Official Philadelphia Police Bureau fingerprint card, dated May 17, 1929, signed by Al Capone (1899-1947), American mobster. Although Al Capone is one of the most infamous gangsters in American history, having been the subject of numerous portrayals in both film and television, his signature is exceedingly rare. It is estimated by some that fewer than ten authentic Al Capone signatures are known today, with the offered example distinguished not only by its flawless execution, but for the fact that it appears on what may be the single most desirable Al Capone artifact that could possibly exist: the Philadelphia Police Bureau fingerprint card recording his arrest for carrying a concealed weapon in 1929. This is the ultimate Al Capone signed document directly relating to and dating from the height of his career in crime, and dating just months after the St. Valentine's Day Massacre.
In most cases, documents related to arrests and incarceration are not allowed to enter the public domain, and remain the property of the respective police bureau in question, but that is not always the case, and most importantly is not the case with this particular Capone document. In fact, our exhaustive due diligence efforts to verify that we could auction this item and pass clear title included extensive communications with the Philadelphia City archives, the Eastern State Penitentiary, the Philadelphia Police Department, Legal Counsel of the Philadelphia Police Commissioner’s office, and the FBI! (In 2004 REA offered a state of Indiana Department of Correction penitentiary admission document signed by John Dillinger; we withdrew the lot due to the possibility of a title issue raised by an Indiana state official. We were subsequently informed by them that there was in fact no title issue, and we were free to auction it with their blessing, but it was a big hassle. We didn't want a repeat!)
The official "Department of Public Safety, Philadelphia, PA. Bureau of Police" fingerprint card has been signed by "Alphonse Capone" in black fountain pen, with the signature grading "10." Featured below his signature are Capone's individual finger prints as well as prints of his four left and four right fingers together. The front of the card also contains a number of official handwritten police notations, including Capone's residence ("Chicago, Ill"), occupation ("Real Estate"), the name of the recording officer, and the date ("5-17-29"). The reverse of the card includes Capone's vital statistics (Height: 5-11 1/4"; Weight: 252; Age: 30) along with the name of the arresting officer, the official charge, and the date. On the date this card was processed ("5-17-29") Capone was sentenced to serve one year in prison for carrying a concealed weapon. According to legend, what made that crime (and Capone's capture) all the more extraordinary was that the entire affair was arranged by Capone himself.
Capone was under tremendous pressure in the spring of 1929. Just one month earlier he had arranged to have his chief rival, Bugs Moran, killed. That assassination attempt, which is known today as the infamous St. Valentine's Day Massacre, failed in its main objective because Moran wasn't present when the other members of his gang were gunned down by Capone's men. The cold-blooded manner of the hit, in which Capone's men, dressed as police officers, ruthlessly shot Moran's men as they stood against a wall offering no resistance, led to public outrage regarding the lawless nature on the streets of Chicago, and with it, more heat from the local authorities. Adding to his trouble was the fact that shortly after the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, Capone personally killed three high-ranking members of his own organization for being disloyal to him. So it was, with enemies all around him and few people he could trust, that Capone was summoned to Atlantic City that March to take part in a special meeting among the top mob figures in the country. Capone, because of his ostentatious and heavy-handed manner, was in severe disfavor with most of the other racket bosses, who felt he brought too much unwanted attention to their businesses. As a result, the "commission" recommended that Capone give up control of his Chicago operation to his old boss, Johnny Torrio. It was an offer that Capone could not refuse. Not wanting to relinquish control, it appeared Capone had few options but to acquiesce or be killed. The solution he chose, however, came as a shock to both his friends and foes. On his return from the meeting, Capone visited Philadelphia and arranged to have himself arrested on a concealed weapons charge. Prison he felt was the safest place for him to be at that particular time. The mob bosses got what they wanted: Capone out; while Capone got what he wanted: a few months out of the line of fire without having to voluntary cede control of his Chicago operation. Capone knew how volatile the rackets where, with power changing constantly. He felt his best bet was to simply wait things out and return when things were a little more friendly for him. What he did not plan on was the judge issuing the maximum sentence for his crime: one year. Unfortunately for him, having already pled guilty, he had little choice but to accept the sentence and do his time. Capone was released on March 17, 1930.
The fingerprint card (8 x 8 inches) displays a heavy vertical fold that runs from border to border as well as a few other minor creases. Two tears are present along the center fold. The first measures 1.5 inches and extends from the top border, while the other, measuring 2.5 inches, extends from the bottom border. Both the center crease and a minute portion of the top tear touch upon the "p" and "o" in "Capone", but neither significantly detracts from its perfect appearance. A few additional tiny edge tears, and a small chip in the upper left corner are also evident. In Very Good condition overall. Matted and framed together with a recent print of Capone to total dimensions of 28 x 20 inches. Ideally, the card has been framed with glass on each side, so that both its front and reverse can be viewed. LOA from James Spence/JSA. Reserve $10,000. Estimate (open). SOLD FOR $53,325
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