Budget Beatles: Collecting the Fabs on the cheap

By Tracy Neis

We’ve all seen the news articles: John Lennon’s hand-painted Rolls Royce sells for a million. George Harrison’s guitar nets thousands at auction. First drafts of Macca’s hand-written lyric sheets are purchased for a five-figure sum. There’s no way a mere fan can compete with collectors like that.

In the 30-plus years I’ve been a Beatles fan, I’ve compiled one complete set of all the official releases ever recorded by the Fabs. I’ve also assembled more than my fair share of Beatles memorabilia. Most of the items in my collection were readily available for purchase at record, book and department stores throughout the country. I also managed to gather some pretty funky pieces, as well. And I seldom spent more than $20 on any of them.

I’ve bought T-shirts and toys at discount retailers. I’ve purchased albums (used and new) through chain stores. I’ve done the eBay thing. And I’ve scoured countless used bookstores and garage sales. What follows is a list of some of my favorite (and most unusual) Fab souvenirs.

In print

I’ve got biographies and picture books and songbooks and coffee-table books. I’ve got Ringo’s “Postcards from the Boys,” with its facsimiles of the cards John, Paul and George sent him over the years. I have a hardbound copy of the script “Up Against It,” which playwright Joe Orton wrote for The Beatles (and which Brian Epstein rejected). But what I’m most proud of are the lesser-known volumes in my Beatles library:

Cookbooks: No, I didn’t buy any of Linda McCartney’s cookbooks; my family of picky eaters wouldn’t put up with the meatless meals. But I cherish “She Came In Through The Kitchen Window.” I’m not too fond of many of the recipes, but I love how writer Steven J. Spignesi and his editorial team amassed so many photographs of The Beatles eating to accompany the “punny” entrees (such as “Rubber Sole Fillets” and “Another Grille”).

Religious books: The Beatles always looked east for inspiration. How else to explain “Chant And Be Happy,” a how-to book published by the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, which featured prominent photos of George and John on the cover? Or “Peace at Last,” penned by a medium who claimed to channel the ghost of John Lennon?

Foreign books: On a trip to Austria, I picked up a biography of the Fabs and tried to translate it. I knew enough German to recognize the word for “the,” but as a fan, I found it disconcerting to work my way through a book titled “Die Beatles!”

Self-penned books: John Lennon never wrote an autobiography. But he did leave behind some delightful collections of poems and short stories. And after John’s death, Yoko gathered up some doodles he’d sketched while studying Japanese and assembled them into a book, “Japan Through John Lennon’s Eyes: A Personal Sketchbook.”

Magazines: The Beatles appeared in countless issues of People, Time, Rolling Stone and the like, and I’ve managed to collect many of those editions. They were featured prominently in many teen magazines in the 1960s; I’ve got a lot of those, too (thank you, eBay!).

But they’ve also crept into the pages of disreputable tabloids, and I take a secret delight in reading about their antics in The National Enquirer (“My Red-Hot Romance with John Lennon!” by Jackie DeShannon) and The Star (which ran a full-page photo of an inebriated Macca dancing with some scantily clad babes at the New York bar Hogs and Heifers). Every collection needs some trash, if only to display the other items in a better light.

The Fabs also graced the cover of many a foreign magazine (again, eBay is a great source). Nothing demonstrates the band’s global appeal better than seeing them peering out from the pages of periodicals from Turkey (Ses), Greece (Pok), Chile (Rincon Juvenil), and Mexico (Seguimos Juntos).

But my favorite Beatles magazine appearance was in The Quest, a bimonthly journal about philosophy, science, religion and the arts. The cover story featured the Fabs illustrated as Tarot Card characters and examined how the four “fit into the allegorical context of the Tarot.” Who knew?

Comics. I’ve collected many comics and caricatures featuring The Beatles, clipped from kids’ joke books, from the funny pages (“Mutts,” “Doonesbury” and “Zits” all regularly feature Beatlesque punchlines) and, on rare occasion, from the editorial pages.


Fabric

I’ll admit it. Like most Lennon fans, I was sure John must have started rolling in his grave when Yoko licensed his drawings for Sean to a baby-clothes manufacturer. But heck — my youngest daughter was born the year those items hit the market. And they were awfully cute. Even after she spit up on them a few times.

I’ve purchased many Beatles T-shirts, as well. But the shirt which always gets the most comment when I wear it came from the National Geographic catalog. It features four colorful scarabs on the front. In small writing beneath each bug is its scientific name. In larger writing is the phrase, “Meet the Beetles.”

I also like to sew. So I’ve made a shirt and several handbags with Beatles-printed material. I’ve also created cross-stitch tapestries of The Beatles based on drawings from the “Yellow Submarine” cartoon and the Magical Mystery Tour liner notes. These collector’s items are truly one-of-a-kind. (I should know — I made them!)

Doo-dads

I’ve got more than my share of Beatles what-nots. Many were gifts — my Beatles alarm clock, my Abbey Road refrigerator magnet, my silver musical-note necklace inspired by one of John’s drawings and my stuffed animals hand-decorated to look like George and Ringo. The friend who personalized those toys for me also gave me a porcelain statue of John wearing his black suit from “The Ed Sullivan Show,” atop a music box that tinkles the notes to “Imagine.”

With my own cash, I’ve purchased a “Hard Day’s Night” jigsaw puzzle in a decorative tin box (from Target), a Beatles beach towel (from Walmart), two Yellow Submarine coffee mugs and a Sgt. Pepper blanket (from the Fest for Beatles Fans catalog — the latter topped my $20 price limit) and a lacquered Russian jewelry box depicting George Harrison (from eBay). None of these items is of great value, but all are treasured.

Finally, in December 1980, my high-school friend Kim sent me a note telling me that she had left a flower in front of the Dakota building in my name. Sometimes, even for a collector, the best gifts have no monetary value whatsoever.


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