder.

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