The following article was written by Frank Caiazzo of The Beatles Autographs® and is used by his kind permission.
© 2012, 2020 The Beatles Autographs and may not be copied or reproduced
One domain of Beatles memorabilia that continues to increase in both value and popularity are autographs of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr. Autographs are uniquely special in that they represent an occurrence of undivided attention by a legend, a frozen moment in their lives captured and forever treasured.
But if one should decide to invest in anything supposedly penned by one or all of The Beatles, from a signed piece to a letter to a manuscript for a Beatles song ("handwritten lyrics"), there are definitely a few things to know before proceeding.
Because of their popularity and price range, Beatles signatures are the most forged on the market today, a realization that tends to decrease the odds for those wanting an item signed by one or all of The Beatles.
One of the biggest considerations is the source from which you are purchasing. You really have to find out who has done their homework if you consider buying from an autograph dealer. There are very reputable autograph dealers throughout the country who cover thousands of personalities ranging from historical, political, sorts, astronauts, and entertainment figures.
In the entertainment category are movie and television personalities as well as those in the music field, including the category of rock 'n' roll. And of course, perched comfortably atop this area are The Beatles. That's a lot of ground to cover, especially since these four signatures alone can be very tricky and tough to get a good handle on without some fairly intensive study.
Over short periods of time, their signatures were constantly undergoing minor characteristic changes, an evolution which saw the most drastic transformations during the year 1963. John and George in particular, seemed then to be searching the most for a new autographic identity. Because of noticeable characteristic changes, those with a trained eye can date their signatures to within a month or two. This is possible simply by knowing when even the most subtle changes took place, and applying this knowledge when looking at a signature or set of Beatles signatures.
Though the forgeries vary from extremely poor to very well-executed, no matter how good the signatures are, a forger will be much more consistent with his or her style of manufactured signatures than were The Beatles. It is easy for a forger to lock-in on a particular style, thus lacking the true feel and essence of the signature being forged. All forgers have flaws in their work that are quite visible to the well-trained eye. These range from the proportion of the letters among themselves, the formation and angles or shaping of the letters, with respect to one another. They also have flaws in areas that I refer to as trade secrets - things like where and when an "i" might be dotted, where a photo or LP is most or least likely to be signed by each individual member. Anachronistic errors, such as signing a 1970's photo or LP using a 1960's style of signature, is another tip-off. A forger will be consistent and his bad characteristics are usually evident. Once pointed out, even to a layperson, it would be easy to distinguish any forger's distinct style each and every time. But only a person with a good knowledge of Beatles signatures can easily spot these characteristic errors and pass along such tips. This is especially true in the case of well-executed forgeries.
Because of the many style variations of authentic Beatles signatures over time, combined with the great many styles of forgeries filling in the cracks, a volatile mix has resulted. For every set of Beatles signatures sold over the past ten years, at least half are either forgeries, are ghost signatures - by Beatles insider and confidant, Neil Aspinall. Aspinall, who became The Beatles' road manager in 1963 and who manages Apple Records today, signed hundreds of items for the group when they were unavailable, either touring, or simply not wanting to be bothered with autograph requests. When touring, they often slept well into the afternoon if they could, with meeting fans and signing autographs the last thing on their minds.
Clearly, Neil's surrogate signatures were not done to deceive buyers and sellers of Beatles autographs. At that time, there was no financial market for them as we know it today. It was simply part of his job to satisfy the overflow of autograph requests received while the boys toured, especially after 1963. Aspinall's signatures have, until recently, sold quite well through auctions and dealers alike. Fortunately, they are very easy to distinguish from genuine Beatles signatures - unlike many of the deliberate forgeries created for no other reason than to cheat buyers. During the trans-Atlantic flight from England, for their visit to America, Neil had time to sign stacks of Capital promotional photographs, in anticipation for the large numbers of requests. He soon grew weary signing the Beatles' dull names and began signing the photos with their first names only. Interestingly, one high-ranking New York police official, working security during their landing wound up the proud owner of two of the Aspinall signed photos, even though there are pictures of him coming off the plane with The Beatles. Often, when there was a police request for Beatles signatures, Neil was the one who did the signing, always wanting to keep happy those responsible for protecting the boys.
Anyone writing to the Official Beatles Fan Club in the 1960's requesting autographs undoubtedly received signatures in response to their request, ones usually signed by fan club secretaries, along with a letter stating: "the lads were more than happy to sign for you." Again, done not to deceive but to satisfy the impossible numbers of people who wanted to own something signed by their heroes. Keeping people happy, especially fan club members, was a big priority and, realistically, there was no way the Beatles themselves could accommodate the many thousands seeking autographs. Though these secretarial signatures are easy to identify, they have at times been advertised and sold as authentic autographs.
Because of the many variances in situations surrounding the time and place where the signatures were obtained, Beatles signatures could look markedly different. This true even if signed within a few days of each other. For example, did Paul use his right hand as a backing for a leaf of paper he signed? Or did he use George's back? Because no viable surface was available, I have seen both. Were the Beatles literally on the run between their limousine and a backstage door as they were signing? Or were they seated behind a bar, as they were on December 14th 1963 at the Wimbledon Palais in London? Regardless, certain characteristics within their signatures could vary almost month to month in 1963, that being their most fertile signing year by far. They signed so heavily in 1963 because they were touring throughout England the entire time, starting out virtually unknown outside of their hometown of Liverpool and continuing on a backbreaking schedule of concerts, BBC radio appearances, TV shows, and photographic sessions. During this period, The Beatles were very accessible and no reasonable demand was refused, the least of all being autograph requests by adoring fans.
In February of 1964, The Beatles came to America and changed the face of popular music forever, while achieving unequaled worldwide fame. Understandably, from the time of their appearance on the Ed Sullivan show (February 9th 1964) until they officially broke up (April 1970), they were more inaccessible and very highly guarded.
In Australia, in June 1964, they were greeted by 300,000 fans as they stood on a balcony waving to the massive crowd. Although this sounds extreme, wherever they went they were surrounded by mass hysteria. On tours they spent most of their time imprisoned in hotel rooms, often occupying entire floors with guards at all entrances. This is why very few 1965 autographs are known, and ones from 1966 are even harder to find.
Contrary to popular opinion, The Beatles did very little signing in the United States between 1964 and 1966 (the last time all four were in America at the same time). About 90% of everything The Beatles signed as a group originated in England. Of that, most were signed before the end of 1963. They signed more in 1963 than in the rest of their years combined! After they officially stopped touring in August of 1966, The Beatles were rarely seen together as a foursome, though they continued recording together until August of 1969. Sets of autographs have surfaced from the year of psychedelia, 1967, only because they were in public together for two weeks touring the English countryside in a bus while filming Magical Mystery Tour. The only ones getting signatures after that are the "Apple Scruffs", groups of girls, mainly, who congregated outside of EMI Abbey Road Studios or Apple Headquarters and caught the boys individually. Still, sets of all four signatures from 1968 and 1969 are nearly impossible to find.
Among the most difficult Beatles sets to find is a set of all four signatures on a single item - LP cover, photo, etc., obtained individually as solo artists, post-1970. Yet this is an area heavily targeted by forgers. With the exception of legal documents signed by all four in the 1970's, we have seen no more than fifteen authentic sets from that period. Yet we have seen at least 30 Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band signed albums purported to have been , from the style of each forged signature, signed in the 1970's and 1980's. One "in-person" autograph recipient, lucky enough to put together two post-Beatle sets, admits it took him almost eight years to do it. Of his two sets, George signed one using first name only. In 1994, he decided to sell these two sets. He offered them to two noted autograph experts, one of whom actually claims to specialize in rock 'n' roll artists. Though clearly authentic, both "experts" said that the signatures didn't look good to them. Of course, the stunned owner reacted with great indignation.
There is a hierarchy of Beatles autographs as far as desirability and value goes. They are somewhat subjective and have possibly the most variance among Beatles collectibles. The value examples given here are merely recent pricing trends as of mid-1999. The item upon which an autograph appears has the most significant affect. First in line is a signed record cover or picture sleeve from the 1960's. There are the most desirable in that they encompass all the appeal that relates directly to their claim to fame. The Beatles, first and foremost, were about music, therefore signed LP's command anywhere from $20,000 up to $60,000, depending upon factors such as title, overall condition, and contrast of the signatures. Because signed record covers are so desirable, they are a huge target for forgeries. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and Meet The Beatles are the most commonly forged LP titles in America, due obviously to their importance among Beatles albums. In England there seems to be no particular favorite for forgers, although they have been wise enough to go for the original mono Parlophone issues (LP's or EP's), as well as the two red label singles, Love Me Do and Please Please Me. We have seen just about every U.S. and U.K. album title show up at one time or another with signatures that were not authentic. Of these, a small percentage are legit signatures by Neil Aspinall.
An equally desirable, yet much rarer item would be a legal contract or document containing all four Beatles' signatures. These are interesting in that they fall into more of a business nature and are not simply the result of a fan's request. Items like this are the by-product of daily business activities. With these, a collector possesses a piece of The Beatles' lives that they themselves had no intention of anyone ever seeing, other than those directly involved. In recent years there has been a number of "Apple Inc." signed checks and documents that have entered the marketplace for the first time. At first slowly, then more rapidly they flooded the market - only to end up in collections and become available only occasionally in recent times. There are some collectors who will only buy checks or documents because they feel that these are unquestionably authentic. For the most part this is true, although there have been a few forged contracts, originating from California in the past few years. While these particular contracts appear official on the surface, with various magistrate stamps, date stamps, and seemingly legal verbiage, the signatures (usually Brian Epstein and John Lennon) are very poor. Authentic contracts signed by all four members are very collectible, with prices starting in the $15,000 to $20,000 range. The cost could rise sharply however, if the body of the contract contains significant information regarding the history of the group and their music.
Next in line are signed photographs, which are actually quite rare. These too are a big target for forgeries. There are scores of unauthentic signed magazine photos which have been sold over the years. These are popular with forgers because they can buy a 1960's magazine full of photos to sign rather cheaply. There are Beatles magazines with every usable photo signed, turning them into a forger's goldmine. Authentic signed 8"x10" photographs are difficult to find and sell in the $18,000+ range, depending upon the condition of the photo and the contrast of the signatures. Premium values are placed on photos by Dezo Hoffman, Robert Freeman, and other noted photographers during the early Beatlemania years from 1963 and 1964, whose work is showcased on publicity photos, magazines and record jackets.
Signed tour programs are about on a par with signed photographs, in terms of desirability and price range. Programs are more abundant than signed photos, most of them from British performances in 1963 when the boys were fairly accessible. The most common signed program is from The Beatles/Roy Orbison tour, from May 18th through June 9th 1963. At least 20 examples of this one have been on the market in the last ten years. Unsigned 'one date only' programs are scarce and valuable by themselves, but if one should come on the market signed by all four, it's value would increase even beyond that of the more common programs. Signed programs usually sell for $12,000 and up depending upon condition, contrast of the signatures, and rarity of the program itself. We don't often see many forged signatures on Beatles tour programs quite simply due to their valuable nature unsigned. However, some do turn up from time to time with signatures deliberately executed to deceive the buyer. Keep in mind there have been countless programs signed by Neil Aspinall that have changed hands over the years, with the majority of them initially sold at auction.
The most common and affordable Beatles autograph sets are found either on an album page from an autograph book or on a piece of paper. In England in the 1960's, many young females carried autograph books in their purses, as it was fairly common to meet celebrities of varying degrees. Those fortunate enough to meet The Beatles, particularly in 1963, had a good chance of coming away with a set of signatures - especially if they had something for them to write on and sign with. Album pages are generally in the $8,000 to $9,500 range for nice examples, depending upon size, condition, and whether or not one of the members wrote "Beatles", "love", or "XXX". It is not unusual for more than one of them to have written "love" or "XXX" on the same page. When "Beatles" was written, it was generally by Paul, who was more naturally the group's publicity man. George and Ringo tied for second place in this category, with John rarely doing it.
Here are the current values for individual Beatles signatures on paper: John Lennon's is in the $2,000 to $2,500 range; Paul McCartney's is around $800; George Harrison's about $1,000; and Ringo Starr's autograph fetches roughly $400. If these same signatures are on a photo or LP cover, you can simply double these values to get an idea of their worth.
Unquestionably, the most desirous of all handwritten items is a manuscript for a Lennon-McCartney composition, written by either man. These are the crème de la crème of Beatles collecting, period! No mass-produced item - whether memorabilia or records - can match an original set of handwritten lyrics. Surprisingly, these manuscripts do occasionally become available, though often at very lofty prices. Most sets of lyrics are written completely by either John, Paul, or George. Rarely is there a collaborative effort on paper, though some do exist. One example is a short section of a working draft for Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, in which John wrote "Suddenly _______ the girl at the turnstile." It is obvious that he was stuck there, so Paul came in to help by crossing out "the girl" and filled the blank with "someone is there", and wrote the next line, "the girl with kaleidoscope eyes." Working drafts of a Beatles composition, especially when most of the song is complete, would rank higher than a final rewrite. In most cases the lyrics are revised or refined a bit to be shared with the other Beatles before the recording session. Rewrites are extremely valuable as well but, unfortunately, most were left behind in Studio Two after the session was over, only to be discarded by the Abbey Road janitors. A fact not lost on collectors is that a working manuscript for a Beatles tune likely represents the very first time a song, now known by hundreds of millions of people, appeared in any form on this earth. As for values, a strong Lennon composition could go for as much as $250,000+. A top McCartney Beatle song can fetch about the same, in fact a full page lyric for the song Getting Better sold in auction for $252,000 in 1995. A good Harrison manuscript could go as high as $100,000+. Amazingly, these may be bargain prices, considering what a classic Beatles handwritten tune by John Lennon or Paul McCartney may bring in the future. There will be a time when a million dollars will be a good buy for one of these treasures. Handwritten lyrics are not without their share of problems. Like everything else that is very valuable, some convincing forgeries have made their way into the marketplace. For an accomplished forger of lyrics, the financial rewards can be quite substantial. A French forger recently was nearly successful at getting a manuscript for All You Need Is Love into an auction, in the $80,000 range. As prices increase there will be more and more people attempting to cash in by faking a Beatles song manuscript.
After 1970, the members of The Beatles were solo artists working for the most part only on their own projects and with little collaboration. They did continue to sign autographs through the 1970's, 1980's and beyond. Since John Lennon was killed in late 1980, the bulk of his solo-era signatures are from the 1970's.
It is the solo era signature of John Lennon that is the most misunderstood among autograph dealers who cannot seem to agree on what is authentic and what is not. At first glance, it is easy to see why. His erratic signing nature, first seen in the 1960's, continued on through the 1970's but became even more pronounced. For example, John made a three-day guest appearance at a charity function the weekend of May 16, 17, and 18, 1975 in Philadelphia at the WFIL television studios, during which he signed all three days to raise money for muscular dystrophy. Many of the signatures obtained that weekend look very dissimilar when compared. Quite a few of the WFIL signatures bear little resemblance to other examples of his signature from 1975. It would be easy for some to dismiss some of the signatures collected that weekend as forgeries, but the people who personally watched John sign for them would certainly take exception.
The signature of Paul McCartney was fairly stable through the 1970's to the mid-1980's. His signature could be quite sloppy and abbreviated, particularly from the late 1980's on. Autographs signed at the end of press conferences would start out looking fairly complete, but the more he signed, the less legible they became.
George Harrison's solo-era signature has undergone some changes since his departure from the band. It is tighter and much more curvilinear. He still uses the piggyback style of starting the "H" in his last name on the second "g" in his first name. Recently, his has become a tough signature to obtain as he is quite concerned about maintaining his privacy.
Ringo Starr's signature has been the most consistent, not only throughout his career as a Beatle, but in the 1970's and 1980's as well. In 1992 he stopped (quite possibly forever) signing his full name, only to give his signature as "Ringo" with a star to the right. This is the same star he used to write below and between his first and last name, although the new star is somewhat larger. There have been recent occasions where folks have asked him to sign his full name, and he refused.
There were actually three occasions during the Beatles career when they held what could be called "signing sessions" - all in England.
The first was at Dawson's Music Shop in Widnes on October 6th 1962, one day after the release of their first Parlophone single, Love Me Do. During this two-hour session, The Beatles signed copies of the 45 right on the crimson red and silver label. The second signing session took place on January 24th 1963, at their manager Brian Epstein's NEMS central Liverpool record store, almost two weeks after the release of their second single, Please, Please Me. Again, the band signed copies of the 45 on the red label. The third and last time, The Beatles were seated before a line of fans signing items. This event took place on December 14th 1963 at the Wimbledon Palais in London. It should be noted that this appearance was put together by their fan club, not as a signing session, but as a consolation to make up for some of the problems regarding fan club membership kits at the time. Indeed, at this point in their skyrocketing career, they were already a national treasure, having toured England all year while making key television appearances and releasing two LP's, five singles, and three EP's. This was the only signing session at which The Beatles could have signed albums - those being Please, Please Me and With The Beatles. With official attendance figures stating that some 3,000 fans got to meet and shake hands with The Beatles, it is somewhat surprising that many of them did not bring anything to get signed. This in spite of the fact that all four of them were ready and willing to sign away. Afterwards, the group put on a special concert for all those who came to see them.
Beatles signatures represent an excellent blue chip investment. Consider that in 1987, a set of all four signatures on an album page was selling in the $400 to $450 range with signed photographs being double that. Today you can expect to pay at least $8,000 for a nicely signed page and $18,000 or more for an excellent signed 8" X 10".
As The Beatles stature continues to grow, and as they continue to be counted among the most important figures of the 20th Century, this extraordinary level of appreciation will continue. Their autographs will provide collectors with a small piece of music history, indeed, an item to be cherished and showcased forever.
By all means, if one decides to invest in Beatles autographs, it is vitally important to buy from a source that is highly reputable as well as knowledgeable in this area. As we have mentioned several times, The Beatles autograph market can be very precarious.
© 2012, 2020 The Beatles Autographs. Used by kind permission.