Once upon a time there was a man who found an old bible in his attic. He told his pal about it, and said he’d slung it on the bonfire. After all, he said, it was very heavy, old and musty and in German. By Guten-someone or other.
‘What?’ exclaims his pal, ‘Gutenberg? GUTENBERG! You’ve thrown away a Gutenberg bible? It’s worth millions!’
‘Nah,’ says the first guy, ‘Some bastard called Martin Luther had scribbled his name in the front, and other notes all over it.’
(On signed books, see an article I did in 2006 for The Author magazine, View From The Queue. LINKED. It has a 2019 addition.)
Let’s start with The Beatles. we were having lunch with friends, and I mentioned my obsessive record collecting.
‘I only ever kept one vinyl album,’ said our friend.
‘What was it?’
‘Please Please Me by The Beatles.’
I was curious, ‘Why did you keep it?’
‘I’ll show you,’ she said and went to fetch it The copy was in a sleeve around Very Good, no better.
Four Beatles signatures on the front. I gasped, ”Is it genuine? You know The Beatles trained their roadies to sign autographs for them.’
‘Oh, it’s genuine. My mum was the box office manager at the theatre. She took me backstage and I watched them sign it. Anyway, that’s not the best part. Turn it over.’
Rear of sleeve. John Lennon’s signature again. Then a little arrow, and in George’s handwriting, ‘We all signed on the other side, John.’
The actual disc was clearly well-used. No heavy scratches, but then no one who buys it is ever going to play it. They’re going to frame it and put it on the wall or whatever. One issue … it had a 1970s CBS inner sleeve. I pointed this out, and said I’d find her a 1963 EMI inner sleeve easily … I did too. First charity shop. 50p, The Night Has A Thousand Eyes by Bobby Vee.
She asked what a dealer would give her for it, and I told her that you can only sell this sort of thing by auction. She is a known author, so I said she should write a letter explaining the provenance, buy some record cleaner and clean the dusty disc, and then contact the auction houses.
It was unusual- virtually all are signed on the reverse, but for display you can see the appeal of the front. She must have asked for it (biro is difficult on glossy paper). I never found what happened to it.
The US auction site, Tracks, offers to buy copies of Beatles albums in the UK:
We would pay the following for complete sets of The Beatles signatures on LP sleeves, depending on condition: Please Please Me and With The Beatles around £8,000 to £10,000. Signed copies of A Hard Day’s Night, Beatles For Sale and Help! around £10,000 to £15,000. Rubber Soul and Revolver in excellent condition are valued at £20,000 to £25,000. Signed copies of the White Album, Abbey Road and Let It Be could be worth far more than this depending on condition, possibly £40,000 upwards. If you have a copy of Sgt. Peppers signed by all four Beatles in their full names on the gatefold it can be worth in excess of £50,000, again depending on the condition.
I’ll add that a signed Yesterday & Today butcher sleeve sold for $179,000.
Elvis signatures usually rate $1000 to $1500, and counterfeits are legion. An Authentication specialist in California suggests only 6% of Beatles signatures are genuine, and 24% of Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe are genuine. With Elvis, it depends what it’s signed on. Colonel Parker, his manager forbade Elvis signing love ya anymore for fear of paternity suits. A copy of Elvis (aka later Rock ‘n’ Roll #2) signed to his army buddy sold for $15,000. It was a special pressing sold on US bases in Germany too, but generally Elvis ranks below The Beatles by a long way, possibly because no single album he made was that iconic.
The Elvis Bog notes that Elvis also usually signed the rear cover, and that a King Creole EP where he signed on the front sold for $1685, twice as much as the going rate for those signed on the back because it made a better display item.
An experience. Brighton Record Fair. The thing about dealers at fairs is they have their special interests and know a few areas otherwise, but very few know about all genres. The stall had punk rock, pub rock, two tone and reggae. On the floor, half under the table, were two boxes of singles. The first was soul, the second was 60s and 70s. Just stuff he wanted to get rid of.
The Paramounts Poison Ivy is rated at £12 mint. This one was between excellent and very good vinyl, in a card sleeve. I paid £1 for it. The vendor apologized for the scribble. Only when I got it home did I see the scribblers were Gary Brooker and B.J. Wilson. They later formed Procul Harum. Maybe they were prolific signers. I also have an autographed Paramounts EP.
The Studio Six single Times Were When has autographs from the whole band. Great, but this is STUDIO SIX … have you heard of any of them? They were popular in Scotland, and the single reached #32 in the local pirate radio chart. Pity it wasn’t a signed copy of the sequel, Strawberry Windows (OK, but it was 1967) which is rated at £40.
Is Acker Bilk’s signature an incentive to buy? It might have been in 1962.
Ownership by a celebrity is a different matter. I’ve found singles with BYGRAVES on them in a charity shop in Westbourne, about a mile from Max Bygraves house (possibly his daughter’s judging by the content), and a Duane Eddy LP with comedian Bernie Winters name on the back. I’d say zero uplift.
I started withThe Beatles. Let’s continue.
Tracks Auctions: The autographed copy of the Beatles White Album is the first ever to surface, and the first to be publicly auctioned. The album was originally taken by a South London man from his brother in lieu of a £100 debt in the seventies. It was then stored away in a radiogram in the lounge of a semi-detached house in South London for the last forty plus years, totally unbeknownst to the owner that the signatures were genuine. The album was all but forgotten about until recently when a signed copy of Sgt. Pepper sold for $290,000 USD in an online U.S.A. auction. Only a handful of Sgt. Pepper L.P.s were autographed. Signed Beatles albums from ‘The Studio Years’ are becoming increasingly desirable because they are rising in value faster than any other type of collectively signed Beatles item. The attractively signed copy of Sgt. Peppers recently fetched double its prevailing retail value.This prompted the owner of the White album to contact TracksAuction.com to authenticate the signatures and value the album. Genuine signed copies of The Beatles post-1967 albums are virtually non-existent. Only two autographed copies of the White Album are known to exist and only 2 signed copies of the Abbey Road LP have surfaced. A signed copy of the group’s final album, Let It Be, has never been seen.
The Studio Years really up the prices because they were not touring. Not signing autographs for fans. Not getting their roadies to sign them either.
AVID FAN COLLECTORS
They’re about. I went along to see Richard Palmer-James as support for the David Cross Band in Islington. I went with Richard and when we arrived for the soundcheck, hours before the gig, there was a group of King Crimson fans waiting, clutching original LPs of Larks Tongues in Aspic, Starless and Bible Black and Red. They already had the signatures of Messrs Fripp, Wetton and Bruford, and were thrilled at a unique opportunity to add both the missing two (Richard and David) from King Crimson 1973-74 on one day.
AUTOGRAPHS AT GIGS
Signing is virtually obligatory at gigs. Major stars can’t do it, but we all know the support solo act saying nervously, ‘This is my CD. I’ve got copies in the lobby and I’ll be signing them in the interval.’ I must have a dozen signed “CD EPs” from support artists.
Most middle range and oldies acts will sign too. Shifting CDs and T-shirts from the concessions stall has become part of the financial equation.
It’s mildly embarrassing for the purchaser. The rule with books is that simply autographed is worth more than “inscribed” (To Peter …) unless it’s inscribed to (e.g.) ‘My dear friend Philip Pullman, from J.K. Rowling.’ Also a dated autograph near the time of initial release is worth more than a dated one later. (Don’t ask Paul McCartney to sign your Please Please Me LP and add ‘The Cavern, 1963’ after his name. He won’t.) Generally, as with authors, musicians are a trifle wary about signing classics from the past.
I have a creeping suspicion that a thick signature in Sharpie pen is more likely to lower value than raise it, but the deal seems to be, ‘You buy it, I’ll sign it for you.’ With some artists it’s worth it for that 20 second conversation … though I have had a long conversation with Douglas Coupland when we were first in line waiting for the signing to start, a long chat with Zoot Money who grew up in the same area of Bournemouth as me, and pleasant chats with Paul Jones, Simone Felice, Simi Stone and P.P. Arnold. It would definitely seem rude to say ‘No, don’t sign it.’ I do likre having P.P. Arnold’s inscription. I told her that I saw her in Kings Road back in the day with the full wig from Kafunta and thought, ‘Wow! Chelsea IS the centre of the universe!’ and I got a little hug and the inscription. Signing the CD seems a good way of doing it.
I never collected autographs. I have queued to have books signed. I have bought records at gigs. But it’s the momentary couple of words that count … both David Attenborough and George MacDonald Fraser were lovely.