June 20, 2017
The three-headed snake ring that notorious outlaw Clyde Barrow crafted in prison for the love of his life and partner in crime, Bonnie Parker, will be offered for sale at RR Auction in Boston later this month.
The silver-tone promise ring — featuring green and red jewels — was recovered from their bullet-riddled ’33 Ford Model B by Sheriff Smoot Schmid after the "Sowers Raid" in November 1933. Bonnie and Clyde fled on foot, escaping the police ambush despite wounds to their legs from the bullets that passed through the car. The legendary couple famously robbed banks and evaded the law for two years until they met a tragic demise in 1934. Bonnie was 23 and Clyde was 25.
This promise ring, which is expected to fetch $40,000+ at the auction house's “Gangsters, Outlaws and Lawmen” sale on June 24, is recorded in Sheriff Schmid’s inventory as “Bonnie Parker Ring (3 Silver Snakes with Tiny Jewels)."
An authentication paper written by New Hampshire-based graduate gemologist David H. Bellman explained that Clyde was a skilled amateur craftsman, dabbling in jewelry-making, leather craft and woodworking. He was also an accomplished musician.
The snake ring he crafted in 1930 while incarcerated at Eastham Prison Farm near Huntsville, Texas, bears his personal trademark, an arrow passing through the musical note "B." The arrow in his maker’s mark may be that of Cupid, symbolizing his love for Bonnie, or it may be a clever, graphical way to spell out his last name, [B]arrow. He likely carved the design from a block of wax and then fabricated the ring from copper using the lost-wax casting process. The final step was plating it in silver.
Among some of the other items known to have been made by Clyde while in jail are a beaded necklace given to his sister, Marie, a hand-tooled leather belt with metal studs and blue and red stones, and his own polished silver belt buckle with a five-pointed Texas Star in the center surrounded by abalone shell. Bellman noted that the leather belt, belt buckle and snake ring all exhibit similar styles of artistic approach and the same level of high-quality, though unrefined, craftsmanship.
The couple's exploits were romanticized in the 1967 blockbuster film, Bonnie and Clyde, with Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty playing the title roles. Bonnie and Clyde captured two Academy Awards, including Best Cinematography.
Interestingly, at the time of her death, Bonnie was wearing the wedding ring that was given to her by Roy Thornton, who she married just before her 16th birthday in 1926. Their marriage crumbled when Thornton was jailed in 1929. Bonnie met Clyde in 1930, and they immediately fell in love. Two months later, Clyde would become an inmate at Eastham Prison Farm, where he would test his jewelry-making skills. Although they were never formally engaged, the three-headed snake promise ring remains a powerful symbol of two of America's highest-profile antiheroes.
On May 23, 1934, Bonnie and Clyde were ambushed and killed by police officers near the town of Sailes, in Bienville Parish, La.
Credits: Jewelry images courtesy of RR Auction; Bonnie and Clyde photo by one of the Barrow gang [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.