Melvin ‘Pete’ Mark’s heralded collection, featured at Oregon Historical Society, goes to auction

Do you think you’d look good in Gen. Dwight Eisenhower’s “personal 2-star signature” jacket? Would you like to stir your morning coffee with a silver spoon made by Paul Revere?

Such desires now might be within your reach. All you have to do is offer the highest bid when those items — and more than 100 others — from late Portland real-estate executive Melvin “Pete” Mark Jr.’s collection go up for auction on May 7.

Mark, who died in 2017 at 91, was a dedicated and discerning collector of momentous moments from U.S. history.

“It was really his passion,” his son Jim Mark told The Oregonian/OregonLive.

The Mark collection is so significant, with so many rare, one-of-a-kind items, that the Oregon Historical Society hosted five separate exhibits from it over the years.

The pieces going under the gavel by Dallas-based Heritage Auctions include an Enigma encrypting machine used by the Nazis during World War II, the Mount Vernon Landscape Plan written by George Washington, and Franklin Roosevelt’s copy of his 1933 Inaugural speech in which he famously declared, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Melvin “Pete” Mark.

Also on the block are President John F. Kennedy’s White House rocking chair and Gen. George S. Patton’s “excessively rare” hand-carved wooden saber and walking stick.

The auction will include letters from many of the U.S. presidents, from Washington to Ronald Reagan.

One 1961 letter from former President Harry S Truman addresses a request for comment on the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor by taking issue with “tear shedding” over Truman’s decision to drop atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

“I wish I could write you about the 20th anniversary of Pearl Harbor,” Truman wrote to United Press International’s David Oestreicher. “I have very little to say about that except that the tears that have been shed on account of the atomic bomb should have been shed [over] the Pearl Harbor attack.”

Heritage Auctions

Pete Mark’s collection includes rare items from the founding of the U.S. (Courtesy of Heritage Auctions)

Pete Mark was the longtime managing partner (and then chairman) of the Melvin Mark Cos., and he served as a leader in downtown Portland’s revitalization in the 1970s and ‘80s — including the development of Pioneer Courthouse Square.

He pursued a range of civic-minded efforts over many decades, such as serving on Portland Art Museum’s board, while continuing to add to his personal collection of historical artifacts.

Not everything from the collection is in the auction. The Mark family is holding onto a few dozen items, which will be displayed in rotation at Melvin Mark Cos.’ Portland headquarters. Proceeds from the auction, says Jim Mark, will flow into the Mary and Pete Mark Foundation. The foundation has supported a range of local institutions, including Oregon Historical Society, Portland Art Museum and Central City Concern.

Jim said he expects many of the pieces in the auction will be snapped up by museums, as well as by philanthropic-minded collectors like his dad.

He said his father became a collector because he recognized the value of knowing and understanding the past — and because he wanted to pass along his love of history.

He would “explain history like it happened yesterday,” Jim said. “If I had a friend come over, he would want to show the collection and talk about the history behind each item.”

— Douglas Perry

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