LONDON, ENGLAND—It seems like there’s a new Beatles auction every week, but bidders can’t seem to get enough of items once owned or utilized by the Fab Four. The latest event to host Beatles memorabilia was the Rock & Pop sale, held at Sotheby’s in London September 29. formed in Liverpool, England (in 1960), so the location was certainly fitting.
Nine of the sale’s 100 lots were based on , including the highlight of the auction, the October 1, 1962 management contract for the band, which commanded £365,000 ($569,000). This is well above the £240,000 ($430,000) the historic document sold for in 2008, when it last went up for sale.
The contract was the second signed by with their manager Brian Epstein (sometimes referred to as “the fifth Beatle”), but the first to include their new drummer Ringo Starr (real name Richard Starkey), who had replaced Pete Best. Best was booted from the band because producer George Martin (also referred to by some as “the fifth Beatle”) felt he couldn’t cut it in the studio. The contract was signed days before the release of the Beatles’ first hit single, “Love Me Do.”
“Without this contract, and the relationship it represents, it seems inconceivable that the Beatles could have achieved all that they did,” said Gabriel Heaton, Sotheby’s specialist in books and manuscripts. “It took more than inspired musicianship and song-writing to remake popular music. The presentation, direction, and internal harmony of the Beatles all owed a huge amount to Brian Epstein.”
Surprisingly, four of the lots went unsold, including a 1965 tour program signed by all four Beatles, but this means more than half of items sold, including: a signed 1963 tour program (£8,750, $13,270); a signed Buckingham Palace investiture invitation (£3,750, $5,687); a signed photograph circa 1964 or 1965 (£3,500, $5,308); and five animation drawings from the 1968 feature film, Yellow Submarine (£500, $758).
Beatles co-founder was represented by nine lots (eight Lennon-specific items, plus a copy of Yoko Ono’s Grapefruit signed by Lennon), but only two sold: a unique poster designed by Lennon and Yoko Ono (£4,375, $6,635) and a lined sheet torn from a Quarry Bank High School detention book, where young Lennon is reprimanded in print by different teachers 29 times between September 9, 1955 and July 11, 1956 (£2,500, $3,792). Amusingly, the future iconoclast committed such infractions as “impertinence,” “foolish remarks,” and “not wearing school cap.”
In terms of sheer volume, the late Cream bass guitarist Jack Bruce was the star of the Rock & Pop sale. Bruce was represented by 33 lots, 19 of which sold, including: an autographed manuscript for the lyrics to “White Room” and “Politician” (£5,625, $8,531); a group of six autographed music manuscripts and arrangements (£2,750, $4,171); a Czechoslovakian double bass (£4,375, $6,635); a Hammond model B3 organ and Leslie speaker cabinet (£4,750, $7,204); and a 1986 Warwick fretless thumb bass in natural finish (£9,750, $14,787).
In his heyday, Bruce was a dapper dresser, as evidenced by a number of sharply designed shirts and other objects of sartorial splendor that sold, including a purple patterned shirt from the 1970s (£875, $1,327), a tan suede tunic from the 1960s (£1,500, $2,275), and a woolen pullover from the 1960s (£650, $986).
One nice surprise of the auction was the high price realized for Eric Clapton’s Daphne blue Fender Stratocaster, which went for £45,000 ($68,247), shattering its pre-auction estimate of £15,000 to £25,000 ($22,749 to $37,915). Perhaps the biggest disappointment was the absence of bids for Swedish disco band ABBA’s Bolin Grand piano (pre-auction estimate of £600,000 to £800,000 or $909,960 to $1,213,280), which featured prominently in such hit songs as “Mamma Mia,” “Waterloo,” and “Dancing Queen.”
Other artists represented at the Rock & Pop sale, which brought in a total of £567,652 ($864,352), included Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, and the Rolling Stones, among others.