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The truth about Al Capone's signature
I'm always amazed and shocked to see the abundance of fake Al Capone signatures out on auction and really feel sorry for the people who unknowingly believe these to be real. I wasn't planning on doing a section on this subject, but after seeing these poor people plunking their hard earned $$$$ I decided to give autograph hunters a Al Capone 101 course on what to look for in buying big Al's John Hancock. As for authentic signatures, many just buy these items and just resell them at exhorbitant rip off prices. While Al's signature is definitely worth money, some shady dealers blow it way out the ballpark, making it inaccessible to the average collector. There are honest dealers out there and one example is listed below.
Before he became the king of Chicago! This Al Capone signed check comes from the estate of a Philadelphia Banker. It's a 1923 check with payment made out to Alphonse Capone. Interesting little story since during this exact time frame (a couple of months) Al Capone made frequent trips to New York, helping take care of his family's affairs for their big move into Chicago.
Al was already established in Chicago and he had made his first appearance there in 1921 and lived in an apartment with his brother Ralph. He came into possession of the Chicago South Prarie home on August 8,1923.
The rest of the Capone family was in New York. Father Gabriele had already passed away and was interred in New York, later reburied in Chicago's Mt Olivet and then final stop Mt. Carmel in Hillside.
The front of the check is signed by Arnold Behrer, who was the son of Arnold Behrer Sr. (47 Cliff street) He owned the Arnold Behrer and Sons plumbing supply company in Jamaica, New York. ( Behrer Sr. had died in July of 1919 at age 76).
Arnold Behrer Jr. also had some properties including a nightclub called La Casino Cabaret at 160th street near Jamaica Ave.
Could Capone have been paid for working in plumbing supplies (Lead pipes)? Could have he supplied muscle in the clubs? Was he collecting from the steamfitter's union? The possiblilties are endless!
The back of the check signed by Al Capone. This was before he was to become king of Chicago gangland. The check was made by the Brown, Lent and Pett company at 90 Williams street New York. They later moved to 70 Washington street.
The Check was issued from the Bank of Manhattan company situated at Fulton and Union hall streets (Jamaica).
Al went to the Corn Exchange bank in Queens at 25th and Roosevelt Avenue to cash it on the 23rd of June 1923. During this period, Al had cashed several of these checks (possibly three or more) with variying amounts from the same payer. This could have been payoff to Torrio or money owed to Al for previous work.
My special thanks to Mr. Scott Gurten for making it possible to show the world this magnificent piece of Capone memorabilia. Scott is a Philadephia based autograph and memorabilia dealer.
Below are other examples of Al's authentic signature taken from various official documents to give an indication of his handwriting styles and their variances.
He always signed his name Alphonse Capone for all official documents such as police, court or prison documents and signed his name Al Capone for the public.
Al Capone endorsed check. Circa 1923.
Official documents with Al's name can fetch up to anywhere from $2,500 to $10,000
Al always has certain distinctive features about his handwriting. Notice the a in the Capone. It always has a tail in the front. If you find an autograph for sale without it don't bother!!
Remember, if it matches exactly as one of the above, then you have a fake on your hands. No one person can replicate their own signature exactly!! Autopens and tracing can. It has to look the same, with variances to be authentic. Also important to note, just because an autograph dealer or auctioneer is reputable and knows his sports and Hollywood memorabilia, doesn't mean he knows squat about Al Capone. I did a little test with a Capone relative's authentic Al signature, and to my amazement the reputable dealer said it wasn't real (despite my many years in this subject and the unrefuted relative provenance). Just goes to show. I've also seen many fakes sold off for thousands!!!
To add more discouraging news, it has been shown that unscrupulous people also fake the certificates of authenticity.
I don't know squat about sports or Hollywood signatures, but Al is something I'm familiar with.
To avoid being taken here are some easy guidelines to follow.
1) Does it come with provenance??
Provenance is very important. Dates must jive with how the signature was obtained. (Saying Al signed an autograph in 1934 would make it impossible as he was at Alcatraz).
2) If the signature is up on auction with no reserve for $500, then run away as far as you can because it's probably a fake. Why would someone in their right mind let go of an authentic signature worth thousands for a couple of hundred dollars??
Stay away from Capone signatures from overseas!!!!!!
Many unscrupulous people will get an old newspaper and find a section with no writing and imitate Al's signature. Remember at that time Al signed with a fountain pen and most of the time it was signed with one that he had on him at all times. Ballpoint pens didn't exist, so that's another indication.
Now, not all dealers or auctions are bad. Many of them are honest and on the up and up ,so do be afraid to invest in a piece of history. Count on spending a little more to get something official. (Documents, bank checks, police records with official stamps etc..).
Just go at it prepared.
First Posted March 2006