It was one of those high points in a teenage life… a high school dance, a DJ from THE radio station of the era, and a dance contest with an hour’s taped interview with The Beatles as its prize. Plus all four autographs on a single sheet. Can you imagine the equivalent thrill of that in 1999?
When my “prom partner” and I won that dance contest in 1965, I went home with a reel of tape (reel to reel… remember?) and a yellow piece of paper with John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr’s signatures on it.
A consummat Beatles fan, I had every CHUM chart (today’s equivalent of the top 40), scrapbooks of news clippings, my own newspaper account of waiting hours at ‘Malton Airport’ for their arrival, ticket stubs of my Maple Leaf Gardens tickets (in the greys), albums, 45 singles, I could go on and on. My bedroom wall had almost life sized posters of each Beatle. So, naturally enough, the autographs were framed and hung on my wall until I grew up and moved into adult life. Then they found a cherished place in my scrapbooks, which are still on the shelf in the guest room closet… my monument to the sixties.
It was a Toronto Star column by George Gamester that got me thinking about selling my Beatles autographs. All four signatures on one page brings between $20,000 and $25,000, he wrote. I responded by scanning them into my computer for posterity, and packing them carefully between cardboard and taking them with me when my husband and I took a vacation to England. During our three days in London, I called Southebys and made an appointment with the manager of the Beatles Memorabilia Section.
Between $20,000 and $25,000… I could set aside money for my kids’ university educations. I could make a good-sized mortgage payment. I could help out a relative who needs it. The list grew. I even thought that I might then write an article about it and increase my earnings even further.
So, my autographs, my husband and I walked into Southeby’s in the heart of London, England’s financial district. A quiet hush prevailed over huge spaces, with sweeping staircases of marble and a reception area that’s bigger than my office.. The Beatles Memorabilia Manager met me in a reception area and carefully I unwrapped my treasure, and held it out to him, ready to bid goodbye to a a part of my youth, a possession that had been with me for more than two-thirds of my life.
“Madam, these are excellent for starting the fire,” he clipped. “They are fakes.”
“What? The Beatles fakes? MY Beatles fakes? Oh, their autographs. No, look again, you’ll get it right if you look again,” the thoughts galloped through my mind, but my mouth was silent. Probably gaping open large enough to receivethe London telephone book.
He must have sensed my shock, because he opened a Beatles Memorabilia Catalogue (roughly the size of the Toronto phone book) and turned to the Beatles autographs section with replicas of their autographs for us to compare. “You see,” he pointed out, “the George Harrison is pretty good, but that’s definitely not Paul McCartney’s, nor Ringo Starr’s.” Silence. Gaping mouth still.
He looked again at me. Silence. Gaping mouth. I still had a tight grip on my treasure.
“You know, in those days there were no fax machines, no courier services, no immediacy, really,” he said. “When they ran out of autographs the road crew just produced more. Nobody really expected that somebody would keep them for 35 years…”
“Pardon me,” I sputtered finally. “It’s going to take me a few minutes to process this. I feel like a parent with a 30 year old child whose just been told that this child isn’t mine, that it was switched at birth!”
He made a shuffle and then said goodbye and he and his lab coat disappeared up the winding staircase. I put my autographs back between the layers of cardboard and tied them up again. Don’t ask me why I did this, I just did.
My sweetie and I went outside and started to walk along the street. He was chirping away saying comforting things. I turned and said, “let’s just walk quietly. I’m in shock. I need time to grieve about this.” We walked for a little longer. In the distance was a Hard Rock Café and he steered me towards it. “Let’s go in here for a burger and fries. We’ll sit in the Beatles memorabilia wing!” he offered. And so we did, surrounded by authentic Beatles things.
But it altered something for me. And it wasn’t not getting the money. It was the surprise of treasuring something for so long that I BELIEVED was something else. Hmmm.
So, what do you think I did with my treasure when I got it home? I couldn’t throw it out. And yet, it didn’t have the value that I thought it did. I put it in the photo album of our trip, with a caption about what happened. After all, I should get some use out of it!
Now, I just don’t know what to do with my jar of Beatles bathwater…