Although the Beatles had already stirred considerable interest within days of releasing their first Parlophone single “Love Me Do”/“P.S. I Love You,” it was their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show on Sunday, February 9, 1964 that elevated that interest to fanatical proportions—rightfully deemed, “Beatlemania.” (An estimated 73 million Americans tuned in to see what all the fuss was about.) And once this mania began to spread, anything and everything “Beatles” became like holy relics to be collected and coveted. Following their stay at the Whittier Hotel in Michigan in September of 1964, for example, the sheets the four slept on (and their untold guests) were cut into 164,000 1″ squares that, though originally selling for $1 each, have reportedly brought hundreds of dollars per square. And since that time, virtually anything the Beatles touched–or in many cases, simply bears their names—have drawn enormous fees from fans and professional collectors of the memorabilia market.
For example, in April of 2013 a signed copy of the Beatles’ 1967 LP Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band sold for $290,500 at a Texas auction. In 2011, a Lennon fan (reportedly a dentist) paid $31,200 for John’s extracted, rotted tooth; in 2009 a pair of John’s trademark round “grannie” glasses sold for $97,000; and in 2009 a watercolor John painted at age 11 sold for $123,000! In 2011 an anonymous bidder paid $154,000 for one of the hand-scrawled “Bed Peace” posters from John and Yoko’s famous “Bed-In for Peace.” And extraordinary as these fees may seem, they were mere “drops in the proverbial bucket” compared to some other Beatles sales.
In 2004 a loyal fan–a fellow musician–paid $567,000 for the 1964 Gibson SG George used during the Revolver recording session. (This guitar commonly sold for about $300 in the early 60′s.) In 2008, the highly-stylized bass drum head featured prominently on the cover of the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band LP sold for $1.07 million, and the following year, John’s handwritten lyrics for “All You Need is Love” drew a cool $1 million at auction. Also in 2009, pop singer George Michael paid $2.1 million for the Steinway Model Z upright piano John composed “Imagine” on, and back in 1985 a Canadian businessman gladly paid $2.23 million for John’s famous psychedelic 1965 Rolls Royce Phantom V–about $5 million in 2014 dollars!
While there are many avenues by which Beatles memorabilia are traded and sold today (open marketplaces, private sales, fanzine publications, major auction houses, procurement and consignment dealers), some rather significant items can even be found on eBay on any given day. From records to blow-up dolls, bubble-gum cards to posters, eBay has accommodated the sale of numerous rare and hard-to-find items like an unopened copy of their (in)famous 1966 “Butcher”cover album (which sold for $26,099), a copy of the 1963 Twist and Shout 7″ EP with cover signed by all four Beatles (which brought $20,700), a copy of the Parlophone LP, Please Please Me (which sold for $15,902), and a copy of the 1964 LP Introducing The Beatles (which sold for $10,100). With most Beatles items igniting a bidding war drawing dozens of interested parties, it’s become common for Beatles memorabilia to bring more than their expected appraisal value (per “memorabilia price guides”), with an unauthorized 1964 French EP Les Beatles fetching $9,999 in 2010, a concert program from the Beatles’ third British tour signed by all four Beatles drawing $7,351 in 2010, a rare Beatles US “Rehearsal Ticket” selling for $7,278 in 2011, and a vintage Beatles NEMS record player dated September 1964 fetching $6,100 in 2010.
Although the selling and acquisition of Beatles memorabilia is largely subject to the same general parameters as other collectables (oddities and antiques)–scarcity, demand, and condition—a fundamental fact is that any item is worth nothing more than what one individual is willing to pay for it. But as has been proven time and again, Beatles memorabilia is in a category all its own—with comparatively incidental items fetching as much as recognized works of art. And as, perhaps, the most commercialized and merchandised “brand” in popular culture, there is no way of predicting which Beatles items will come into demand or how much a given individual would be willing to pay to possess them.