Unless you are living in as a hermit in a cave, you will indeed be aware of this momentous landmark: the release of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Auction houses certainly are and Fab Four lots will be appearing more than ever to take advantage.
One stand-out lot so far has to be the cardboard cut-out expected to sell for about $60,000 in the Heritage Auctions sale on June 17-18 in Beverly Hills, California. The black and white image shows one of the 61 people on the instantly recognisable pop art-style Sgt Pepper’s… album cover.
Actor Tony Curtis is the person depicted, and the 14 x 17in (35.5 x 43cm) cardboard head and shoulders portrait (circa late 1950s pose) is mounted on fibreboard. It is signed on the verso by Curtis (September 2007) in black felt tip: The Beatles chose/ ME For/ Sgt Pepper/ Tony Curtis.
Looking at Michael Cooper’s album cover photograph, Curtis can be seen in the second row down from the top, between singer Dion DiMucci on the left and artist Wallace Berman on the right. He is just below WC Fields and above Oscar Wilde.
In 1967, an album cover usually consisted of a posed photo or piece of artwork on the front for which the record company usually budgeted under £100. This sleeve artwork ended up costing nearly £3000, but after all, it was the Beatles and they got what they wanted.
How it came about
Quotes from The Beatles Anthology (2000) explain the origin of the cover. Paul McCartney said: “This album was a big production, and we wanted the album sleeve to be really interesting. Everyone agreed.
“We liked the idea of reaching out to the record-buyer, because of our memories of spending our own hard-earned cash and really loving anyone who gave us value for money. So, for the cover, we wouldn't just have our Beatle jackets on... To help us get into the character of Sgt Pepper's band, we started to think about who our heroes might be. Well then, who would this band like on the cover? Who would my character admire? We wrote a list.
“They could be as diverse as we wanted - Marlon Brando, James Dean. Albert Einstein - or whoever. So we started choosing - Groucho Marx and so on. It got to be anyone we liked.”
Paul McCartney added: "We got artistic people involved. I was very good friends with Robert Fraser, the London art dealer, a guy with one of the greatest visual eyes that I've ever met. I look the whole album-cover idea to him.
“He represented the artist Peter Blake, and he was very good friends with the photographer Michael Cooper. Robert said ‘Let Michael take some pictures. We'll get Peter to do a background, and then we'll collage it all together’. I went down to Peter's house and gave him a little drawing of mine as a starting point. It all came together and we had the photo session in the evening [March 30, 1967]. We had all the plants delivered by a florist - people think they’re pot plants - marijuana plants - but they’re not. It was all straight."
Not all the Beatles’ suggestions made it to the final cover: Gandhi, Jesus, and Hitler were all excluded for various reasons. EMI feared lawsuits so a letter was written to everyone asking permission for the use of their image. That eliminated Leo Gorcey, who demanded a $400 fee.
Gnome from home
Other cut-outs from the cover have come to auction recently.
In April 2015 a garden gnome included on the Sgt Pepper’s cover sold at Heritage’s Entertainment & Music Memorabilia auction. Signed by all four members, it made a premium-inclusive $42,500.
The 20in (51cm) tall cardboard cutout was chosen as a memento by an assistant to cover photographer Cooper, and it was signed by The Beatles immediately following the shoot. It was auctioned framed, along with an unopened stereo copy of the LP.
Meanwhile, at Bonhams in June last year, the actor and singer Bobby Breen cut-out signed later by Sir Peter Blake sold for a premium-inclusive £25,000.
A lifesize standing figure of Marlene Dietrich sold for a premium-inclusive £86,250 at Christie’s South Kensington in April 2003.
It was not juts cardboard cut-outs, however. British actress Diana Dors was one of a handful of waxwork figures included in the front row of the Sgt Pepper’s cover. The original Diana Dors portrait bust sold at Cooper Owen Auctions of Kensington, London, for £15,000 in 2005.
Sold by the same saleroom for £81,500 that year were four waxworks of John, Paul, George and Ringo dressed in their early suits which appear to the left of the band, as if they had just been to the concert of the real Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. They had been borrowed from Madame Tussaud’s waxworks museum for the cover shoot.
Another Beatles highlight of the Heritage June 17-18 auction is a copy of the infamous Yesterday and Today 'sealed butcher cover' LP from Part I of 'one of the most complete US Beatles vinyl collections in the world: the Stan Panenka Collection'. It is estimated at $30,000.