John Dillinger's wooden gun, attributed to his infamous escape from the Crown Point jail in Indiana on March 3, 1934. Blackened with shoe polish, the hand-carved wooden revolver body is attached to two metal tubes mimicking the barrel, with wooden trigger and bent metal trigger guard. In fine condition, with expected wear.
While other wooden guns have been attributed to Dillinger's deceptive prison break, this example boasts excellent provenance in the form of a notarized letter by Melvin H. Purvis III, son of the famed lawman that led the team who tracked and killed Dillinger. In part: "I will attempt to furnish you with some background on what we down here have always called the 'Dillinger Crown Point Pistol'…Most people who have followed the life of John Dillinger are also very familiar with the episode (early in his career, I think), when the outlaw was imprisoned in Crown Point, Indiana. Moreover, in that same train of thought they will probably recall that he escaped from this prison by bluffing his way out with a facsimile of a pistol, which he'd somehow put together in the prison shop. The pistol, though somewhat crude when closely examined, was at least real enough in appearance to fool the turnkeys long enough to get them to open the jail doors and the outlaw to make good his escape. (If, like myself at one time, you think this to be an unlikely story, then have someone point the pistol at you, imagine the man holding it to be John Dillinger—and then tell me if you would have taken the time to analyze whether or not the weapon was technically correct!).
All this is recorded history, even though my Father himself doubted the story for a season. Later, it was completely confirmed by the law enforcement officer who eventually put the pistol in my Father's hand. So eventually, the Dillinger Crown Point Pistol ended in our home in Florence, South Carolina where I, too, now live. And amazingly enough, as boys we played with it, just as we would a cap pistol, though (in theory) we were never allowed to carry it outside the house. The story continues: the Dillinger Crown Point Pistol did manage to vanish for a while in the confusion which one usually finds in a large southern mansion…Then one day, while looking through old things, the item suddenly reappeared. I'd found it in a box of old toys! Although the law of probability tells me there must be several fakes here and there, this piece is the genuine article. You have it just as it came into my Father's hands, and just as it remained and was displayed in the family home for nearly forty years. There is no other like it, nor can there ever be.
Finally, the genuineness of this piece, as I have described it, ought never to be in question. Because it has always been in the Purvis collection, just as you see it now (though I filed a little bit of the rust and damage off the end of the barrel); and because mainly, over the years it has been seen by hundreds if not thousands of people, many of whom are now living." Additional supporting material includes a notarized statement by a local antique dealer/appraiser, attesting to the notoriety of the gun as part of the Purvis family's collection; an invoice for the gun from Monty Whitley, Inc.; a letter from Sandy Jones, curator of the John Dillinger Historical Society, about the history of the multiple 'Crown Point' wooden pistols ("Your F.B.I. records sure help to make the one you have real!"); and a photograph of noted collector David Gainsborough Roberts with this wooden gun and his Dillinger death mask. From the collection of David Gainsborough-Roberts.
Terms and abbreviations used in our descriptions.