With a drumbeat of 50th anniversaries, Beatlemania breaks loose all over again.
It was just a wall, a backdrop on a stage. It stood behind the performers on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, and after it outlived its usefulness, it was destined for the trash heap. Then the carpenter who was going to throw it away noticed that four mop-haired members of a rock ’n’ roll band from Liverpool had signed it. He saved that section of the wall, gave it to a fan, and now that scrap of plywood and plastic has become a collectible item worth six figures.
You have seen the wall, if you have seen clips of the historic Beatles performance on the Sullivan show on February 9, 1964. That moment launched John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr into a stratosphere from which they have never descended. And decades later, collectibles from the Fab Four continue to soar too. “Everyone argues about who was the best band—the Beatles, the Stones, or the Beach Boys,” says Paul Fraser, founder of Paul Fraser Collectibles. “But there’s no doubt about the most collectible band.”
Particularly now. Beatles memorabilia is creating more buzz than at any time since the early 1980s, partly because enthusiasts are in the grip of a series of 50th anniversaries. Each year from 2014 until 2020—which will mark 50 years since the band’s breakup—will bring a significant Beatles milestone, including album releases such as Help! (1965), Revolver (1966), Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967), the White Album (1968), and Abbey Road (1969). “We’re sort of reliving their career now, 50 years later; all these anniversaries will fall in chronological order, bang bang bang,” says Russ Lease, a longtime collector who teamed with three others to open Fab Four Exhibits, a traveling museum of Beatles memorabilia.
“The Beatles are hotter than ever—that’s the power of anniversaries for you,” says Fraser, who has offices in the United Kingdom, the United States, and the Channel Islands. “Yet if there’s one sector that doesn’t require a helping hand from an anniversary, it’s Beatles memorabilia. They are an evergreen investment.”
Garry Shrum has been in the Beatles business since 1976, when he opened a record store called Blue Meanie Records—a reference from the Beatles movie Yellow Submarine. Now he is the consignment director for entertainment and music memorabilia at Heritage Auctions. In December, Heritage conducted a Beatles auction with more than 200 items, including a signed copy of With the Beatles for $19,375, and three Reslo microphones for $28,125, which came from the Cavern Club, the venue in Liverpool that helped launch the band’s career in the early 1960s. Of the current incarnation of Beatlemania, Shrum says, “I’m blown away—it’s the quality of stuff that’s coming to market now, a lot of one-of-a-kind items. Some people have been saving them for the 50th anniversary, thinking they’ll get more money because of this. They’re probably right.”
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