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Collecting Al Capone?
Sadly, today there is alot of fake stuff showing up on ebay and on other auction sites. Some with no provenance at all, or some totally made up, so buyer beware. Take time to do some research. It's your hard earned money! This web page came about through the overabundant emails I have received about collecting Al Capone. Did Al and Mae sign a bat? Did Al sign this book? did Al sign this baseball? I have gotten many emails on people getting items that weren't what they expected. Hopefully this will help someone one day and of course will avoid me replying the same song in my emails to future collectors inquiring.
The typical emails I get ask where to find Al Capone related items.
Most emails are unrealistic as they expect a real authentic item to be cheap.
That's the key. You will never find an authentic item with solid provenance going cheap! period!
And on the same token, that doesn't give the right for someone to rape your wallet in selling something that is authentic.
Unfortunately, there is greed in every walk of life.
Can I find authentic stuff on ebay and on other auctions?
Although few and far between, it does happen. You just have to know what to look for and be very, very patient.
I recently got an email from a fellow who bought an Al Capone signature. I verified it at first glance and I'm very sure it's authentic.
Although authentic, it will never sell high because as explained in another webpage here, a Capone signature is worth more when it's on a legal document, police record or bank check etc...
Documented signatures and items are very worthy. You need provenance.
Let's face it! Today anyone can even make a COA (certificate of authenticity) or notarize a paper. Even some reknowned autograph authenticators names (Frangipani and DiMaggio) have been forged to peddle the fakes.
Also stay away from overseas signatures!!! Too much forgeries! I have even seen signatures from overseas, in which the crafty devils take blank pages of a 1920 ledger or book, and use an old fountain pen with brown ink in order to forge the Al Capone name.
Cut signatures are also problematic. Why would you cut Al Capone's signature from an official document??? This raises questions and the answers better be good before buying one.
Got an email from a dear lady who got hoodwinked into believing she had an authentic Colosimo item.
The ebay seller had twisted the words just right into making her believe that it was an authentic Colosimo matchbook printed with Al Capone as manager.
Once she found out it was a dud, she tried to get her money back.The seller would not budge. She lost a few dollars, but there were others and at higher prices.
I had once seen a poor sap lay down $250 on one at ebay.
Jim Colosimo's cafe novelty matchbook.
Novelty matchbook. Many of these are up on Ebay and many people unknowingly dish out hundreds for them much to the delight of sellers. Please be aware that these never existed as originals, and were simply a novelty Item to promote a place called the Gaslight restaurant. They were around in the late 40's and 50'S They were reprinted in the 60's and 70's. Their total worth in pristine condition as a novelty item is $15 dollars tops!
Al Capone would never in a million years accept that his name be put on matchbooks showing that he was a manager. (Proof of employment). That would have lead him to the slammer faster, since he had paid no income tax.
Real Colosimo matchbooks are plain, with no mention of stars and employees. Ask yourself this question, stars names that appeared there changed weekly, so why would Colosimo's print up costly matchbooks for one event?
Now, I would never disparage the good name of any Autograph auctioneers or Ebay sellers. They are good at what they do.
They must hold their name up to high standards to have their solid reputations make them profits. Unfortunately, as in everything, there are a few bad ones.
What determines value and price?
Rarity and condition determines value. As for the price, an item is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it. It's as simple as that!
But isn't he a reputable dealer?
That does not make them infallable, that of which I'll get to in a minute.
I once had an authentic sig from a Capone relative who had various photos for sale. They didn't want to sell them outright and wanted them put up for auction. They asked for my help and I kindly directed them and their Capone photos over to a very reputable auctioneer (HCA Auctions) who was respectful and didn't overprice things. As a thank-you for sending them to this auctioneer, Al's relative gave me a sig and two photos of Al.
I even purchased a photo of Al and Theresa that came from them that was at this auction.
I decided to offer as an experiment, the sig to another online auction house. Guess what? They claimed it was as fake!!!! LOL!
So you see where they are not infallable. This same auction house was later selling another item that HCA auctions originally had sold for the Capone relative, but now it was at 7 times the price. The item also had no provenance ( I knew exactly where it came from and from which relative).
So the item had done a total of three auctions before it ended up in a private collector's hands.
That's another thing that irks me. Nothing wrong with making a profit, but it's sad to see some people who simply buy these Capone historical collectibles just to sell them immediately in order to make a quick profit and at an over inflated price. They really don't care about the significance of the item.
I'm not a big fan of auction houses for the following reasons.
1)They have so many high user fees such as the famous buyer's premium and restrictions for payments. After the final hammer your item price is so damned inflated that you feel ripped off.
2) A few have been found guilty of fraud by having forged items up for auction or involved in shill bidding. Some have even been sent to prison for this or currently have lawsuits against them. You can google this to read the full story on these auction houses.
3) Their expert authenticators have authenticated items that turned out to be fakes.
Yes, even some so called experts that have appeared on tv authenticated items that turned out to be fake mass produced items and signatures.
No one is immune to this bullshit!
This is why I prefer buying from family members or estate sales and being my own expert. I'm not money motivated. I do it for the love of this hobby.
One thing to point out. You will never see a warehouse load of Capone items for sale without mention of it in the news. If you start seeing items come out of the wood work at a cheap price and with no provenance, then that's good reason to stay away. In 2008, many people got ripped off by a company selling on Ebay who claimed to have many fake items coming from Al Capone's home. If they were real items with any shred of authentic provenance or at least a contact name from whence it came, then you better believe that they would be showing the documents in order for the price to shoot up in their favor. If the price is way low and there is no provenance, then it can be later used as their defence that at such a low starting price, what did you really expect? Something real?
If you google the persons name who signs the COA and come up with zilch then this pretty much tells you that it's not very reputable. It's your hard earned money, so question, question, question! Anyone can print a COA. We sure would all love to own an authentic item that's somehow linked to the historical Al Capone. I got an email from another person which pretty much is the same as the all others I got in the past.
I saw an item once stated as personally belonging to Al Capone. It had the letter "C" engraved on it. It must be real?
Pocket watches, cigarette cases, belt buckles, rings, pen holder, hip flask, etc.... I know, sure, anyone can fake items, (READ BELOW) find any jewelry with the initials "C" or "A.C." and claim it as belonging to Al Capone. Ebay sometimes has these clowns trying to pass off repurposed monogrammed jewelry as belonging to Al Capone. Here are some rules to remember,
1) Al Capone's personally owned items were only monogrammed AC or ACG, not AL, not A, nor C, or any other letters!! That's why it's very important to have solid provenance when acquiring these items.
2) Only buy items with solid provenance. The more money the more provenance!! The story, dates and people involved have to fit the history of the item.
A good source are Items that were passed down by actual Capone family members or relatives or people that were close to the Capone family. Do your homework and if you get the chance to buy at an auction or estate sale where family members or friends are selling family items, then save your money and go for it! These are rare and hard to come by but they do show up once and a while. It's better to bite the bullet and pay more money for something real than it is to pay little for something that is fake. Something real will always retain it's value, if not more.
Al Capone did have the "C" engraved on some items but these were not only for use by him but mostly for use by his guests, family and friends. These were not items personally attributed specifically to him. Example the invoice from a jeweler showed he had all the cutlery and flatware engraved with a "C" for use by him and his dinner guests at The Lexington Hotel. Only his personally used items were engraved with the letters A.C. or ACG.
An excellent example of someone faking an item is a cigarette case purported to be given to Al Capone by his mentor Johnny Torrio for Al's 11th wedding anniversary. I had first heard of this cigarette case back in 1990.
The dubious case sold for $4400 back in June 1990 at Christie's East Auction in New York City.
Some enterprising person purchased an antique cigarette case that already had a "C" monogrammed on it. The back inscription was later added to now attiribute the case to Al Capone via his mentor John D. Torrio. Alas, they didn't bother to fact check the Capone history before doing so. Note the error in the date. Be careful! Even high priced reputable auction house can sometimes be dubious with their items!
(Chicago Tribune November 4, 1990).
On June 20,1990, reputable auction house Christie's in New York City had this engraved cigarette case that was said to have been owned by Al Capone and given to him by John Torrio his mentor. This was featured in their East Auction. A buyer scooped it up for $4400.
The buyer was the late David Gainsborough-Roberts, a wealthy English collector who collects pretty much everything related to the famous and infamous. In an 2015 interview he did for the Jersey Evening Post, he said the following about the item;
~~~ David has in his possession a rare item of Al Capone's, which is a silver case inscribed 'To Al and Mae, 12-18-29'. It was from John Torrio, the mobster who helped build the criminal empire taken over by his protégé, Capone, and dated only ten months after the St Valentine's Day Massacre.
'I bought it 25 years ago. Nobody else recognised what it was, but I knew straight away from the inscription – ''To Al and Mae''. It was a case that was given to Al Capone and his wife on their 13th wedding anniversary from John Torrio,' said David, who was pleased to be able to acquire such a rare object.'There's nothing much of Capone's that turns up for sale because his family took it all away,' said the collector, who has a keen interest in the story. ~~~
He erroneously stated 13 year anniversary when it was really the 11th according to the date engraved. With that being said, even the supposed correct date engraved on the item has a slight problem for me!
The cigarette case that had once made it to Christie's reputable auction house and into an unsuspecting collector's hands had provenance that was very weak at best! The only information supplied was a brief history of Capone and Torrio and the gift of the case with a claim that Mae and Al Capone were married at St. Mary Star of the Sea church on December 18,1918.
Any expert or person worth his salt on the Capone subject knows Al Capone and Mae Coughlin were married on December 30, 1918, and not December 18th! So where did the erroneous date of December 18 on the cigarette case come from???
That's easy to explain! The person who made up the history to this dubious item read it up in a book that had that specific error in it. That or they picked it up after the error was repeated elsewhere. This erroneous date started back In 1971, when author John Kobler wrote a biography on Al Capone. It was an overall good biography, but mind you it still had some errors in it. Kobler was not entirely at fault since back in those days real authors had to do their own actual leg work, and do some real head breaking research! Today authors just surf the net at home for their info or have people fact check for them. One of the major glaring errors in Kobler's book is the Capone / Coughlin marriage date of December 18, 1918.
John Kobler's 1971 with erroneous wedding date.
The person picked up an old art deco cigarette case probably with the " C" already monogrammed on it and then with the incorrect info they picked up had it engraved old style on the back. The cigarette case first makes it's appearance out of the shadows in 1990. Two years later, Robert Schoenberg comes out with his excellent biography on Al Capone. He mentions the corrected wedding date of December 30, 1918, because he has seen the real documents pertaining to Al's marriage ceremony. Capone's living relatives, such as his granddaughters and Mae's great niece all confirm the 30th, and not the 18th.
Robert Schoenberg's 1992 biography on Capone had the correct wedding date .
Capone marriage register and document.
And finally, you can't argue with the above definite proof. Here is a copy of Al Capone and Mae Coughlin's real marriage documents with the correct date of 12-30-1918! Now you know very well that John "The Brains" aka "The Fox" Torrio would not make such a foolish error with a date, especially on a gift for two people he really cared about.
As always, just because the item is found at reputable auction house with so called appraising experts, that does not mean they are not prone to fakes or to make mistakes! Do your own research! Demand provenance! If it's not solid or does not make sense, then just walk away! After all, It's your hard earned money!
"I have seen his personal whiskey glass with a letter "C" on it at auction?"
Not personally his, but more for visiting guests, which was probably originally a set of six. Unfortunately, Al Capone did not like nor did he drink any hard liquor. Only beer and wine. For more see Myths
I got a brass lamp that Al Capone supposedly gave to my grandmother when she did a favor for something etc....
How much is it worth?
My answer? No provenance or photos or paper work. What does this make it? Just a brass lamp! And it's worth only what an antique brass lamp is worth. The Capone tie-in just doesn't make it worth more because it's just not there. If you have no provenance, then you would be dishonest in representing it as such.
Example of Authenticity: I have the silver plated serving tray from Capone's mansion. The Florida mansion was bought by Thomas Warren Miller from Mae with all the contents inside the Palm Isle residence. I had purchased it from HCA auctions and the paperwork and research was there. I could follow who had it before and what other auction house had it in their catalog. Is it worth millions? Hell no!! and it never will! If I ever would sell it, I would never gouge the next guy who I know must like this stuff as much as I do.
This collection of items that I have amassed over the years was never about money or profits for me. I really care about this stuff and what it means (Preserving history).
I've seen an authentic Al Capone owned hat and It came from the gangster's relative
Be very careful before investing thousands on an item like that. Do the research, the person might not even be related to Al Capone or if they are related they may be lying about the item. A hat that was recently sold has proven to be a total fake. The inside tag was matched to a hat makers identification site, and the said hat turned out to be a vintage reproduction made in the 1960's. Al Capone died in 1947!
I saw some Lexington Hotel bricks on sale for a couple of hundred dollars, Is it worth it?
Hell no! Why, you may ask? Well, the reasoning is that the only things worth that amount of money is the construction material taken out of Al Capone's office.
Example: bathroom tiles, the wood parquet floor from his office with the initials A.C. in it, lighting fixtures, toilet seat, wallpaper etc...Starting in the 1980's, that office was pretty much picked clean by 1995. The hotel was and is no doubt historic, but when you figure that the building was ten stories high and about ten stories wide, then that gives you a good estimation of how many bricks are out there. Way too many!! So actually not so rare. Worth about $15 to $30 a piece (whole bricks).
There is a gun up for auction claiming to be once owned by Al Capone. What should I look for?
Guns connected to Capone are always a real iffy affair which is the reason I never wanted to own any of these headaches. Very daunting to prove and you need provenance without doubt. Without it, the buyer can come back, complain, sue etc...
Some also recently claimed they had guns personally taken from Capone during a Miami arrest or that the gun was found in his Miami home. Guess what? Capone never had a gun on him in all his Miami arrests. One recent claim from the IRS is they have a gun taken off Capone or found in his house during his 1928 arrest in Miami? Are you kidding me? Who did the research there? The several problems with those statements are as follows;
1) Al Capone was never arrested in Miami in 1928.
2) Al Capone WAS arrested in Miami, three times on May 8, 13, and 19,1930. Every time he was arrested there was no guns ever found by police on Capone.
3) No gun was ever found in his Miami home during a police search. Capone's home was raided March 20,1930. Capone was not there at the time as he still hadn't arrived in Miami yet from his year off in Philadelphia.
West Palm Beach Post 1930. Capone's first arrest there for "vagrancy and investigation".
Better provenance would be to see from the gun company research to know what store or gun dealer it was sold to? If it’s known gang gun dealer then it would make it more believable. Miami or especially Chicago's Scaramuzzo, Peter Von Frantzius, Von Lengerke etc..Preferably Chicago as opposed to Capone having a gun that was sold to a store in Tennessee etc... I would also research the owners, trace where where they lived etc..
The simple facts against it being a Capone gun is that Al Capone preferred models like the ones taken from him during arrests or mentioned in newspaper stories and police files. EX: Arrest in Chicago 1923, Arrest Joliet 1927, Arrest Philadelphia 1929, or in 1928, for once shooting himself in the groin on the golf course. All those guns implicated were all .38 pistols and .45 autos. Also, most but not all Capone owned gangster pistol type weapons had the hammer ground down to avoid snagging when pulling it out of a coat pocket or golf bag.
West Palm Beach Post 1930
I recently read an old story where after Jesse James' death, his mother had a fan of Jesse's visit her at the James farm. He politely asked her if she had any of Jesse's guns. Sure enough! she had one, and sold it to the excited fan. Another visitor showed up. Eureka! Another gun! And so on and so forth! While I do not know the validity of this story, it is definitely food for thought! Especially with some of the estimated auction prices these days!
Even though there is endless nonsense being sold out there today just don't discourage and keep at it. Items are there, though far apart. I was lucky with Capone objects as the people I dealt with were very honest and their provenance was beyond reproach so don't dismay as there are still a lot of good guys out there! It took me twenty years and many mistakes along the way to see my first real signature. Took another couple to buy one. The guy was very honest and didn't gouge me. I've seen alot of fakes before that. There are alot out there who will give you a fair price for something authentic. Better to save up for something authentic than to squander your money on many low priced knick knack "iffy" items that later turn out to be duds and have no resale value!
Remember that if you ever get taken, it's at least a good lesson for the next time. This is how we learn.
First Posted March 2008