BEATLES MEMORABILIA: THE MOST EXPENSIVE ITEMS EVER SOLD
First management contract with Brian Epstein
In October 1962 The Beatles signed a contract with their new manager Brian Epstein, marking the start of a journey which saw them rise from local heroes to international superstars.
The contract was signed just days before the release of the band's first single Love Me Do, and gave Epstein responsibility for all aspects of the band's career, from concert bookings and publicity to the way they dressed. With Epstein's nous and their own talent, The Beatles became the biggest band in the world and changed the course of pop music history forever.
“I never thought that they would be anything less than the greatest stars in the world – and I mean that," Epstein once said, describing why he wanted to manage the band. "I always knew that they were going to be tremendous … I sensed something big, if it could be at once harnessed and at the same time left untamed.”
In 2015, the original contract which cemented this beautiful relationship came up for auction at Christie's. It was the first official contract signed by the final line-up of the band, including Ringo – as earlier recording contracts had been signed by former drummer Pete Best. Regarded as perhaps the most important document in the history of The Beatles, the contract sold for $553,559.
George Harrison’s 1964 Gibson SG guitar
George Harrison acquired this cherry red 1964 Gibson SG Standard guitar in 1966, and played it extensively both on stage and in the studio until 1969.
Harrison used the guitar during the recording sessions at Abbey Road for Revolver, the band's landmark experimental seventh studio album, and it appeared in the promotional film for the non-album single Paperback Writer. He also played it on stage on May 1, 1966 at the NME Poll-Winner's Concert, the last official concert The Beatles ever played in the UK.
Three years later in 1969, the guitar was used by John Lennon during the recording sessions for the equally seminal White Album, before Harrison gave the guitar to Peter Ham, guitarist with the British band Badfinger who were originally signed to the Beatles' Apple label.
After Ham sadly took his own life in 1974, the guitar was stored away by his brother for 28 years before being rediscovered and loaned to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio.
In 2004 the guitar, still in its original condition and unplayed for three decades, sold at Christie's in New York for $567,000. It was purchased by Jim Irsay, owner of the Indianapolis Colts, who also owns numerous famous guitars including Lennon’s 1963 Gretsch 6120, Les Paul’s 1954 Black Beauty,
The first guitar Paul McCartney ever played
(Image: Cooper Owen)
It was with this Rex acoustic guitar that Paul McCartney began his life in music, the first guitar the future Beatle ever held.
The instrument belonged to Ian James, one of McCartney's best friends Liverpool Institute grammar school. The pair bonded over their love of rock and roll in the late 1950s, visiting travelling fairgrounds to hear the latest record being played, and James' musical ability led him to teach the eager McCartney how to play chords and run riffs.
James gave McCartney lessons at his home after school, often playing as a trio with Paul on piano and his brother Mike on drums. McCartney then used his new skills to impress John Lennon during their fateful first meeting at the Woolton Church fete on July 6, 1957.
James met up with the group that same evening, bringing his guitar in hope of performing with The Quarrymen at the church, but the gig was cancelled by the vicar. James recalled: "The others decided to go to a local coffee bar and play a few numbers, I think the owner was a relative or friend of John's. But by this time I'd had enough of show-business and decided to go home."
In 2006 the guitar came up for auction with Cooper Owen, accompanied by a letter of provenance by McCartney which read: "The above guitar belonging to my old school pal Ian James was the first guitar I ever held. It was also the guitar on which I learnt my first chords in his house at 43 Elswick Street, Liverpool". It sold during the sale at Abbey Road studios for $613,974, to Craig Jackson, President and CEO of Barrett-Jackson Auctions.
George Harrison's 1962 Rickenbacker 425 guitar
Before The Beatles first invaded America in February 1964, George Harrison had already made the trip across the Atlantic to visit his sister Louise a few months earlier.
In September 1963 the band enjoyed a two-week break, during which time John set of for Paris with his wife Cynthia, and Ringo joined Paul in Greece. George made the trip to Benton, Illinois to stay with Louise, and played a couple of pick-up gigs with local band The Four Vests, before two members took him to the Fenton Music Store in Mount Vernon.
Here Harrison bought a 1962 Rickenbacker 425 guitar, and had it refinished in Black to match Lennon's similar Rickenbacker. He then returned to England, and played it during the band's first appearances on the TV shows Ready Steady Go! and Thank Your Lucky Stars.
Harrison also took the guitar to Sweden in October 1963, playing it extensively on-stage throughout the band's week-long tour, and backstage photographs from the period show it being held by all four band members. Harrison played the guitar during the recording sessions at Abbey Road studios for The Beatles' fifth single I Want to Hold Your Hand.
Harrison later lent the guitar to friend George Peckham, when his band The Fourmost made their first appearance on Top of the Pops, and after the show told him he could keep it. It remained in his collection for decades, and in May 2014 it sold at Julien's for $610,000.
Ringo's copy of The White Album '0000001'
Despite constant arguments throughout its recording, and a disagreement about whether it should be a single or a double album, The Beatles were still excited upon the release of their ninth studio album in November 1968.
The plain white cover had been designed by Richard Hamilton, and featured no title – just the embossed name of the band, and a unique serial number. "I suggested that they might number each copy, to create the ironic situation of a numbered edition of something like five million copies,” said Hamilton.
The record instantly became known as 'The White Album', and the band themselves were given the first four copies numbered '0000001' to '0000004'. Most Beatles fans believed John had received '0000001', a claim backed up by Paul who once stated “John got 0000001 because he shouted loudest. He said, 'Bagsy No 1!' He knew the game, you've gotta bagsy it.”
However, in 2015 it emerged that it was actually Ringo who received the first copy, and that it had spent more than 35 years tucked away in his London bank vault.
The album was one of the star lots of an auction featuring Starr's memorabilia collection, held by Julien's in Beverly Hills. "We used to play the vinyl in those days," said Starr prior to the sale. "We didn't think, 'We'll keep it for 50 years and it will be in pristine condition.' Whoever gets it, it will have my fingerprints on it."
Prior to the auction, the earliest copy of the album ever sold was '0000005', originally given to an unnamed friend of John Lennon, which fetched almost $30,000 on eBay in 2008.
Ringo's copy was expected to sell for $40,000-$60,000, but eventually soared to a remarkable $790,000 – making it the most expensive record in the world.
Rickenbacker guitar gifted to Ringo by John Lennon
In December 1964 The Beatles hosted a series of Christmas concerts at the Hammersmith Odeon in London, playing two shows a day from December 24 until January 16.
The shows featured support acts including Freddie and the Dreamers, Sounds Incorporated, Elkie Brooks and The Yardbirds, and even saw the Fab Four performing in pantomime-style comedy sketches (which they all hated).
During one of the shows Lennon broke his Rickenbacker 325 guitar, and replaced it with a 1964 model 1996 Rickenbacker provided by Rose-Morris, the manufacturer's official UK importer. Lennon completed the series of shows with this new guitar, and it remained in his collection until 1968.
By then the band had become fractured, and the studio sessions for The White Album saw arguments, recriminations and the dreaded 'musical differences'.
Lennon and McCartney hated each other's songs, Yoko Ono was a constant presence in the studio, Abbey Road engineers began walking out and Ringo was often left sitting in reception for hours, waiting for his bickering band mates to turn up.
Finally Starr cracked during the recording of 'Back in the U.S.S.R.' after McCartney criticised his drumming, and walked out. He took his family on holiday for two weeks, and was only convinced to come back by John, Paul and George pleading for his return.
He arrived back in the studio to find they had covered his drum kit in flowers, and presented them band with a new song he'd written, 'Octopus's Garden', which was inspired by a conversation with a boat captain during his holiday in Sardinia.
As a further peace offering, Lennon then gave Ringo his Rose-Morris Rickenbacker guitar, as an encouragement for him to write more of his own songs.
Starr kept this thoughtful gift for many years, before selling it as part of his blockbuster auction at Julien's in December 2015, where it fetched $910,000 – making it the second-most valuable Beatles guitar ever sold.
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band drum skin
The sleeve for Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band remains the most iconic album cover of all time, and at the heart of the image is this drum skin.
The hand-painted skin was created by fairground artist Joe Ephgrave, as one of two alternate versions to appear on the cover which was designed by Sir Peter Blake. The second unused skin was photographed on the wall of Paul McCartney's London home in the late 1960s, and it's believed to remain in his personal collection to this day.
Having been used for the Sgt Pepper cover photo shoot, the first sleeve next appeared in 1968, on the wall behind John Lennon in an Ethan Russell photograph taken at his flat in Montague Square.
What happened next is unknown, but the skin vanished for a decade before being discovered during renovations on a flat in West London.
The skin first hit the auction block in 1994, when it sold at Sotheby's for £52,100. The new owner then had it restored, and attached it to a military drum identical to that used on the album cover. It went up for sale for the second time in 2008 at a Christie's auction in London, where it smashed its estimate to sell for $1.07 million.
Handwritten ‘A Day in the Life’ lyrics
The Lennon/McCartney composition A Day in the Life is widely regarded as the greatest Beatles song ever written. It features two disparate sections written separately by the pair, with Lennon's section referencing everything from the death of his friend Tara Brown to the number of potholes in Blackburn.
This handwritten manuscript marks the journey of the song from Lennon's mind to the recording studio. The first side features his original first draft, written quickly in cursive, and the second side features a more legible set, written in capitals and easier to work from. It also shows the evolution of the song, with the second set featuring the added line "I love to turn you on" after the third verse.
The manuscript was originally given by Lennon to Mal Evans, the band's roadie who became their tour manager, personal assistant and close friend over the years. It first hit the auction block at Sotheby's in 1992, when it sold for $100,000, before going unsold in a Bonhams sealed bid auction in 2006.
The lyrics then returned to Sotheby's in June 2010, where they were bought by an anonymous American collector for $1.2 million.
Handwritten ‘All You Need is Love’ lyrics
(Image: Cooper Owen)
John Lennon wrote the classic Beatles anthem All You Need is Love for a very special television show in 1967 – the first of its kind to be beamed around the world simultaneously via satellite.
Broadcast on June 25, Our World featured 19 segments representing 19 different countries, and was watched live by an estimated audience of 400 million people around the globe. Whilst other segments included the likes of opera singer Maria Callas and artist Pablo Picasso, the show is best-remembered for The Beatles' performance of the song, a powerful call for peace at the height of the Vietnam War.
The band were joined in the TV studio by friends including Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Keith Moon and Graham Nash, who all sang backing vocals and performed hand-claps. Lennon was apparently nervous about the live television performance, and had written out a copy of his lyrics to sing from. Following the live broadcast, this set of lyrics was retrieved from beneath Lennon's music stand by a member of the BBC Outside Broadcast Department, and remained in her collection for many years.
In 2005 the manuscript was sold by Cooper Owen Auctions, for a record price of $1.25 million – the most ever paid for a set of hand-written song lyrics.
Ringo's #1 Lugwig Oyster Black Pearl drum kit
In May 1963 Ringo accompanied Brian Epstein down to London to buy a new drum kit, to replace his incredibly-well-worn Mahogany Duroplastic 4-piece Premier kit. He instantly spotted this Lugwig Oyster Black Pearl 3-piece kit in the window of Drum City Ltd., and Epstein went off to haggle with the store's owner Ivor Arbiter.
They agreed a deal, and Epstein ordered the kit with the band's name painted on the bass drum. Arbiter knocked up a quick sketch which emphasised the 'Beat' in 'Beatles', then sent it over to his regular sign painter Eddie Stokes, and together they unwittingly created the most famous band logo in music history.
Armed with Ringo's new kit, featuring the now-iconic 'Drop T' logo, The Beatles then embarked on a whirlwind series of gigs and recording sessions which saw them rise from national heroes to international superstars.
Over the next nine months the band played gave more than 200 live performances across the U.K, along with tours in Sweden and France. They also recorded some of their biggest hits, including classics such as 'Can’t Buy Me Love', 'She Loves You', 'All My Loving', 'I Want to Hold Your Hand', 'Money' and 'I Wanna Be Your Man'.
By the time the kit was retired, The Beatles were on the verge of world domination. In February 1964 they flew out to America in what would be the first wave of the British Invasion, and travelled light – meaning Ringo left his drums at home. They took another drum head featuring the 'Drop T' logo, and attached it to a new kit when they arrived in the U.S on February 7. Two days later they appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, and changed the course of popular music forever.
When they returned to the U.K Ringo acquired another drum kit, and his first Lugwig set was placed in storage. It was briefly borrowed by Paul McCartney as he launched his new band Wings, and used to record their debut album Wild Life in 1971, before being returned to Starr and another storage locker, where it stayed for decades.
Then in 2013 he commissioned experts to restore all his kits to their original condition, using vintage parts and accessories, and the historic Lugwig kit was revived.
Regarded as the most important set of drums ever auctioned, the kit sold at Julien's in December 2015 for a record price of $2,110,000. The winning bidder was Jim Irsay, billionaire owner of the Indianapolis Colts and one of the world's leading collections of Beatles memorabilia.
Ed Sullivan Show 'drop T' drum skin
(Image: Julien's Auctions)
This hand-painted drum skin, featuring the iconic 'drop T' logo, was used during The Beatles' landmark first appearance on U.S television. On February 9, 1964 the band performed on The Ed Sullivan Show in what is now regarded as a milestone in American pop culture. The British Invasion had begun.
The Beatles travelled light on their first U.S trip, with Ringo taking just his snare drum, cymbals and the newly-painted skin to attach to a kit when they reached America. They used this new drum kit during their first concert on U.S soil at the Washington Coliseum, then during two performances at New York's famous Carnegie Hall, along with another appearance on Sullivan's show, this time a live broadcast from the Deauville Hotel in Miami, Florida.
Having returned from the U.S, the drum skin was placed in storage at Abbey Road Studios and never used again. It was first consigned to auction at Sotheby's in 1984, where it was purchased by the Australian collector George Wilkins for just approximately $9,000 and displayed in his restaurant for 10 years.
It returned to auction at Sotheby's in 1994, where it sold to Beatles expert Russ Lease for $44,000. Lease had a hunch that the skin was the one used on the Ed Sullivan Show, but there was no corroborating evidence to back him up. He then spent eight years meticulously researching every one of the original 'drop T' drum skins used by Ringo, proving beyond a doubt his example was the one beamed out to 73 million viewers across America.
In November 2015 Lease placed the drum skin up for sale at Julien's Auctions in Beverly Hills, where it sold for $2.19 million.
John Lennon’s Rolls Royce Phantom V Limousine
In June 1965 John Lennon purchased a brand new Rolls-Royce Phantom V Limousine, and it quickly became The Beatles' favoured method of transportation – ferrying them to events such as the premier of their second film Help!, and to Buckingham Palace to receive their MBEs.
Lennon gave the car an upgrade in 1966, installing a double bed in the back seat and adding a Sony television, a portable refrigerator, a telephone, a record player and England's first set of blacked-out car windows. He then went one step further in 1967, the 'Summer of Love', after Ringo suggested giving the car a new psychedelic paint job.
Lennon hired a group of artists known as The Fool to paint the car in the style of a gypsy fairground caravan, and soon owned Britain's most unique and recognisable Rolls Royce. The first time he took the newly-painted car out for a spin, he was followed by hordes of photographers and a film crew for Pathe News.
When Lennon moved to New York with Yoko in 1970 he took the car with him, and lent it out to visiting rock and roll friends such as the Rolling Stones, the Moody Blues and Bob Dylan. However, a few tax problems meant that the couple donated it to the Smithsonian in 1978, in lieu of an alleged $250,000 bill, and it remained on display until 1985.
It was then sold at auction to Canadian billionaire Jim Pattison, owner of Ripley's Believe It or Not! Museums, for $2.29 million – a then-world record price for a car. It also set an auction record for a piece of Beatles memorabilia, which stood for 30 years.
John Lennon's Gibson J-160E guitar
(Image: Julien's Auctions)
In 1962 John Lennon and George Harrison ordered a pair of Gibson J-160E electric/acoustic guitars from Rushworth’s in Liverpool, one of the few stores which could ship instruments from the U.S. Lennon then used his guitar to help compose some of the Beatles' biggest early hits, including 'She Loves You', 'I Want to Hold Your Hand' and 'All My Loving', and to record the albums 'Please Please Me' and 'With the Beatles'.
Having played the guitar on stage at countless live performances throughout 1962-63, it disappeared in December 1963 at The Beatles Finsbury Park Christmas Show. “The worst of all was at the Finsbury Empire in London, when I lost John’s guitar," recalled Lennon's roadie Mal Evans. "It was one he’d had for years, as well. It just disappeared. ‘Where’s my jumbo?’ he said. I didn’t know – it’s still a mystery.”
Having somehow crossed the Atlantic, perhaps accompanied by another band on the bill that night, the guitar was then purchased in San Diego in 1967 by Tommy Pressley, who later sold it to his friend, musician John McCaw. Neither man knew the remarkable history of the instrument until decades later, when McCaw decided to research the guitar he'd loved and played for forty years.
His investigation led him to Andy Babiuk, the world's leading authority on Beatles instruments, who received daily calls from people claiming to have found one of Lennon's 'lost' guitars. However, this time someone really had. By photo-matching the unique wood grain, Babiuk authenticated the guitar as Lennon's lost Gibson, and called it "one of the most historically important guitars to ever come up for auction".
In November 2015 the guitar crossed the block at Julien's Auctions in Beverly Hills where it sold for $2.4 million – the highest price ever paid for a piece of Beatles memorabilia.