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1924 John Dillinger Signed Indiana Reformatory Admission Form
Starting Bid - $5,000.00 , Sold For - $11,162.50
This rare document has a history nearly as storied as that of Dillinger himself. The piece first appeared at public auction as Lot 767 in Robert Edward Auction's May 2004 sale, but was withdrawn from the auction by REA one day prior to the closing date due to issues concerning its title. Two days before the closing day of the auction, we received an email communication from an Indiana state official expressing concern that the document may have been illegally removed from the Indiana Department of Correction files many years ago. It was hard to pin them down with certainty as to whether they were actually claiming it was stolen, which was really surprising because the auction was scheduled to close so shortly, and the answer to that question seemed so important in determining how to appropriately proceed. We take issues of title very seriously at Robert Edward Auctions and even though we did not get a definitive answer from the state at the time regarding any claim of ownership, we naturally elected to cooperate fully with the state while they investigated the matter. Since there was so little time to address the issue, and there seemed to be a potential conflict regarding title, we withdrew the lot from the auction with the full support of our consignor, who maintained that without question he had full and clear title. Following the close of the auction, numerous articles were written about the Dillinger document, and how it had been pulled from the auction. In retrospect, everyone jumped the gun (no pun intended). Over the past four years we have followed up on the progress of resolving any title issue, and what we have found is that there was, in fact, no issue regarding ownership. The State of Indiana did, indeed, think that there was a possibility of an issue regarding title, but after reviewing all facts and circumstances it has come to the conclusion that it has no claim of ownership on this particular Dillinger document. (Apparently there are others of which that they do claim ownership.) Before accepting this Dillinger document again for auction, we communicated directly with the appropriate state offices at the Indiana Department of Correction expressing our concern (we did not want a repeat of 2004), which confirmed to us that the state has no issue regarding title of this piece, that the state was making no claim of ownership on this particular document whatsoever, and that we could proceed with the sale, offering the document at auction. We almost got an apology for our having to withdraw the piece before the 2004 auction! We're sure that the state official who contacted us in 2004 did so in good faith, and we have no regrets about pulling the document from the earlier auction. We are very excited to be able to successfully offer it in 2008, free and clear of any title dispute. We don't know if this item is worth more than it was in 2004, but we do know this is an extremely rare and desirable signed Dillinger piece. On the night prior to the closing date, when it was withdrawn, the high bid had already exceeded our high estimate of $15,000.
Here is the original 2004 catalog description, which of course is equally accurate today:
Presented is the signed 1924 personal information form dating from the earliest incarceration of America’s most notorious outlaw, John Dillinger. This is an official Indiana Reformatory form, and includes what is one of the very few full-name signatures of John Herbert Dillinger in existence. (We have verified the existence of only one other Dillinger full-name signature example.) John Dillinger in any form is one of the twentieth century’s rarest signatures, with a total of fewer than ten authentic examples known to exist. This standard Indiana Reformatory document is dated September 19, 1924, very shortly after Dillinger was first arrested and convicted of assault against a prominent local citizen. The extended sentence he received due to his victim’s status in the community is thought to be one of the catalysts that pushed a disillusioned young man into a career of crime. Dillinger would be in and out prison over the next ten years, but his exploits as bank robber and bandit made him a hero to the Depression-era disenfranchised. In 1934 Dillinger and partners executed a daring prison break, followed by a crime spree spanning four months, from April to July. Dillinger’s crime wave would earn him the title “Public Enemy #1,” until he was finally shot down by the FBI outside a Chicago theater in July 1934. The typewritten 8.5 x 8.5 inch form lists Dillinger as “Reg. No. 14395.” Under the heading “Education” it lists, “Arithmetic - To Percentage/Language - Read & Write Readily.” In the “Remarks” section Dillinger’s occupation is noted as “Screw Machinist/Experience - 4 Yrs.” On the line “Specimen of penmanship” Dillinger writes, “This is a specimen of my penmanship on entering the Indiana Reformatory.” He signs on the signature line below, “John Herbert Dillinger” (“10.”) Both the writing sample and signature are bold and clear, in black ink. This is one of the very few documents in existence signed by John Dillinger, and is of extraordinary historical significance as it relates directly to his career as the most notorious gangster in American history. Two filing punch holes appear at the top, as made. The full name signature and additional handwriting sample are flawless. The form has an extremely minor crease in the upper right corner (mentioned strictly for the sake of accuracy) and is otherwise in Excellent to Mint condition. Matted and framed together with a 4.75 x 6.25-inch original news photo picturing Dillinger at the age of eighteen. The original wire caption, dated 7/22/34 (the date of his death), is affixed to the reverse of the display. Total dimensions: 22 x 16.5 inches. LOA from James Spence/JSA. Reserve $5,000. Estimate $10,000/$15,000. SOLD FOR $11,162.50
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