In the checkered annals of what we can diplomatically call the memorabilia of historically notorious gentlemen, California’s Witherell’s auction house has scored a substantial coup in eliciting some personal items from Al Capone’s grandchildren, who, it must be noted, will be expecting a substantial windfall come October, when they will place Big Al’s monogrammed pocketknife, his (by definition) vintage Patek Philippe, and not least, a favored pistol under the hammer in Sacramento. The auction, which will be online and live, will be held on October 8.
Here’s what his oldest granddaughter Diane Patricia Capone, has told the press about the family’s decision: “We decided to do it because we’re getting older, “and we just decided that we know the stories, we lived with these things, we’ve lived with these stories and if something happened to any of us no one else would know not only who they belonged to but (they also wouldn’t know) the stories that went with some of these items. And so we better do it while we’re all still here.”
Logical, and thanks to that decision, huge fun. Specifically, great fun will be had in and among the expected tumble of horologue aficionadi for the Chicago kingpin’s platinum-and-diamond Patek Philippe pocketwatch, expected by the auctioneers to bring a very fair penny. Included among the lots are, also, a heartfelt, handwritten letter from Capone as he served his 11-year sentence in Alcatraz to his son Sonny, whom he addresses with the endearment “son of my heart.”
In her interview with the Sacramento Bee, Diane Capone explained it thusly: “He was the most loving father and loving grandfather and these are things about him that nobody knows about. I wanted people to see the personal side of the man because no one had any idea who he was in his private life.”
It’s axiomatic that good auctioneers wax hyperbolic in advance of their auctions, but in this case, it seems as if the hyperbole stands a better-than-even chance of paying off. Brian Whitherell, founder of the Sacramento house, effused: “I don’t think anything can compare to Al Capone and I don’t think that there’s any auction house that can even make a case that there’s something as significant that has ever been on the market. He is a legendary figure and in my mind this sale will go down as one of if not the most important, significant celebrity sales in history.”
We’ll let Sotheby’s and Christie’s take their case of significant lots up against Mr. Whitherell’s Capone items, but it is worth noting that notoriety does sell, and the patriarch Capone, brought to power in Chicago by Prohibition and by his own ruthless business practice, does bear notoriety of the enduring sort.
After his death, which is vividly remembered by Ms. Capone, three at the time, the Capone family moved to Palo Alto, and thence to the Auburn, California area outside Sacramento. This location is, of course, famously endangered by California’s wildfires, which also drove the family’s decision to sell the most precious items related to their grandfather now — if they had to evacuate, Ms. Capone explained to the Bee, they might not have time to save their grandfather’s personal things.