Martin Nolan has been thinking a lot about the Wi-Fi in northwestern England lately, with good reason: On May 9, Julien’s Auctions will present “Music Icons: The Beatles in Liverpool,” the first time a sale of the Fab Four’s memorabilia will take place in the town best known for birthing one of the world’s greatest bands. “There’s a backup plan of the backup plan,” says Nolan, executive director of Julien’s Auctions, of the technology required for a sale that largely will take place online. “We’ve had experts in Liverpool getting ready for some time, because a significant portion of the auction will be sold either on the phone or via online bidding in real time. And the interest is truly global: We’ve had inquiries from Japan, Australia, China, North America and everywhere in between, because The Beatles are just as relevant as they were 50 years ago.”
For several years Julien’s has partnered with The Beatles Story, a Liverpool museum that boasts the largest permanent exhibition devoted to the band, to host “Memorabilia Days,” encouraging longtime fans and collectors to bring in items for appraisal. “It was in October 2017 that we first thought, why don’t we have an auction here?” Nolan says. The resulting event will take place at The Beatles Story’s Fab4Cafe on May 9, while a Memorabilia Day has been scheduled for May 10 in the same location. While prices span a wide range — a ticket stub from a 1963 televised concert in Liverpool carries an auction estimate of $500 to $700 — Nolan is confident the May 9 event will set a record, pointing to past records like a John Lennon guitar that went for $2.4 million at a 2015 Julien’s sale. At the same sale, a drum skin — from the kit Ringo Starr played during the band’s iconic U.S. debut on The Ed Sullivan Show on Feb. 9, 1964 — went for $2.1 million. “And that was just the skin,” Nolan adds with a laugh. “You can always count on a Beatles auction to be fun and exciting and historic.”
Among the 274 lots hitting the block, which items promise to inspire a bidding frenzy? With an equal-opportunity nod to John, Paul, George and Ringo, here are six pieces likely to attract more than a little interest.
Lot 266: Yesterday and Today First State Butcher Album
In 1966, The Beatles released the album Yesterday and Today in North America, housed in a special cover that quickly sparked controversy, as it featured an image of the bandmates wearing butcher smocks and surrounded by cuts of meat and doll parts. The outrage caused the album to be recalled and rereleased with a far tamer photo of the group surrounding a steamer trunk.
The “butcher cover,” as it’s become known, is highly collectible, but Julien’s is offering what is surely the ultimate example: A U.S. First State Butcher stereo prototype, so named for being part of the original, unchanged release and including an album that was in stereo rather than mono. This piece was owned by Lennon, who displayed the album and cover in his apartment at New York’s Dakota. Lennon also had sketched an original artwork on the back cover, and in 1971 he signed it before trading the album with Dave Morrell, a well-known collector of bootlegs, in exchange for a rare early Beatles studio recording.
Morrell subsequently also obtained Paul McCartney’s and Starr’s signatures on the cover; combine all of those elements, and this U.S. First State Butcher album is considered “the rarest record in the world, because there are so many stories wrapped up in this one piece,” Nolan says. The album carries an auction estimate of $160,000 to $180,000.
The auction includes an assortment of musical instruments, primarily owned by McCartney, who is famously left-handed and favored a Hofner bass guitar, which indeed gained the nickname “Beatle bass.” Four McCartney-signed Hofners are featured in the auction, including this Hi-Series B-Bass guitar featuring a mother-of-pearl pickguard, which McCartney signed in 2009. “Any Hofner bass signed by McCartney is always sought after and inspires a frenzy of bidding,” Nolan says. The piece carries an auction estimate of $6,000 to $8,000.
The Beatles played their final U.S. concert on Aug. 29, 1966, at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park. At some point that evening, Mike Murphy, then the clubhouse assistant manager for the San Francisco Giants, asked
The Beatles to autograph four baseballs; Murphy gave one of the signed balls to his sister, who later sold it to a collector. Fifty-three years later, Murphy is still with the Giants as a senior advisor and the baseball once owned by his sister and featuring all four signatures is now up for auction. “It makes for a fun auction when sports collectors cross over with Beatles collectors in pursuing the same item,” Nolan says. “This of course is highly sought after, because only four are known to exist. We sold another one for more than $120,000.” That previous sale likely helped to determine this baseball’s auction estimate of $80,000 to $100,000.
Lot 265: Signed Letter from John Lennon to Queen Elizabeth II
In 1965, Queen Elizabeth II presented The Beatles with MBE medals, which the band later wore on the cover of 1967’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. But in 1969, Lennon decided to return his MBE as a protest to the war in Vietnam. Lennon typed a letter explaining his reasons for returning the medal, but handwrote both the greeting, “Your Majesty,” and included “With Love” before his signature. He then sent the letter with the medal to Buckingham Palace via his chauffeur.
A first draft of the letter was recently discovered, however, tucked into the sleeve of a record purchased in a bookstore. “He had smudged it, and that’s why we believe this was a first draft,” Nolan says. “It was quite the wow moment when it was discovered and authenticated.” The letter carries an auction estimate of $10,000 to $20,000.
Lot 188: George Harrison Drawing From 1968
The “Quiet Beatle” became devoted to transcendental meditation when the band first traveled to India in 1967. Harrison created this colorful artwork in 1968 while staying at the ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in Rishikesh, India. “George was the worrier of the group, and art was part of his relaxation,” says Nolan, noting that original artwork from any celebrity is always highly sought after at auction. This piece carries an estimate of $8,000 to $10,000.
Lot 165: Ringo Starr’s Gold Wristwatch
While each member of the Fab Four is represented in the auction, items owned by Starr comprise the largest group. “We did a big auction with him in 2015, and some of those items are coming back to us, from people who look at collectibles as investments and expect them to rise in value,” Nolan explains.
Among pieces of furniture, decorative items and clothing (including Starr’s costume from the 1981 film Caveman, where he famously met his current wife Barbara Bach), also up for sale is a gold wristwatch, circa 1965. The watch is by Bueche Girod, a Swiss watchmaker known for gold timepieces during the second half of the 20th century, and the timing of Starr’s purchase, Nolan says, is unsurprising. “Imagine growing up in working-class Liverpool, and you’re playing drums in a band that all of a sudden is very successful; what’s one of the first things a young man with some money buys? A gold watch, of course,” he says. “We sold this during the 2015 auction, and now it’s coming back to us. Jewelry and watches always do very well, because it’s one of the few pieces of celebrity memorabilia you can actually wear. And what a great conversation starter: ‘I’m wearing Ringo Starr’s watch.’” The piece carries an auction estimate of $20,000 to $40,000.