IT IS a well-known feature of rock and pop memorabilia auctions, that material relating to the Beatles is easier to sell than that relating to other stars. On this basis, the key to assembling a sale of this genre is presumably to fill it with as much Fab Four memorabilia as possible.
The sale held last month by Christie’s South Kensington (17.5/10% buyer’s premium) demonstrated the Beatles’ supply and demand law admirably. Almost half the 205 lots offered were Beatles-related material and they provided the majority of the £314,090 total, £75,000 of it courtesy of one lot, the cardboard standee figure pictured right.
Marlene Dietrich was present in two-dimensional form as a prominent member of the ‘crowd’ in Pop artist Peter Blake’s famous design for the album cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Dietrich had a prominent position on the cover. Apart from the Fab Four themselves, who appear twice over, she was one of only three figures (along with Sonny Liston and Diana Dors) to be visible full length. The whole audience of figures – who ranged from Hitler and Carl Jung to Johnny Weissmuller – was set up in life-size photographic copies hand-coloured to Blake’s specifications in a Chelsea Studio on March 30, 1967. Christie’s catalogue records that the final costs for the sleeve of £2867 25s 3d apparently horrified EMI when they received the bill. According to Blake, they usually budgeted for £25 for a photograph and they probably expected to go up to £75 for the Beatles but they hadn’t accounted for the cost of retouching the cut-out figures and fees at the photographic studio. Blake himself was paid £200.
In addition to its key position on a famous album cover the standee had featured in a number of publications on the Beatles and their art and in the 1983 exhibition on Peter Blake at the Tate Gallery. Even more importantly it had the additional bonus of the autographs of all four Beatles and of Blake himself. It has already been under the hammer once before, back in 1981 at Sotheby’s Belgravia when it fetched the then princely sum of £1200. This time around it had a £15,000-20,000 billing but after competition between the room and phones and a final two-way telephone battle ended up making no less than £75,000, paid by Arthur Bolliger, an Italian collector.
A much earlier and less complex form of Beatles’ artwork provided the next highest price in the sale. A concert programme for The Beatles Show at the ABC Cinema, Edinburgh, and the Odeon, Glasgow, on April 29-30, 1964, was printed to the cover with four mop-top haircuts. Three of these had been annotated with a cartoon face by John, George and Paul respectively and there were also autographs from each of the Fab Four and a dedication from George Harrison to Charlie, the compère for the two nights. One British collector was sufficiently determined to bid no less than £12,000 to secure this. Even a straightforward early autograph of the Fab Four on a page from an autograph book c.1963, commanded £3200. Compare this with the £360 realised by a set of Rolling Stones autographs of a year later on a similar page from an autograph book and accompanied in this case by a document detailing their acquisition at the Colston Hall, Bristol, on January 27, 1964.
Indeed, nothing in the non-Beatles section managed more than £3500, paid for a gold disc for David Bowie’s Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust And the Spiders from Mars, estimated at £4000-6000. That said, failures in any area of this sale were thin on the ground – just 21 lots failed to find buyers, resulting in selling rates of 89 per cent by lot and 94 by value, making this one of the auctioneers’ most successful rock and pop sales to date. The only major disappointment came with a 1972 Guild acoustic 12-string guitar used by Bob Marley on the Kaya album. The auctioneers had held out hopes of as much as £10,000-15,000, but bidding halted at £8500.
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