Kirchherr’s Beatles photos head to Auction in September

By Susan Sliwicki

Beatles fans rejoice: The entire Fab Four archive of early Beatles photographs by Astrid Kirchherr — many of which have never been published before — is heading to auction.

Roughly 1,000 images, many of which were taken during The Beatles’ early dues-paying residency in Germany, are part of Guernsey’s Auctioneers and Brokers planned Beatles auction. The event is tentatively set for Sept. 17-18 at New York City’s Lincoln Center complex, with an auction preview on Sept. 16, said Arlan Ettinger, Guernsey’s president. Each lot will feature one to five images.

“It’s not just a picture we’re selling,” Ettinger said. “The buyers will then be given the negatives and a document signed by Astrid that she’s passing along her photographer’s copyrights to the buyer. I think it’s a lot more special and unprecedented.”

Beatles by Astrid Kirchherr

Photographer Astrid Kirchherr's archive of Beatles images is heading to auction in September.

The photographs are a mix of individual and group shots that feature John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, as well as early Beatles drummer Pete Best and the band’s early bassist Stuart Sutcliffe, who was with the group when it went to Hamburg but chose to stay in Germany with Kirchherr rather than return to England with The Beatles.

“It includes all of the images of The Beatles as we know them and the people that were immediately in the periphery that were part of that scene. There are pictures of the inside of The Cavern Club in Liverpool, The Beatles on vacation,” Ettinger said.

Ettinger declined to provide an estimated value for the archive.

“There’s so little in the way of precedent on these individual lots to say ‘What are these things worth?’” Ettinger said. “Is this simply a nice, beautiful print of John Lennon that had never been published before? It’s easy to imagine it bringing $500 or $1,000 or even a few thousand dollars. But now imagine that you own that picture and you can make 10,000 prints if you want, and do with them as you see fit.”

The images span from The Beatles’ very first trip to Germany in August 1960 to images Kirchherr took of the then-Fab Four group when it became famous in England, including shots taken during the 1964 shooting of “A Hard Day’s Night.” While almost all of the auction’s featured shots are black and white, a handful of color images taken when The Beatles visited Tenerife also are part of the auction, Ettinger said.

“She clearly had a very good eye,” Ettinger said. “She wasn’t just a young woman with a camera. She was a professional photographer, and it shows.”

In 1960, The Beatles — which at the time consisted of Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, Best and Sutcliffe — packed up a rickety old van and took a boat to Germany. The Beatles headed to the Reeperbahn, a wide avenue in Hamburg that contains bars, restaurants, dance clubs, night clubs, strip joints and brothels, which is where the group met Astrid Kirchherr.

While Kirchherr is credited for taking stunning pictures of The Beatles at their rawest best, she also deserves credit for helping them develop their image, down to their clothing and hairstyles, Ettinger said.

“She became a part of them, and not just because she was engaged to Sutcliffe,” Ettinger said. “She’s part of that fiber of that great moment when they emerged.”

While Kircherr’s images are expected to fill one day’s worth of bidding, other Beatles items also will be featured at the auction. Acquisitions for that portion of the auction are ongoing, Ettinger said.

“Our doors are never closed, because I’ve experienced great things offered to us, sometimes at the last minute,” Ettinger said.

One item of interest so far is an uncut press sheet of Beatles’ 8 x 10 images printed to accompany “The White Album.” The sheet — which is believed to be the only one of its kind to survive — has 16 images, four of each Beatle. The owner acquired the sheet because he was part of the album project and was at the printing plant when the materials were coming off the press, he said.

“All these years, he still has it with its original markings, and that’s the kind of cool thing that is likely to be included as one of the many other items,” Ettinger said.

A copy of the full auction catalog, which will include a CD featuring low-resolution, watermarked images of Kirchherr’s photographs featured in the auction, will be available for purchase roughly six weeks before the auction begins, Ettinger said. For more information about the event, call Guernsey’s at 212-794-2280 or send an e-mail to auctions@guernseys.com.

In addition to bidding in person at the event, interested buyers can place bids via liveauctioneers.com, via telephone and by submitting written bids. Ettinger also is anticipating a lot of “or bids” to be made for this auction which occur when a prospective buyer basically makes a contingency plan to place bids on alternate lots if the first-choice lot is not attainable.

In business since 1975, Guernsey’s has been a key player in pop culture auctions going back 30 years, including the Apollo Theater auction, a Graceland auction and auctions related to Dick Clark, Jerry Garcia and Michael Jackson. For more information, visit www.guernseys.com.

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