John Dillinger's wooden gun fetches $19k

'John Dillinger' is a name instantly recognisable to American ears; a daring outlaw who operated with terrifying effectiveness in a series of bank robberies and jail breaks around the time of the Great Depression before being gunned down by the FBI in 1934.

Various pieces of Dillinger memorabilia have fetched large prices at auction this year including his gun and the gun used to shoot him - perhaps buoyed by the recent film about him.

Heritage Auctions presented several items to excite a Dillinger enthusiast on Saturday December 12, including a life insurance policy, pocket watch, wooden gun and bloodstained dollar.

Joh Dillinger life insurance memorabilia
Life insurance policy taken out on John Dillinger

The life insurance policy was taken out, with grim foresight by Dillinger's father, John W Dillinger, for $1,000 in 1923. Expected to sell for around $2,500, the policy beat this to be taken away for $3,346.

Dillinger was supposed to have been carrying $7.81 on him when he was shot in a theatre, staining a dollar with his blood. Eyewitness reports suggest that his pockets were a little fuller than that and that FBI agents left with full pockets after attending to his body.

Estimated at $10,000, the bloodstained dollar attracted a great deal of attention from bidders who buffeted the price up to $14,340.

The pocket watch demonstrates the unpredictability of auctions in which pieces are on offer without reserve. A beautiful gold open case timepiece, originally given to Dillinger by his father and was found on his person by the FBI.

The watch sold for $4,481.25 - significantly below its estimate and less than what many would have paid for it if they happened to be attending the sale. It seems likely that the new owner will be able to sell it at a profit, if they choose to.

The top lot from Dillinger's memorabilia was a carved wooden gun.

John Dillinger wooden gun
John Dillinger's carved wooden gun

Dillinger escaped from Crown Point, Indiana Jail, March 3, 1934 by creating a fake gun from wood. There are three 'guns' which have been claimed to be the piece involved, which of course makes estimates difficult, though this one was from the belongings of Dillinger's younger brother Hubert.

Bidders obviously thought the mock weapon - with 'Colt 38' carved loosely on the side - was worth a risk, and pressed past the $13,000 estimate until it was finally taken home for $19,120 - an indication that collectors are prepared to pay for items which even might have been part of someone impressed on American consciousness.


Images: Heritage Auctions

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