Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Re-Emergence of a Bonnie Artifact-- Or Not??

This is the first in a series of expose's-- meant to document recent B&C related signature accounts. As I am one who craves historically based finds, I am always primed with anticipation-- when a suspected new find is revealed. However, in the case of this alleged artifact??-- and also concerning a rash of mysterious cut B&C signatures which have appeared lately-- I don't feel there's much basis to believe in their purported authenticity. My recounting of each of these stories along with the evidence presented, will reveal why I consider these new offerings-- to be less than genuine.

In September of this year, I was contacted by a collector from Canada, who had purchased the photograph shown-- from Christies auction house in New York for $7375. The following was the Christies auction listing--

Lot Description
Bonnie Parker

Exceptionally rare, signed photograph of Bonnie Parker of the famous gangster duo, "Bonnie & Clyde," signed and inscribed in black fountain pen To Esther, Bonnie Parker.It is believed this special inscription was made to Esther L. Weiser of Texas whom was the best friend of Blanche Barrow, the sister-in-law of Clyde Barrow (who was married to Clyde's brother Buck). It was Esther, who after Blanche's death, found her memoirs detailing the time that she and her husband Buck spent with Bonnie and Clyde before they themselves were arrested. A connection can be drawn from these details suggesting that Blanche may have asked Bonnie to sign this photograph to her friend Esther during their time together. The original wire photograph with a press credit stamped on the verso pictures Parker posed with a pistol held to her hip and one leg lifted onto the front fender of the "getaway" car used during their 1930's notorious crime spree. Bonnie and Clyde were both killed by police officers on May 23, 1934. 6½x8½in.

Upon viewing this photograph, my mind raced back in time to my B&C Signatures Investigation. Of the few purported Bonnie Parker signatures known in 2006-- the one script "not" available to view, was said to have been inscribed on an 1930's photo sold at auction years ago. During my inquiry, I had been unable to locate any image of this olden photograph, even with the aid of a major auction house privy to auction databases. So whether or not this newly auctioned photo and signature are authentic, I'm excited none the less-- after many years of studying the signatures of Bonnie and Clyde, to see this image. I believe this could well be, the mysterious Bonnie Parker photo with signature known from years ago-- which has now re-surfaced.

However with that said, I immediate noted a problem with this photo's provenance. As I know Esther Lorraine Weiser, I knew she couldn't have been the Esther depicted on this photo-- and mentioned so prominently in forming the family link to Blanche, within the photo's provenance. Why you say?? Because although it's true that Lorraine as she prefers to be known, was indeed Blanche's close friend and did find and preserve Blanche's memoir-- she was only 7 at the time of Bonnie and Clyde's deaths, and didn't meet Blanche Barrow until 1953. So the very first thing I could do in assisting both the nice lady from Canada (who trusted in this photo's provenance) and Lorraine-- was to contact Lorraine on behalf of this woman, to make her aware of this situation. In response, Lorraine provided an clarification via e-mail for Christies, which I forwarded to them-- stating that in reality, she couldn't have been the Esther this photo was allegedly signed to.

But then a funny thing happened on the road to disclosure. The lady from Canada sent me what appeared to be a "2nd" auction listing she found, for the very same "one" of a kind Bonnie Parker photo-- with a virtually identical description and provenance being offered by an internet auction house. Only this time the asking price was $15,000. How could that be?? That's what I said!! I contacted this auction concern called Got to Have It, to inquire of it's owner as to how they could have the same photo for sale-- which was purchased from Christies, and in the possession of the woman from Canada. As of course logically, there cannot be 2 of the very same item-- unless one or both were non-authentic, it didn't surprise me when this other entitie's owner-- didn't respond to 2 requests for information and clarification.

Now having gone through the extensive processes I have, in authenticating the dual Bonnie and Clyde signatures I possess-- and in having worked with some of the finest forensic experts in their fields-- I know a thing or two about authentic Bonnie and Clyde signatures. I could not state the signature which adorns this newly surfaced photo is genuine. However, there are a number of concerns I've noted-- which I feel call into question the authenticity of this piece. First, it appears to the naked eye, that 2 different inks may have used to write the salutation and Bonnie signature on this photo. Also the wire service stamp on the verso of this pic, shows it to have been printed in New York. One would need to reconcile, how a photo made in NY, could have been signed by Bonnie within the southwestern U.S. during the narrow window of time-- which comprised B&C's reign of terror?? These aspects along with this photo's now unknown provenance (since the stated provenance is wrong)-- to me makes this signature's authenticity, a more remote possibility.

However, as I know full well what it's like to be on the buying end of a controversial signature purchase, I encouraged this buyer to do as I did-- and have this photo analyzed by accredited experts. Who knows, even though this Bonnie signature seems to vary substantially from now known and authenticated examples-- with it not having been forensically scrutinized-- there's still the outside chance to back the integrity of this signature. The question becomes, even though the photo's provenance is wrong-- and the image's creation seems to lessen the likelihood of authenticity, might this signature still be genuine?? I hope very much this photo's owner will find out.

A discernible disappointment for me in this case, was Christies response to their being made aware of having sold an historical photo and purported "rare" signature for nearly $7500.-- in which the provenance was proven wrong. This 243 year old and respected auction house's response, was they noted it was "believed"-- the photo was signed to Esther Weiser. Well I would ask who believed that??-- and made Esther and Blanche key to the provenance, which certainly aided in enhancing the possible authenticity of this signature. Also Christies didn't believe, this lot was a questionable historical piece, and said they sold it as a photograph of Bonnie Parker. With all respect, that's not what Christies' lot description seems to say. I pointed out to them, that a 1930's wire service photo of Bonnie, similar to one say of Amelia Earhart, might sell for perhaps $500. Let's be real-- the only reason this photo of Bonnie sold for what it did-- was due to it's signature.

There's more interesting B&C signature controversy to come-- so stay tuned.


Russ1934 said...

This may be a totally insane scenario, but here's a possible explanation that crossed my mind. Suppose that this photo was a copy that was somehow owned by Blanche, and she had simply written Bonnie's name on it. My Mom used to do this to old family photos. Then later on, she gave it to her good friend Esther Weiser as a gift, and just simply put "to Esther", and that is what the confusion is. After all, it does seem to be signed with two different kinds of ink. I was looking for a really good example of Blanche's handwriting, so they could be compared. Like I said, this is probably a totally crazy idea.

A. Winston Woodward said...

Thanks Russ for your comment. I'm never opposed to crazy ideas, and thinking outside the box. You can view an example of Blanche's handwriting, within a letter she wrote to her father-- an image of which, is located in the blog photo archive>> blog right. I want very much to know, who attempted to make this link through Esther Lorraine Weiser to Blanche to Bonnie. It's a creative try at a family verification of provenance, but unfortunately in this case-- untrue.

My understanding is Lorraine knew nothing of this photo-- and I can assure you, she was most surprised at her being mentioned within this photo's provenance.

Shelley said...

I'm somewhat intrigued by the "wire service stamp" on back of the photo, stating the photo came from New York.

This pic was part of the batch of film left behind from the Joplin gun battle. From what I understand, the famous "cigar pose" picture, especially, was plastered on front pages of newspapers across the country - and Bonnie was not at all pleased about this. She hated the picture, and went out of her way to let people know she didn't really smoke cigars.

Although the handwriting does look similar to the authenticated signature, it just doesn't seem likely that a press copy of the photo would have been accessible to her - or that she would have signed the hated photo even if it had. It was an embarrassment to her.

It's outrageous that anyone would even attempt to link this supposed signature to (Esther) Lorraine Weiser, when that connection could so easily be discounted. I can't imagine why anyone would spend thousands of dollars on an "artifact", without spending just a few minutes doing a little simple research first. And shame on Christie's for not investigating the provenance more thoroughly in the first place!

Anonymous said...

The photo in question is definitely not signed by Bonnie Parker. Should anyone be interested, I did a study of the Barrow Gang's autographs which was published in the March-April 2001 edition of the UACC (Universal Autograph Collector's Club) Pen And Quill Magazine. My article included a scan of one of the Bonnie Parker signatures originally published in the 2/12/1967 Dallas Times Herald Sunday Magazine. This was the same group of signatures next to a typed poem that was later sold by Heritage Auctions in 2006. I also have a photocopy of the letter written to Raymond Hamilton in April 1934 from Clyde entirely in the hand of Bonnie. The handwriting on this letter clearly matches the signatures on the aforementioned typed poem page. Bob Fischer

A. Winston Woodward said...

Thanks Bob, for your comment. Having now spent nearly the past 4 years researching, studying and working closely with forensic experts in discerning the true signatures of B&C-- I concur with your opinion concerning this "purported" script. I would only caution that realistically, the forensic folks are the only ones-- who can with any credence, eliminate forgeries based on actual analyses of the original photo, signature and inks. Also, that self proclaimed "authenticators"-- should be avoided like the plague. Their cursory and often "compensated" opinions in order to back dubious signatures-- aren't much worth the paper they're written on.

I have encouraged the lady from Canada who now owns this photo, to have forensic handwriting analysis & materials science testing performed by accredited and independent experts-- to determine what can be learned of this alleged olden photo and signature.

Unfortunately, one thing I discovered in working with Emily J. Will D-BFDE-- was although it may seem logical to assume that handwriting say from a letter, can be used in comparison to a signature, that in reality-- true forensic experts will not support this analysis. Apparently, signature analysis is a specialized study confined signature to signature-- and properly, should "not" include other handwriting samples. Although many might think, the more handwriting samples the better with which to aid in signature analysis-- seemingly withing the realm of the very best in the business-- that's just not done.

Shelley said...

Like many others I'm sure, I would LOVE to see and read the letter Bonnie wrote to Raymond, in Clyde's behalf. Most likely, he dictated it to her, word for word, what he wanted to say. I don't believe this letter has ever been published - or has it? It's not in any of the books, to my knowledge. The few letters I've seen - written to others, but relating to Ray - were typewritten. We've all seen short letters hand-written by Clyde to his mother, but few examples of even just Bonnie's signature exist, let alone an entire letter hand-written by her! Where is this letter now, I wonder? Any chance we can all have a look???? Of course, I've read the typed letters Clyde wrote regarding Raymond during this time period, and he was pretty damn mad - so I'll bet this one must have been a real doozy! Although Clyde's spelling and grammatical skills were not the greatest, his sardonic sense of humor was quite evident where Hamilton was concerned. They definitely give you an insight into his personality (as Bonnie's poems do hers) - and I find that to be most fascinating.

Anonymous said...

Shelley, thanks for your interest. I will see about uploading the letter and posting the links for you. The letter is an excellent, perhaps the best example of Bonnie's handwriting. The text of the letter includes the word "Bonnie" so it is of interest to those looking for exemplars of her signature as it matches the examples that were first published in 1967 from the document I mentioned in the previous post that was then in the possession of Billie Jean. It should be pointed out that these are copies and would be of limited value to a forensic documents examiner as I believe they need to make comparisons to known authentic original material in order to make unqualified assessments of a piece's authenticity. It goes without saying that there is precious little authentic autographic material on Bonnie and Clyde so at the very least one should start by educating themselves on what their real signatures look like before even considering any kind of purchase. I have seen numerous questionable items in the marketplace over the thirty years that I have been collecting and it was for that reason that I published my article in 2001. All the best. Bob F.

A. Winston Woodward said...

For those interested, I believe 9 is the correct # of signatures, which are likely genuine for Clyde--

1. Clyde's Nov 12th, 1931 letter to Cumie Barrow from Eastham Prison Farm. 2. Clyde's Nov 18th, 1931 letter to Cumie also from Eastham. 3. Clyde's letter to Dallas D.A. Winter King in support of Frank Hardy. 4. Clyde's pay receipt from Proctor & Gamble. 5. Clyde's Metropolitan Recreation Club ID card. 6. Clyde's Fort Worth, Texas Police fingerprint card #4316. 7. Clyde's 1930 Middletown, Ohio Police fingerprint card. 8. Clyde's U.S. Department of Justice IACP Compilation fingerprint card-- with early Clyde signature. And 9. Clyde's signature within the dual Bonnie and Clyde Henry Barrow Star Filling Station Signatures.

Bonnie to my way of thinking has just 3 "complete" signatures which can be considered authentic-- The 2 which adorn the verso of Bonnie's poem "The Street Girl" (Owned by Steve Haas)-- which has iron clad provenance-- And Bonnie's signature within the dual B&C Signatures-- which I am conservator of.

That's it-- rare, rare-- rare!!

The BP Highway Patrol Fingerprint Card as it stands, cannot be proven authentic. And Bonnie's 7th grade "school girl" written name, was determined to be one of many names apparently noted by the very same unknown individual-- likely Bonnie's teacher, or other school official. And the Bonnie wire service photo profiled here, I believe is the 3rd BP script "thought" known as of 2006-- before "The Street Girl" and dual Bonnie & Clyde signatures surfaced. As noted, there are multiple issues with this photo, provenance and signature.

So in discounting the 3 BP's believed known in 2006, which I feel have been dis-proven-- that leaves just the 3 mentioned above (2 on poem and 1 within dual signatures as likely being authentic).

I would still strongly caution, that attempting to use handwriting to verify signatures-- can be a slippery slope. I tried specifically to utilize a copy of the letter you mention Bob, in what I thought was a most valid comparison to my signatures. I obtained a copy of the Bonnie letter from Bonham's, when it was used in an attempt to justify "Poetry From Life's Other Side"-- the Tidwell owned Kaufman poems attributed to Bonnie.

I couldn't have been more excited, in contacting Ms. Will to suggest additional analysis be done, using the handwriting within Bonnie's purported handwritten message-- thought dictated or co-written by Clyde to Raymond Hamilton. I tried in vain, to convince Emily Will to include the handwritten Bonnie, which appears within that letter as an exemplar. I thought that comparison important-- but was shot down, in being told handwriting and signature comparisons are not considered appropriate within forensic signature analysis. Moreover it was explained to me, that to do so may weaken an authentication, not strengthen it. Unfortunately some of us may wish for this comparison to be useful (I did too)-- but in the end, to the renowned expert I was working with-- no dice.

One thing I know for sure-- the "self" proclaimed authenticators have no qualms in using many suspect techniques, to back signatures which legitimately cannot be supported. "Real" forensic experts are ultra careful, in expressing support for historical signatures.


Bob Fischer said...

Winston, can't find the original reference, but awhile ago you mentioned a possibly authentic dual signed McKinney, Texas, drugstore sign. I finally found the photos from the original Ebay auction as well as correspondence from the seller Mitch Menaker regarding its provenance. Let me know if you need this material.

A. Winston Woodward said...

Thanks Bob--

I'd love to be able to know more about that piece. Having viewed photos of those B&C signatures, and in comparison to the B&C signatures I own-- I feel the drugstore signatures could well be authentic.

If the buyer of that artifact could be located, I feel it may mean a lot to B&C History-- concerning the existence of signed B&C items which are extremely rare.