The anarchist-illegalist Bonnot Gang – a politicised Parisian organisation operative during the Belle Époque – earned the (arguably dubious) accolade of being the first criminal group to flee a crime scene in an automobile.
As anarcho-illegalists, members of the Bonnot Gang embraced lawlessness as a lifestyle, embarking on a crime spree that took them across France and into neighbouring Belgium.
In March 1912, self-appointed leader, Octave Garnier, sent a sardonic letter to the Surete, the civil police force in France, complete with inky impressions of his fingerprints. Although the whereabouts of this letter remain unknown, if it were to come to market, I’m convinced it would provoke considerable interest.
Here are my top 5 gangster collectibles, inspired by the late French auto-bandits:
1. Bonnie and Clyde’s guns
Two guns recovered from the bodies of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow sold in October 2012 for a combined $504,000. Since they were bought by a single US-based collector, Bonnie Parker’s snub nosed .38 Colt Detective Special and Clyde Barrow’s .45 Colt Model 1911 are destined to stay together for the foreseeable future.
2. The Kray twins’ Bunnykins figurines
A toy train, a set of dominos and a pair of Bunnykins figurines which once belonged to notorious East End gangsters Ronnie and Reggie Kray are to go under the hammer later this week. Valued at between £20-100, a spokesperson for the auction house overseeing the sale told the Daily Mail newspaper that the items were offered from “a private collection”…
3. Butch Cassidy’s Colt
American outlaw Butch Cassidy formed the Wild Bunch after a stint in prison, during which he promised never to reoffend. The Wild Bunch terrorised the American mid west during the 1890s, stealing sacks of gold from the steam trains that shuttled through the plains, transporting precious metals from the rural mines into the burgeoning cities.
Cassidy claimed never to have killed a man, insisting the gang did everything in their power to avoid loss of life.
Cassidy’s Colt revolver – a powerful piece of the Old West’s mythos – which he turned in during a gun amnesty in 1899, brought $175,000 in September 2012.
4. Al Capone’s rosary
Al Capone’s plastic-centred rosary made $3,500 at RR Auction in September 2012. The infamous American gangster, who led a prohibition-era crime syndicate, certainly had a lot to confess to… My sympathies go out to his priest.
5. Billy the Kid portrait
The only known authenticated portrait of legendary outlaw Billy the Kid sold for $2.3m in June 2011.
Billy, described as “lithe as a cat” in Phillip J Rasch’s work Trailing Billy the Kid, is said to have been a personable, friendly character as well as a sharp shooter, who, in dress, favoured “an unadorned Mexican sombrero”. These complicating qualities have contributed to the construction of a somewhat paradoxical legacy – he is at once murderous outlaw and folk hero.