Update: The Bonnie and Clyde promise ring sold for $25,000.
What you see: A silver-toned three-headed snake ring with red and green gemstones, made by Clyde Barrow during a prison stay at Eastham Prison Farm in Texas and later given to Bonnie Parker. RR Auction estimates it at more than $40,000.
Who were Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker? Better known as Bonnie and Clyde, the couple were notorious Depression-era bank robbers who were romanticized in the press. They died in a police ambush in Louisiana in May 1934 in which officers fired 130 rounds at their car. Barrow was 25. Parker was 23.
How do we know that Parker wore this ring, and how do we know that Barrow made it for her? Barrow left a maker’s mark on the ring: A B-note with an arrow. “When I sat next to the jeweler and he deciphered the logo, it was like, ‘Eureka!’,” says Bobby Livingston, executive vice president at RR Auction. “Things like that happen only a few times in a career. It was one of the most incredible finds I’ve ever had.” We don’t know when Barrow gave the ring to Parker, but we do know he made a belt with a snake motif during the same prison stay and mailed it to his sister.
How did Parker lose the ring? She left it behind when she and Barrow fled their stolen 1933 Ford Model B on November 22, 1933, near Sowers, Texas. Sheriff Smoot Schmid, who led the raid, recovered the ring from the bullet-strafed car, noting it in his inventory as “Bonnie Parker Ring (3 Silver Snakes with Tiny Jewels).” Schmid’s heirs consigned it to RR Auctions.
Why did Schmid keep the ring? “It was very common for Bonnie and Clyde to abandon property,” Livingston says. “The police didn’t get paid a lot. Bonnie and Clyde were infamous. They took these things as souvenirs, and were known to.”
What size is the ring? “I think it’s a size four. Bonnie was very small,” Livingston says. “I looked at it under a high-powered microscope. It’s worn, for sure, but you would not want to wear it. We expect it to sell for a lot of money, and expect it to be curated as an artifact and never worn again.”
Is the ring well-made? “It’s pretty nice. It’s not by an amateur,” Livingston says. “He was talented. It’s not crude at all.”
What else makes this ring special? “This is the closest thing Bonnie and Clyde had to a wedding ring,” he says, adding that Parker was wearing a wedding ring when she died (she married a fellow high school student at 16, but was estranged from her husband and had never sought a divorce). “It’s one of the few pieces made by Clyde and given to Bonnie, and she wore it. To me, the ring represents the deep love they had for each other.”
How to bid: Bonnie Parker’s promise ring is lot 2039 in the Gangsters, Outlaws, and Lawmen sale at RR Auction. Online pre-bidding takes place from June 16 through June 23; the live auction takes place June 24, 2017 in Boston.
Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of RR Auction.