Behind the Spine: Beatlemania remains eight days a week

By Paul Kennedy

I bought my first Beatles record at Bob’s Musical Isle in downtown Wausau, Wis. The 45 featured “Hey Jude” on one side and “Revolution” on the flip side. It was by far the coolest purchase of my young life. And I wasn’t alone. “Hey Jude” hit No. 1 in at least 12 countries, and by the end of 1968 had sold more than 5 million copies, including mine. The song was a wondrous 7 minutes and 11 seconds long. I wore it out.

Of course, cool fades fast.

Bob’s Musical Isle surrendered to a downtown mall. Vinyl faded to black, eventually

Beatles-signed tour program

A Beatles-signed 1965 tour program that realized $19,200 at auction. Photo courtesy Julien’s Auctions

replaced by digital downloads. Even my cool succumbed to the weight of responsibility. And the Beatles? Well, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr disbanded in 1970, just two short years after my prized 45 hit record stores.

Tastes change. Frank Sinatra gave way to Elvis. Elvis gave way to The British Invasion. The Beatles gave way to . . . well, this is where things get interesting because the Beatles, as far as collectors go, never went anywhere but up.

“The Beatles rule the world of music and entertainment memorabilia like few others,” says Noah Fleisher, editor of the recently released “Warman’s Antiques & Collectibles, 49th edition.” “I might even venture to say, having watched the market for the best Beatles material explode in the last five years, that they may well be the only sure-fire bet in music memorabilia that a collector could have right now.”

Fleisher isn’t kidding. A Beatles signed “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album gatefold sold for nearly $300,000 at Heritage Auctions. A Beatles Rickenbacker guitar sold for $605,000. And a John Lennon and Yoko Ono original signed “Bed-In” drawing garnered $185,000 at auction.

When it comes to selling Beatles memorabilia, Fleisher says there are few, if any, who can match Darren Julien, the CEO and president of Julien’s Auctions in Los Angeles.

“The Beatles are so popular because their music is still relevant and their fan base is not only global but it transcends all age groups,” Julien says. “Their fan base only continues to increase and, for many, buying an item from their life or career is like buying a memory from their past.

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“Beatles memorabilia is the blue chip of the collectibles market. Items from their career tend to go up gradually and consistently, unlike some celebrities who spike high and sometimes end low.”

As a matter of debate, there may be no better investment in the memorabilia market today than a Beatles item.

“The items that bring the most and are the most sought-after are items that were used/worn on stage,” Julien says. “The market for these items has dramatically increased. For instance, guitars that Christie’s sold for around $100,000 in recent years, we now sell for more than $500,000. Beatles garments have also dramatically increased in recent years as museums and investors now look for iconic items that can be on display or that will increase in value.

“The Beatles are not going anywhere. I think their legendary status and collectability will only continue to increase. Items that we see selling for $500,000 now, I believe, will be worth $2 million to $3 million in 50 years.”

OK, so maybe I’m not in the market for a $500,000 guitar played by Paul McCartney, no matter how great an investment it is. But what about a Beatles bobblehead, or record player, or even a concert ticket? That I could afford. Or better yet, perhaps a copy of that 1968 45-rpm record I wore out years ago. What’s the price of being cool again?

Turns out, about $10.

Check out this Beatles photo montage set to “Eight Days a Week”…