By Susan Sliwicki
A 51-year-old handwritten letter by Paul McCartney inviting an unknown drummer to audition for The Beatles will be featured at Christie’s Popular Culture: Rock and Pop Memorabilia Auction on Nov. 15, 2011 at the auction house’s South Kensington, U.K., location.
Dated Aug. 12, 1960, the letter is one of the earliest occasions that the band referred to itself as The Beatles, according to a news release issued by Christie’s auction house. It’s expected to fetch between $11,000 and $14,100. (Click here to view the auction catalog.)
McCartney’s letter was a response to an Aug. 8, 1960, ad in the Liverpool Echo (Box KP 60) that read “Drummer — Young — Free.” It’s unknown who placed the ad, to whom McCartney’s note was addressed, or whether an audition ever took place. The letter was dated four days after McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Stuart Sutcliffe had verbally committed to travel to Hamburg on 15th August as a five-piece band. Before the discovery of this letter, it was not known that The Beatles were searching for a fifth member so close to the band’s departure for Hamburg, and it was thought that Pete Best was the only option they considered, through their associations with the Jacaranda Club, according to the news release. Ringo Starr replaced Best two years later.
The story behind the letter’s discovery is every collector’s dream. A Liverpool man, who wishes to remain anonymous, found the letter tucked inside of a collectibles price guide he purchased in early 2011 at a sale in Bootle, near The Beatles’ hometown of Liverpool. Although he focuses on antique coins, this collector regularly attends local car boot sales, where he scours the stalls for hidden treasures and is in the habit of buying all manner of collector’s guides — which really paid off.
“One of the best aspects of my work is the rare occasion when, out of the blue, you are made aware of the existence of something so extraordinary, it alters the knowledge of your specialist field. This letter has proved to be such a case,” said Neil Roberts, Christie’s director of popular culture. “My initial reaction was one of disbelief, but on seeing the item and being able to research the significance of the date and its content as well as conferring with renowned Beatles historians, it has turned out to be much more significant than mere words on paper. It is exciting to be able to offer to market a newly discovered important item of Beatles memorabilia, on behalf of an individual who was fortunate enough to find it folded up in a book at a car boot sale.”
From an historical perspective, the letter also indicates that The Beatles knew more about their forthcoming trip than previously believed. McCartney’s note refers to the approximate level of expenses they would be paid, as well as the duration of the contract: “expenses paid £18 per week (approx.) for 2 months.” The band signed its contract Aug. 15, 1960; before now, it was not known that The Beatles were aware of the duration of their stay before heading to Hamburg.
McCartney’s letter is one of more than 200 items featured at the Rock and Pop Memorabilia Auction. A range of instruments, clothing, posters, awards, signed items and ephemera once owned, worn, played or inscribed by international legends of the music industry will be offered. Other highlights include:
• The placard from John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s historic 1969 Montreal Bed-In for Peace (estimate: $125,90o – $157,400): Created by John Lennon and reading BED PEACE, the sign of black marker pen on white card measuring 71 x 56 centimeters was displayed on the window directly above John and Yoko’s bed in Suite 1742 at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal for the entirety of the event. The placard is signed in black pen “John Lennon 1969 Montreal” and in green pen “Yoko Ono ’69,” with additional characteristic caricatures of the couple, also in Lennon’s hand. The piece was acquired by a freelance sound engineer who was present after the event. He passed it onto a colleague, whose family had retained it since. This is the first time that this unique historic placard has ever been offered at auction.
• A set of 30 photographs of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, to be sold with copyright (estimate: $15,700-$23,600). Hounded by the U.K. Press, John Lennon and Yoko Ono left London and retreated to Paris in March 1969 . There, they secretly organized their wedding and devised a plan to honeymoon with a spectacular Amsterdam ‘happening.’ French journalist Henry Pessar accompanied the pair, exclusively capturing up-close and personal shots of this two-week period. Offered directly from the collection of Henry Pessar, the photographs captured everything from perusing a flea market and buying a pair of jeans to socializing with Salvador Dali, as well as a variety of individual moments at the Amsterdam Hilton Hotel honeymoon.
• More than a dozen items donated or autographed to generate money for The Band Aid Trust. The selection is led by a Roger Giffin/Schecter guitar owned by Pete Townshend and used during The Who’s set at Live Aid, Wembley Stadium, July 13, 1985 (estimate: $47,200-$78,700). Donated directly by Pete Townshend, the guitar is accompanied by a signed letter from him concerning the provenance in which he refers to the unusual way that Sir Bob Geldof convinced them to take part, stating “After heavy pressure from Bob Geldof, The Who agreed to re-form for a one-off appearance at Live Aid … I used my Black Schecter Telecaster on the last two numbers … It was a great day, and I’m glad I was part of it. I think The Who are one of the few acts who appeared at Live Aid and Live 8 twenty years later.” Since 1984 the Band Aid Trust has raised over $190 million to help alleviate hunger and poverty in Africa. Other featured memorabilia relates to Status Quo, Mick Jagger, Sting, Sade, Phil Collins and Pink Floyd, as well as other musicians who took part in the Live Aid and Live 8 concerts feature.