Bonnie & Clyde Gun Adds Firepower to Case’s Auction

December 28, 2013 in Editorials

KNOXVILLE, Tenn.— Among the 900+ lots of fine art and antiques offered at the Winter Case Antiques Auction is one with a notorious past: a pistol pulled from the dead body of outlaw Bonnie Parker. An embalmer at the Conger Funeral Home in Arcadia, Louisiana, discovered the weapon hidden in the folds of Parker’s skirt after law enforcement officers ambushed and killed Parker and her lover, Clyde Barrow, in 1934. According to the affidavit that accompanies the gun, the embalmer gave the Model 1902 Colt .38 as a souvenir to the son of fellow funeral home employee Vern Hightower, and it has descended directly in his family to the consignor, who now lives in Tennessee. Six bullets found in the gun’s chamber and an archive of photographs taken at the funeral home are also included in the lot.

“There are a few other weapons connected to Bonnie and Clyde that have sold in years past, but this is one of the most extensively documented examples to ever come on the market,” said company president John Case. The gun is expected to sell for $125,000-$175,000.

The January 25 auction, to be held at the company’s Knoxville gallery, is packed with more than 900 lots, making it the biggest in Case’s history. John Case says it also contains the largest number of Tennessee-related objects of any auction to date. Many come from the historic home of the recently-deceased William Selden of Athens, Tennessee, which Case described as a “treasure trove of historic Tennessee items.” Among them: several pieces of pre-Civil War furniture made by the Fisher family of cabinetmakers, some of which were illustrated in the book The Art and Mystery of Tennessee Furniture and displayed as part of a recent Fisher exhibit at the McMinn County Living Heritage Museum; an extensive silver collection including Tennessee coin silver by the Sehorns; paintings; and Tennessee-related books. The auction also includes Tennessee, American and European paintings from the estate of Helen Patterson of Gallatin, Tennessee, and several rare Staffordshire Figures and Meissen and Chinese Export porcelain from the estate of Elsie Seabrook of Memphis. Several other estates are also represented.

Fine art will be one of the dominant categories in the sale, led by an on canvas landscape, measuring over 5 feet tall, by William Louis Sonntag (American, 1822-1900). It was formerly exhibited at the Knoxville Museum of Art and its predecessor, the Dulin Art Gallery. Other artworks with exhibition histories include a still life with pheasants and shotgun by John Steuart Curry (Kansas, 1897-1946), exhibited at the Whitney Museum of Art in 1941 and illustrated and discussed in the book John Steuart Curry: Inventing the Middle West, and a moonlit canal scene by important Norweigan/French artist Fritz Thaulow (1847-1906), loaned in 1915 to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts by the family of its original owner, gilded age tycoon John “Bet a Million” Gates. Art lovers inspired by the recent Norman Rockwell show at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville will take note of an original oil and gouache painting of a pirate and two lithographs signed by the famed illustrator, and Civil War buffs will likely be interested in a 19th century oil portrait of Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard in uniform. A 19th century still life with monkey by Thomas Waterman Wood, formerly owned by CSA Colonel Henry Yeatman of Hamilton Place in Columbia, Tennessee, will also be sold, along with a circa 1850s portrait of a child attributed to Washington Cooper or William Shackleford.

Works by 20th century Tennessee artists include a landscape with haystacks by the state’s most important female artist, Catherine Wiley; an Art Nouveau scene of a woman in a lush garden by Fred Carpenter; a copper panel by Greg Ridley (who created the copper panels in the Grand Reading Room of the Nashville Library); limestone sculptures by William Edmondson and Puryear Mims; landscapes by Cornelius Hankins, Lloyd Branson and Louis Jones; and works by Carl Sublett, Charles Ewing, Werner Wildner, and Marion Cook. An extensive selection of bronze sculptures, much of it from a single-owner Nashville collection, will also be featured including works by Charles Russell, Buck McCain, Franz Bergman, and Stephan Sinding.

Tennessee needlework samplers are exceedingly uncommon but this auction features two, both from the Williamson County area, one dated 1839 and the other 1850. Both have been documented by the Tennessee Sampler Survey. Other textiles include a Tennessee album quilt with over 450 names and a quilt that won first prize in the 1909 Tennessee state fair.

Southern Pottery, always a staple at Case, includes a rare stoneware double handled urn attributed to the Hedgecough pottery of Middle Tennessee, and an 1827 script-dated salt glazed jar attributed Knoxville; a circa 1830 Staunton, Virginia stoneware jar with cobalt tulip decoration; jars by N.H. Dixon of North Carolina, Henry Lowndes of Virginia, and C. J. Becham of Georgia; miniature whiskey jugs; an Alabama sine wave jar; a Shearwater Pottery pelican; and face jugs by the Kennedy pottery of North Carolina and the Meaders family of Georgia.

Music related items include 2 Regina Music Boxes (one an Orchestral model on stand with 21 discs), a Swiss Music box attributed to Paillard, and a 1964 Beatles NEMS record player, along with several antique violins and bows.

An outstanding selection of documents, maps and books is featured in this sale, including some 700 ballots from the 1864 Lincoln/McClellan presidential race; a Masonic Handbook belonging to John Overton of Traveller’s Rest; a Madison County slave-related lawsuit archive; an archive related to early 19th century Tennessee congressman A.B. Maury plus his pocket map of Indian Territory in Mississippi; a 1790 Davidson County land grant; Middle and East Tennessee survey drawings; many Civil War photos, a Franklin Delano Roosevelt letter; an original campaign illustration for Dwight D. Eisenhower (also signed by him); an address to the Tennessee legislature given by and signed by James K. Polk; and documents signed by Sam Houston, Andrew Jackson, Andrew Johnson, James Quincy Adams, and General James Winchester. Book lovers will want to check out a rare first edition of Lord Byron’s Hours of Idleness in a jeweled binding by Sangorski and Sutcliffe, complete with portrait miniatures of Byron and his home, Newstead Abbey embedded in the front and back covers. Also offered is a scrapbook archive containing letters from the author’s family and one signed by Byron himself – rare, since Byron died unexpectedly at the age of 36.

The auction also includes fine collections of art glass, porcelains, German and French dolls, early Walt Disney related items, and Native American baskets, pottery, jewelry and relics. Dozens of lots of silver will be sold including sterling flatware, tea services and a rare pair of 18th century American sauceboats, and there are more than 50 lots of jewelry, including gold items and a collection of vintage wristwatches including Rolex and Piaget.

The auction takes place at the company’s gallery in the Cherokee Mills Building, 2240 Sutherland Avenue in Knoxville, on Saturday, January 25 at 9AM EST. Online, absentee and phone bids will also be accepted. A preview will take place on Friday, January 24 from noon to 6PM EST or by appointment. The catalog for the auction, with price estimates, photos, and descriptions, for items in the order in which they will be sold can be viewed online at For more information, call the gallery in Knoxville at (865) 558-3033 or the company’s Nashville office at (615) 812-6096 or email