Mastro April 2006
This lot is closed for bidding. Bidding ended on:
The act of gift giving from an underling to a superior has always been a tradition within the La Cosa Nostra. It is a gesture of the recognized subservience of the giver to the receiver. It is the more intangible aspect of respect made physical. The barber chair that you see here was a gift to Alphonse "Scarface" Capone from his assistant, "Machine Gun" Jack McGurn. It is an incredible relic of the Roaring Twenties era of gangster rule, and it stood as a silent witness to some of the most memorable events of the time.
Along with Frank "the Enforcer" Nitti, "Machine Gun" Jack McGurn (1905-1936; born Vincenzo Gibaldi) was one of mob boss Al Capone's most trusted lieutenants, acting as an ever-present bodyguard and a favored pick for important "hits" of Capone's competitors. McGurn is actually credited for 25 kills of Capone's enemies, and he has long been suspected to have been the chief architect of the infamous Saint Valentine's Day Massacre, as well as the principal shooter. McGurn fell out of favor after Capone went to prison, and his fortunes rapidly declined. As a result, he was later forced to turn to the sale of narcotics to "get by" (the sale of narcotics was a "racket" that the mob did not then condone). He was gunned down during an evening of entertainment in a bowling alley. But in the time of Capone, the highpoint of the gangster Era, McGurn was a major player.
This barber chair was a favored possession of Capone. He often sat in it when getting his haircut and his manicure, and he moved it to every new base of operations as his organization grew. In smaller meetings Capone preferred to sit in this chair because its added height raised him above the other seated men in attendance. In a small way, this chair was used to reinforce Capone's position of importance, and absolute authority. The chair's symbolism was not lost on Capone, for he once barked at McGurn for daring to sit in it. From the time he received it, that chair was for Capone and Capone alone. Capone's last headquarters before his trip to prison for income tax invasion was at the posh Roosevelt Hotel in Chicago. Legend has it that at this final location the barber chair was installed in a corner of the large board room where the mob's most powerful heads held their meetings. It was in this room that the famous "baseball bat" incident occurred, as Capone used a bat to beat Albert Anselmi and John Scalise to death, while Jack McGurn, in turn, held each of them in their seats.
After Capone went to prison, his personal belongings were moved to another Chicago location by a man named Mann, identified as one of Capone's drivers. After some time the barber chair and an Empire style table were acquired directly from Mann by a Chicagoan named Charles Elliot. Elliot treasured these items for years before bequeathing them in 1996 to his grandson in Colorado, a man named Paul West. West in turn sold the two pieces to an antiquities dealer who then sold them through Remember When Auctions, Inc. with a notarized LOA from West. (This original LOA and a copy of the auction house's catalog, #40 of October 30th 1996, are both included with the chair.) The chair has the classic look of the 1920's, made of polished and porcelain-coated metals and is upholstered in green leather. It stands approximately 45" in height, is 53" deep in its semi-reclining position, and is roughly 30" wide. Patent number and maker's registration information on the chair's body reveals that it was produced by the Theodore A. Kochs Company of Chicago, sometime after 1914. The chair is near-perfect in look. The only real condition issue is found to be a crack in the base plate to which the foot rest supports mount—it was repaired at one time, but the repair also broke when the chair was moved in 1996. The original West LOA has now been mounted with modern black-and-white photo prints of vintage images of both McGurn and Capone, all in a matte presentation with a 22-5/8" x 27-5/8" wooden frame. The giver of the gift, the gift itself, and its receiver, together in memory once more. Please note: Due to the size and/or weight of this lot, the cost of shipping may be substantial.
Al Capone's Barber Chair - A Gift from "Machine Gun" Jack McGurn
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