KNOXVILLE, TENN. — It was not the highest-grossing lot ever here, but the Bonnie Parker gun found hidden in her clothes after she was killed sparked the most attention at Case Auctions and Antiques’ January 25 auction.
Prior to the sale, the auction house had nationwide interest from collectors, dealers and institutions, and from the local, national and trade media. “This gun generated more buzz from the general public than any object we’ve ever had with the possible exception of the fully signed Beatles album we sold in 2011 [which brought $75,400],” said Sarah Dury, Case’s vice president of fine arts and decorative arts.
The nickel-plated .38 pistol, which opened on the floor at its reserve of $80,000, fired off the block quickly, progressing to $85,000, where it hammered down to a floor bidder ($99,450 with buyer’s premium).
The gun helped attract a record crowd, with more than 3,000 registered bidders participating in the sale, online, phone, absentee and a capacity crowd in the gallery.
While Case is better known for Southern regional art and antiques, what is noteworthy is that the two items that have put it on the national map were both tied to Twentieth Century American history: this gun and the Beatles album, and it is reflective of the growing market Drury is seeing for historical Americana.
“The gun is not the most expensive item we’ve ever sold, but it really seemed to spark the most interest, I think because there was such a great story behind it,” Drury said. “One of our staffers, Dustin Hofsetter, spent the entire preview day showing it to a constant stream of people — including a surprising number of young people — and telling them the story, and everyone really seemed to enjoy it, even if they didn’t plan to buy it.”
A full report on the sale will appear in a future edition.