Vietnam Exemplifies the Sad Results of False Expectations

This South Vietnam, National Bank of Vietnam 1000 Dong ND (1955-56), is one of Vietnam’s most coveted currency designs. It realized $32,900 at an April 2015 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

The war in Vietnam was a continuation of a war that had been going on since the end of WWII. After the Japanese surrender, the French attempted to take back their former colony, but Vietnamese nationalists (led by communist Ho Chi Minh) defeated the French at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954.

In the peace settlement, Vietnam was divided into two separate states at the 17th parallel – North (a communist state) and South (a Western-backed democracy) with a DMZ in the middle to keep them apart.

However, the Viet Minh infiltrated the South, which the U.S. feared would lead to a takeover, followed by an Asian “domino” outcome. The response was a ramp-up in military aid, advisors and limited support troops. The first 3,500 combat troops landed in early 1965 and steadily increased to 200,000. By November 1967 (despite war protests), there were nearly 500,000 fighting the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese army (NVA).

To counter the protests, General William Westmoreland claimed the U.S. was winning and President LBJ stood on the deck of the U.S.S. Enterprise and declared the war would continue “not many more nights.” It was late 1967.

Within weeks, the Tet Offensive would highlight the absurdly misplaced optimism of these words.

It started early in the morning of Jan. 31, 1968. The sounds of firecrackers were heard and assumed to just be Tet, the annual Vietnamese celebration heralding the beginning of the lunar New Year, “The Year of the Monkey.” All over Vietnam, similar celebrations were going on.

It was actually a massive attack by the communists on the South, and the surprise trapped many noncombatants, especially journalists, who quickly relayed the news home; vivid reports made front pages around the world with scenes of carnage shown nightly on television.

After the first few days, TV legend Walter Cronkite reportedly blurted, “What the hell is going on? I thought we were winning the war!” It mattered little that within weeks the North Vietnamese were being pushed back with heavy losses. The dramatic images stuck in people’s minds.

The combined impact of the offensive and images would ultimately force President Johnson not to seek reelection – a shocking result for the leader and his advisers, given the fact the offensive would end with an American victory, the devastation of the Viet Cong as a fighting force, and a severe mauling of the NVA.

It was a heavy price to pay for the faulty military propaganda and lying to the public that the war was “almost” won. Setting false expectations always leads to sad endings – but leaders persist, yet today.

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].

Paul Revere Was a Patriot – and Silversmith – Who Helped Win Our Independence

This set of six silver tablespoons made by Paul Revere sold for $83,650 at an April 2011 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

In the January 1861 issue of The Atlantic, they published a (now) well-known poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow that begins:

Listen, my children, and you shall hear

Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,

On the eighteenth of April, in seventy-five;

Hardly a man is now alive

Who remembers that famous day and year.

It was an attempt to bolster the North’s courage and resolve on the eve of the Civil War. Longfellow hoped to illustrate how much impact individuals can have during times of dramatic, historic occasions. He used Paul Revere as an example in the hope it would inspire others as the nation stared into the abyss of war.

At the time, it was titled Paul Revere’s Ride and also known as The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere or The Landlord’s Tale; Paul Revere’s Ride. (Take your pick since HWL fictionalized the facts for poetic effect.)

Paul Revere

We do know that PR was at various times a silversmith, engraver and patriot. He was even a part-time dentist when the Boston-area economy was slow. As a militant, he was one of the “Indians” at the Boston Tea Party and probably participated in the Stamp Act Riots.

He joined the “Sons of Liberty” in 1765, acting as a courier for the revolutionary forces. The famous ride he is associated with was to alert the Colonial militia about the advancement of British forces just before the Battle of Lexington and Concord (“The shot heard around the world”). One of his personal accounts is that he yelled, “The Regulars are coming out” instead of the more familiar “The British are coming” as he dashed around alerting everyone.

He had a long commercial career in iron casting and bronze bell and cannon casting, in addition to all the silver metalwork that Boston is replete with. In fact, his extensive metal factory work led to him becoming the first American to successfully roll copper into sheets in 1800 for use as sheathing material for naval vessels.

But, thanks to Longfellow, we will always fondly remember him as a genuine patriot who helped win our independence. (Naturally, all the men from that era were in fact dead as Longfellow suggests in his famous poem.) Whether the poem had any effect on the North is doubtful. By 1861, the terrible war that cost 630,000 lives was already just a short time away, unfortunately.

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].

‘Immaculate Reception’ Perhaps the Most Famous Play in American Football History

1970s-era Terry Bradshaw (12) and Franco Harris (32) game-worn jerseys are popular with collectors, often realizing up to $20,000 at auction.

By Jim O’Neal

The Immaculate Reception was a pass caught by Franco Harris of the Pittsburgh Steelers in a game against the Oakland Raiders. It took place on Dec. 23, 1972, at Three Rivers Stadium, with the Steelers in their first playoff game since 1947.

With 22 seconds remaining in the game and Pittsburgh behind 7-6, QB Terry Bradshaw had a 4th and 10 on the Steelers’ own 40-yard line. He threw a long bomb to John Fuqua that was deflected by Raider safety Jack Tatum.

Harris scooped up the deflected pass and ran for the game-winning touchdown, 13-7 after a PAT. The game is arguably the most famous play in the history of American football and has been a source of controversy since many claim the ball touched either Fuqua or the ground before Harris caught it, either of which would have caused it to be an incomplete pass by the rules at the time.

The entire team and crowd were first stunned and then went wild. However, a week later, the Steelers lost the AFC title game to the Miami Dolphins.

This was the Miami team that went on to win Super Bowl VII against the Washington Redskins and finish the season 17-0, the only NFL team in history to finish undefeated and untied.

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].

Tubman, Jackson on Same Bill Provides Example of Delicious Irony

Andrew Jackson appears on this rare $10 1923 Legal Tender. This same portrait was used when Jackson appeared on the $20 bill in 1928.

By Jim O’Neal

As a longtime admirer of Alexander Hamilton, I was relieved when the Treasury Secretary announced that Harriet Tubman would join Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill instead of the $10. However, I wonder if everyone realizes just how much delicious irony is involved in conjoining these two American icons, effectively, forever.

Tubman … born into slavery, army nurse, spy, suffragette and martyr to her cause.

Jackson … first president born in a log cabin and to ride on a railroad train, plantation slave owner (the Hermitage) and first man elected to the House from Tennessee. Strong opponent of “paper money,” as well as the Second National Bank and bitter enemy of its powerful President Nicholas Biddle.

Then again, Jackson has been a rich source of trivial factoids since he became the only president to serve in both the Revolutionary War (a 13-year-old courier captured by the British and held as a POW with his brother) and the War of 1812. His famous victory in the Battle of New Orleans actually occurred after the war had ended.

His marriage to Rachel Donelson Robards caused a major controversy since she apparently never formally divorced her first husband due to a misunderstanding. Jackson (a well-known duelist) was forced to defend her honor and he always blamed her early death on the gossip and intrigue that ensued. In fact, she never actually became First Lady since she died on Dec. 22, after his election to the presidency but before the formal inauguration in March the following year.

A fictionalized version of their life together appeared in 1950 after Irving Stone published his historical novel The President’s Lady. The book was later made into a movie starring Susan Hayward and Charlton Heston. In 1958, Heston would play Jackson again in The Buccaneer, the only movie Anthony Quinn ever directed.

A second controversy occurred in 1830 when as president he signed the Indian Removal Act, which required the “Five Civilized Tribes” (Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee-Creek, Seminole and Cherokee) to relinquish their rights as autonomous nations in the Southeast U.S. and relocate to federal land west of the Mississippi River. States in the North had simply killed the Indians and taken their lands, but this was considered at the time a more legal and humane way to gain control of large areas of valuable land. States in the South, especially Georgia, enthusiastically supported this action for obvious reasons.

President Jackson sincerely believed this would be better for the Indian tribes and promised to pay all “moving expenses” and guaranteed their new lands would remain in their control. We all know how this ended up and “The Trail of Tears” describes this dark period of American history.

Maybe the many Indian-owned casinos represent a small down payment for the debt we still owe these original Americans. If not, Harriet will be close enough to Andrew to remind him occasionally for a long time!

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].

Germany Represents Vivid Contrast Between Capitalist, Communist Systems

Robert Indiana painted his famous “LOVE” graphic on one side of a chunk of the Berlin Wall, and the word “WALL” on the other. This piece realized $65,725 at an October 2009 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

After the end of World War II, the Allies divided Germany into four zones, one each for the British, French, Soviets and Americans. Berlin lay inside the zone belonging to the Soviets and it also was divided into four sectors.

In 1949, the three Western powers merged their zones into a single entity: West Germany. This resulted in Berlin becoming an “island” in the heart of the East German communist state. Everyone in Berlin had an identity card, which allowed them to travel between East and West.

However, at midnight on Aug. 12, 1961, trains that traveled between East and West suddenly stopped. Passengers were forced out and told to walk home. The much bigger issue was that those living in the East were never allowed to travel to the West again (legally).

Then the East-West border was sealed off with armored cars, troop carriers and Soviet tanks. By the next year, concrete poles were erected and strung with barbed wire to further restrict travel. The metaphor of an “Iron Curtain” had become a reality.

By 1960, West Berlin had built 100,000 new apartments, raised luxury hotels, and constructed museums and art galleries. Industrial plants resumed production, creating thousands of new jobs.

In East Berlin, the economy of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) was stagnant and food and clothing scarce. Burned-out buildings were a stark reminder of the war. Three and a half million East Germans fled to the West, including 1 million through East Berlin, where there were no barriers (by treaty).

Then the GDR decided to build a wall!

Eventually, there was a concrete slab wall – 13 feet high, 87 miles long – completely encircling West Berlin. There were nine border crossing points, including “Checkpoint Charlie,” where spies were exchanged and East-West met with steely tensions.

In June 1985, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev introduced perestroika (restructuring), expansion of trade, loosening of borders and limited freedom in other eastern bloc countries. Erich Honecker, head of the East German Socialist party, decried the reforms and promised the East Berlin wall would “last 50-100 years.”

In the autumn of 1989, thousands of demonstrators marched the streets of East Berlin, Honecker resigned, and on Nov. 8 the East Germans began allowing unrestricted travel. German Reunification was officially declared on Oct. 3, 1990, but the citizens of Berlin knew the real uniting began on Nov. 9, 1989, when the hated wall was breached forever.

Today, Germany represents the most vivid contrast between the capitalist and communist systems of government.

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].

55 Years Ago, Alan Shepard Became the First American to Travel Into Space

The first photo of Earth from deep space, signed by all 29 Apollo astronauts, sold for $38,837.50 at a June 2011 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Space … the final frontier …

● The first U.S. space program was the Vanguard. Out of 11 attempts, only three were successful.

● The initial 1961 flight of Alan Shepard – America’s first astronaut – lasted only 15 minutes and 22 seconds.

● Virgil “Gus” Grissom made the second manned space flight, but his Mercury capsule, Liberty Bell 7, sank on splashdown and Grissom was safely recovered. The Gemini capsule for his second flight was nicknamed “Molly Brown” after “The Unsinkable Molly Brown.” Sadly, Gus died in the Apollo 1 fire.

● The first Space Shuttle orbiter was scheduled to be named Constitution by NASA. However, after President Ford received 100,000 letters from Star Trek fans, the name was changed to Enterprise.

● There were six Apollo missions that landed men on the moon: 11, 12, 14, 15, 16 and 17. Apollo 13 was aborted when an oxygen tank exploded and the astronauts were forced to return via the lunar module.

● Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin left a plaque on the moon: “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon. July 1969, A.D. We came in peace for all mankind.”

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].

Journalist John Reed Witnessed 10 Days that Shook the World

This original photograph of Tsar Nicholas II, dated May 20, 1910, realized $16,730 at an April 2008 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

On Oct. 25, 1917, U.S. journalist John Reed was staying at the Hotel Astoria in Petrograd – the former grand city of the czars, Saint Petersburg. At 10 a.m., he awoke to bells ringing and trucks racing up and down the streets.

The trucks belonged to the Bolsheviks, a small left-wing revolutionary party headed by Vladimir Lenin. They were filled with soldiers who plastered up proclamations stating, “To the Citizens of Russia! The provisional government has been deposed. State power has passed to the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies … Long live the revolution of workers, soldiers and peasants.”

Actually, the provisional government of Alexander Kerensky had not been deposed, but an ever-impatient Lenin was partially right: That morning in Petrograd would change the face of a century – as the revolution “that shook the world” had begun.

The events of the next 10 days set in motion a seismic upheaval of an entire country and resulted in a massive communist empire. It should have been no surprise as the country had been ruled by omnipotent czars and governed by a corrupt and crumbling bureaucracy.

The bloodletting of WWI became the catalyst for the Russian Revolution as Tsar Nicholas II vainly tried to regain the prestige lost in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05 and to reunite the people. It backfired and by the winter of 1917, Russia had millions of soldiers as casualties, prisoners of war and deserters.

Deserters returned home and began seizing land from the wealthy. Food shortages were rampant, workers began to riot, and soldiers – instead of shooting them – joined them by tying red ribbons to their bayonets.

Tsar Nicholas was forced to abdicate in March 1917, ending the 300-year rule of the Romanov dynasty. He and his entire family were exiled and then executed. A moderate provisional government was set up with a Constitutional Assembly and led by the 36-year-old Kerensky.

However, Kerensky launched an offensive against Germany with disastrous results. Rebellious troops commandeered trains to return home and began murdering landlords and pillaging the great estates. Factories ground to a halt and food shortages quickly spread everywhere.

Kerensky was unable to regain control and this gave the two men who would end up leading the 1917 revolution, Lenin and Leon Trotsky, the opening they needed. Both had been in exile for years in Siberia and Europe.

Kerensky wisely fled to avoid capture.

John Reed’s book Ten Days That Shook The World describes the events in great detail, but even he was an extraordinarily controversial figure who ended up charged with treason, fleeing the United States back to Russia, where he died of typhus in 1920.

He became one of those rare Americans who is buried in the Kremlin.

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].

Nation Has Experienced the Devastation, Challenges of Massive Earthquakes

Original prints of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and subsequent inferno often appear at auction. This 9.75- by 7.5-inch silver print, with a copyright notice by A. Blumberg of Alameda, Calif., went to auction in June 2014.

By Jim O’Neal

One hundred and 10 years ago this week – on April 18, 1906, at approximately 5:12 a.m. – world-renown tenor Enrico Caruso was jolted in his bed at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco. He and the Metropolitan Opera were in the city performing Carmen when an earthquake with an estimated magnitude of 7.8 struck the coast of Northern California. (The Richter scale would not be developed for another 30 years.)

While Caruso safely avoided the resulting fire and general devastation, it is estimated that up to 3,000 people died. Precise numbers are not available since Chinese residents were not tallied in the dead or injured totals. Caruso was so shaken he vowed he would never visit the city again, a pledge he kept until he died in 1921.

San Francisco was hit by a number of inter-related issues, including ruptured gas mains that fueled numerous blazes, wooden houses susceptible to fire, a major break in the city’s main water line, and the ill-advised use of dynamite to create a “fire break” that failed … badly.

Another issue was that much of the surrounding area had been built on landfill and the earthquake produced a phenomenon known as “soil liquefaction” that destroyed building foundations. But clearly, most of the damage was due to the lethal combination of wooden structures, gas-fueled fires and a shortage of water.

On the positive side, the acting officer at the Presidio, General Frederick Funston, called Mayor Eugene Schmitz and offered him federal troops to help police the city. Troops on Angel Island started patrolling the streets to prevent looting, riots and other unsafe acts. They even stopped a cattle stampede and plastered these posters on every street:


By The Mayor

The Federal Troops, the members of the Regular Police Force and all Special Police Officers have been authorized by me to kill any and all persons found engaged in Looting or in the Commission of Any Other Crime.


April 18, 1906

The Post Office was only slightly damaged and there is still pride that workers there resumed mail deliveries the next day!

President Theodore Roosevelt was also quick to act and in a matter of days all military tents east of the Rockies were on trains headed west for temporary housing for citizens left homeless. It’s estimated that up to 300,000 people were displaced by the earthquake and subsequent fires, and some were still living in tents two years later.

At the time, San Francisco was the seventh-largest city in the U.S., with a population of 410,000, and the biggest on the West Coast, with a busy port that was the “Gateway to the Pacific.” However, over time, trade got diverted to Los Angeles, and Southern California became the center of economic development.

Another “big one” is overdue, but where it will occur on the 810-mile San Andreas Fault is only a guess.

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].

Despite Portrayal as a Tyrant, Captain Bligh Received Hero’s Welcome

A six sheet poster from 1935’s Mutiny on the Bounty realized $9,560 at a July 2007 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Most movie trivia buffs can generally rattle off the three films about the Mutiny on the Bounty and the co-stars in each:

  • 1935 with Clark Gable (Fletcher Christian) and Charles Laughton (Captain William Bligh),
  • 1962 with Marlon Brandon (Christian) and Trevor Howard (Bligh), and
  • 1984 The Bounty with Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins (Bligh).

However, many are not aware of two earlier versions – the silent 1916 version, and 1933’s In the Wake of the Bounty with Errol Flynn in his film debut as Fletcher Christian.

They also may not know that for the 1935 version, Gable, Laughton and Franchot Tone were all nominated for Oscars in the best actor category (they lost to Victor McLaglen in The Informer). The Academy quickly introduced a new category, best supporting actor, to avoid a recurrence of three actors competing in the same film.

In all five movies, Captain Bligh is portrayed as a tyrant who pushes the crew mercilessly and metes out harsh punishment for trivial incidents. In response, Christian leads a mutiny of the crew and sets Captain Bligh and a handful of crew adrift on the sea.

In reality, half of the Bounty’s crew chose to stick with their captain, despite being cast to the sea in an open boat with inadequate rations. Good decision since they made out much better than the mutineers.

In one of the great feats in seafaring history, Bligh navigated the small boat 4,000 miles across the Pacific to the island of Timor. En route, Bligh produced such excellent charts and descriptions of the water that the Royal Navy relied heavily on them for decades.

Bligh received a hero’s welcome when he returned home and eventually retired as Vice Admiral of the Blue. As for the mutineers, some were captured on Tahiti and either died or were hanged when they got back to England. Those who fled to Pitcairn were mostly killed by each other or their uninhibited Polynesian wives.

It is not surprising the screenwriters took some liberties with the real narrative.

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].

1932 Election Marked New Relationship Between American Society and Government

This rare 3½-inch Herbert Hoover button from his successful 1928 campaign realized $8,750 at a February 2015 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

It would have taken a bold person to have forecast in the afterglow of President Herbert Hoover’s landslide victory in 1928 that, only four years later, he would be the victim of a comparable landslide victory by his Democratic opponent, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

In the aftermath of the 1928 election and the promise of almost endless prosperity, winning the 1932 Democratic nomination was viewed as little more than an empty honor, scarcely worth the effort.

However, in the first months after the stock market crash in 1929, the Great Depression started slowly, then the European repercussions caused a sudden downturn in the American economy in the spring of 1932, and by summer, the Depression was becoming acute. It continued to worsen with each passing day.

A point of desperation had clearly been reached and all attempts by the Hoover administration for relief were futile. By today’s standards they would have been viewed as too little and way too late. A deflationary spiral was under way and Democrats maneuvered Hoover into making statements that seemed to echo Grover Cleveland: “We cannot squander ourselves into prosperity.”

Hoover seemed cold and remote, which contributed to his unpopularity. The extent and degree of suffering in 1931-32 was far worse than the calm appraisals of the situation by the White House.

By election time, one in five workers was unemployed, one in three unemployed in big cities like Chicago. Even those still working were receiving such low wages or working so few hours that they barely survived. Twenty-five percent of the working women in Chicago were making less than 10 cents an hour. Relief payments were typically a starvation-level pittance; in Detroit, payments were 5 cents a day per person.

Amid the suffering and fear, there was surprisingly little violence and only a whisper of radicalism. The Republicans, despite the unpopularity of the party and the overwhelming unpopularity of the president, had no real choice but to re-nominate Hoover.

For their part, Democrats approached the campaign with jubilant anticipation. FDR was unusually well-prepared to be a presidential contender. Since he had left a New York law clerkship in 1910 to run for state senate, he demonstrated increasingly astute political savvy. In a number of campaigns and offices, he had carefully honed his political craftsmanship.

At the Democratic convention, Roosevelt was easily nominated on the fourth ballot and buried in his acceptance speech was the phrase “new deal” and the words were picked up by a political cartoonist. Within a few days, the term was in broad use and remains memorable today.

Roosevelt was elected by a wide margin, carrying 42 of 48 states and a total of 472 electoral votes to 59. In the process, Herbert Hoover’s sterling reputation and brilliant career were relegated to the ash heap of failures and never fully restored.

The 1932 election focused on the responsibility of government for the economic welfare of American citizens. The debates of the campaign were far less momentous than the aftermath of the election … the establishment by President Roosevelt of a new relationship between American society and government.

Thereafter, the federal government took active, vigorous steps to promote and preserve prosperity far beyond the limited, tentative measures of President Hoover and all his predecessors. It’s a role that has continued to expand yet today with actions not even imagined earlier.

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].