50 years ago, the Beatles released Abbey Road – the final album the band recorded together. The farewell album reflects a band still in its prime. They accomplished an awful lot in 10 years. And while they split half a century ago, demand for Beatles’ memorabilia is as strong as ever. Here are some of my favourite pieces – some that have sold, some you can own today – from the different stages of their career.
The Beatles in Hamburg (1960)
Controversially, I’m not going to start in Liverpool. The Beatles may have formed there but, to paraphrase Paul McCartney, they were made in Hamburg. The band went there in 1960. This tough German port city was (and still is) a wild and hedonistic place.
Playing amphetamine-fuelled all-night sessions for rough crowds gave the Beatles superhuman confidence. In June 2019, the sunburst Futurama guitar George Harrison played during their Hamburg residency sold for £250,000 at Bonhams.
The band met a young photographer named Astrid Kirchherr in Germany. She and bassist Stuart Sutcliffe (the original fifth Beatle) became an item. The Beatles adopted the style she and her friends favoured. That meant lots of black. The leather jacket Harrison wore in Hamburg sold for £110,450 in 2012. Kirchherr took some stunning promotional shots. Her images are still affordable, with originals available at around £1,000.
Posters advertising the Beatles’ shows in Hamburg are rare. They’re in demand with collectors. Very few have ever come up for sale. One realised £5,000 at auction back in 1989.
Early Successes (1961-1963)
Brian Epstein saw the Beatles at Liverpool’s Cavern Club in August 1961. He offered them a management contract five months later.
They were still the scrappy band they’d been in Hamburg but Epstein encouraged them to scrub up and get to work. In 2008, a suit Lennon wore during the band’s rise to fame realised £99,500 at Guernsey’s in New York.
Meanwhile, that original contract with Epstein (signed in 1962) came to auction in 2015. It realised £460,000. Most Beatles’ signatures date to this time.
There are an estimated 125 signed Beatles’ albums. Of these, 95 are their first two albums, Please, Please Me and With the Beatles. They may have been famous, but they were still approachable. I have a rare copy of A Hard Day’s Night for sale (one of eight to 10).
Alternatively, autograph album pages are a good budget option. I’m selling one for £9,950.
Breaking America (1964)
The Beatles’ February 9, 1964, Ed Sullivan Show appearance changed everything. In 2014, a fibreglass wall segment the band signed backstage came to auction. Each Beatle left an autograph and a caricature. The lot came with a reserve of £667,250 but failed to sell on this occasion.
Another of my favourite lots is a set of 413 unseen negatives taken by Mike Mitchell. Mitchell was a talented amateur photographer. He was also plucky enough to find a route onstage in DC and Baltimore – the Beatles’ first US stadium shows.
These shots are among the most kinetic photographs taken of the Beatles in performance. The set sold for £253,000 in 2018.
Would-be collectors may like to consider ticket stubs from that first US tour. They’re highly collectable. Unused tickets from the DC show are the most in-demand and have gone for north of £20,000. Used specimens from later dates can be had for less than £500.
Beatles and Psychedelia (1965-1968)
The Beatles’ golden period begins in 1965. It’s marked with the release of three era-defining albums. Rubber Soul (1965), Revolver (1966) and Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band (1967). They’re still so exciting to listen to. The sheer inventiveness is breathtaking.
The band was no longer accessible to fans, so signed records from this era are rare. A signed copy of Sgt Pepper realised £240,000 in 2013. This iconic album is as famous for its cover as its sound. The original cut-out of Tony Curtis you see on the front made £38,500 in 2017.
You might have heard of the notorious “Butcher” cover for the US compilation album Yesterday and Today (1966). The group were messing about in a photo shoot with baby mannequins and off-cuts of meat. McCartney insisted their label Capitol use the photo as a comment on Vietnam. There was a furious backlash from US radio DJs and the label recalled all the records. Well, almost all. A few escaped, including Lennon’s personal copy. He gifted it to a fan in exchange for a rare Beatles bootleg recording in 1971. The record sold for £180,000 in May this year.
For me, Lennon’s psychedelic Rolls-Royce Phantom V limousine best encapsulates the time. It features graphics from legendary Dutch psychedelic artists The Fool and was a regular sight on the streets of Swinging London. Sotheby’s sold the car at auction in 1985 for £1.8m to British Columbia billionaire entrepreneur James “Jimmy” Pattison for his chain of Ripley’s “Believe It or Not” Museums.
Beatles Break (1968-1970)
You can’t blame the end of the Beatles on any one thing – least of all Yoko Ono. Still, mounting tensions introduced new dynamics in their sound. It’s exemplified in The Beatles (1968), best known as the White Album. This is a deeply flawed record – and all the better for it. Each copy is numbered and lower numbers are valuable, with those in the low 20s changing hands for five figure sums. For a significant valuation you want a number below “0000100”. Ringo Starr’s personal copy, “0000001”, sold for a record £655,000 in 2015.
The so-called “Split Letter” from April 18, 1969 sold for £48,000 in 2005. It confirms John Lennon, Ringo Starr and George Harrison will end their relationship with McCartney’s preferred manager Lee Eastman. A year later, McCartney confirmed The Beatles were no more.
Individual Beatles’ autographs are more affordable than all four, with John Lennon the most valuable. You can own a signed copy of Lennon’s Imagine for less than £5,000, while solo records signed by other Beatles are available for considerably less. That’s because buyers still choose to remember them as a group. It’s also why Beatles’ memorabilia is at the top of the music memorabilia market now and will stay there for a long time into the future.
Paul Fraser is the founder of Paul Fraser Collectibles,for more details visit www.paulfrasercollectibles.com