Gangster Al Capone, left, with U.S. Marshal Laubenheimer. Keystone/Getty Images

You want a piece of Al Capone? Some personal effects are up for auction.

Dylan Miettinen Aug 25, 2021
Gangster Al Capone, left, with U.S. Marshal Laubenheimer. Keystone/Getty Images

Put ‘em up. The bidding paddles, that is. 

The granddaughters of Al Capone are selling off some of the gangster’s personal effects at auction in early October. Among them are a letter to his son, furniture, figurines, dinnerware, a diamond-encrusted pocket watch and a favorite gun he dubbed Sweetheart.

Capone is still renowned as one of America’s most infamous mobsters. During Prohibition, he reigned as a Chicagoland crime boss, backing prostitution, gambling and bootlegging. Though never convicted of murder, Capone’s name has been tied to the deaths of dozens of rival gangsters, the most notorious of which occurred during the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929.

A larger-than-life character, Capone modeled the classic mobster costume, including the suit, the fedora and the fat cigar. A scar on his left cheek from a knife fight earned him the nickname Scarface, which served as inspiration for the 1932 film by the same name.

This is not the first time some of Capone’s pieces have come up for auction. Previously for sale were handwritten sheet music for an original song and, in 2016, a letter to his son. In 1986, Geraldo Rivera hosted a two-hour TV special in which he unearthed and opened a vault that once belonged to Capone. To the disappointment of Rivera and 30 million viewers, it turned out to be pretty much empty. 

“Unlike the Capone safe, we know exactly what’s in this Capone archive. All of the items have descended through the Capone family … and it’s a time capsule of his lifestyle, brought about nearly a century later,” said Brian Witherell, a guest appraiser on “Antiques Roadshow” and co-founder of Witherell’s, the Sacramento auction house hosting the Oct. 8 sale titled “A Century of Notoriety: The Estate of Al Capone.”

  • The last photograph taken of Al Capone.
  • A personal letter from Al Capone to his son, Sonny, during his time at Alcatraz.
  • Al Capone's platinum and diamond Patek Philippe pocket watch, estimated to garner between $25,000 and $50,000.
  • Al Capone's platinum and diamond initialed pocket knife.
  • Al Capone's "favorite" Colt .45.

Diane Capone, a daughter of Capone’s only son, said she hopes the auction will complicate the narrative of her grandfather a bit more. It’s been impossible for her to reconcile the stories of violence and crime she’s heard with the man she simply knew as Papa, she said.

“I hope that if anything comes away from all of the publicity that is going on right now around the auction, I hope that people begin to understand that the complexity of Al Capone and the fact that there really was very much another side of the man’s personality and character, and maybe there’s an awful lot more than people ever understood,” she said.

The choice to put her grandfather’s possessions up for auction was influenced by two things for Diane Capone and her sisters: the wish to downsize and the wildfires that threatened the California homes where those heirlooms resided, she said. 

Capone’s personal effects up for auction range from the more mundane, like figurines, a bedroom set and dinnerware, to the extravagant and eye-popping, like a platinum and diamond initialed pocket knife, a 14-carat white gold and diamond matchbook cover and a collection of guns. 

Among the big-ticket items are a platinum pocket watch with diamond “AC” initials, which looks to garner between $25,000 and $50,000, and Capone’s “favorite” Colt .45, which is estimated to fetch between $100,000 and $150,000. One expert told The Wall Street Journal that it’s unlikely to have been used in any crime spree.

At the height of his power as a mob boss in 1927, Capone grossed an estimated $105 million. Adjusted for inflation, that sum would be worth more than $1 billion today. The total price for the lot of goods is estimated to be quite a bit less than the gangster’s earnings, but still a pretty penny: $400,000 to $700,000, per Witherell.

Public sentiment toward Capone waxed and waned during his lifetime. At some points, he was deemed a folk hero; at others, he was vilified and decried as public enemy No. 1.

The crime boss was taken down for good in 1931, when he was arrested for, of all things, tax evasion. Sadly for Capone, he would not be looking forward to accommodations similar to those he experienced at Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary in 1929 for carrying a concealed, unlicensed revolver — complete with “tasteful paintings” and a polished desk

Following an initial stint in an Atlanta prison, he was eventually transferred to Alcatraz, in the San Francisco Bay Area, where his health swiftly deteriorated. If you want to learn more about his stint there, you can read another letter Capone sent to his son during his Alcatraz stint, which will be up for auction. It’ll cost you $25,000 to $50,000.

Capone suffered from neurosyphilis and, following 10 months at another California jail, was released to his wife. From there, he largely receded from public view, focusing on his family, per Diane Capone. He even turned back to Catholicism, she said, before dying at age 48.

Many of the items for sale at the invite- and lottery-only auction show that latter side of him, Diane Capone said. She’s not sure which of her grandfather’s enigmatic qualities make him museum- or even souvenir-worthy

“I don’t know if it had to do with the gangland stories that people have heard. I don’t know what it is, but certainly, in this celebrity-crazed environment that we live in today, he’s not treated as a villain. He’s treated, in a lot of people’s minds, like he was just a celebrity,” she said. 

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.