After FBI Lennon probe, it’s business as usual for auction house

The FBI seized this John Lennon fingerprint card from Gotta Have It!, which had the piece for sale in its Rock & Roll Pop Culture Auction. Photo courtesy of Gotta Have It!

By Pat Prince

Peter Siegel, the co-founder of New York City-based auction house Gotta Have It!, finds it odd that a John Lennon item from his Rock & Roll Pop Culture Auction became the center of a FBI investigation.

John Lennon’s original fingerprint application card for U.S. citizenship was seized by the FBI earlier this month, after a subpoena was faxed to the auction house. Agents confiscated the piece on the grounds it is a federal document of high importance that had gone missing from Lennon’s government files. But Siegel questions that explanation.

“The case was closed years ago when his files were made public,” explains Siegel. “I just don’t understand why there was such a push to retrieve this item of such quote, unquote, ‘high importance.’ It’s basically a fingerprint card signed by him [Lennon]. Any time you go to get any kind of license at any police station you have to go through that; everybody does that. So I think just because it was John Lennon’s that they were alerted, and they wanted it back for some reason.”

Apparently, the FBI was concerned about a federal document falling into public hands and then being auctioned off. Siegel sees it differently.

“There’s nothing wrong with it. I mean, there’s no national security issue. There’s nothing there. It’s his fingerprints and signature. So as far as falling into someone else’s hands, or the wrong hands, there’s no such thing. It’s a collectors item, and it should be well-revered.”

“What’s even more interesting,” Siegel adds, “there are usually several of these done. It’s not just one. And about 20 years ago at an auction in 1991, here in New York, a very similar card sold at auction. So one had already sold, and nobody ever saw that or did anything about it. And here we are, 20 years later, and all of a sudden it’s like the biggest news in the country.”

What made this card unique was its condition. Fingerprint cards usually have two or three hole punches, as the cards were in binders, says Siegel. The card seized by the FBI didn’t have any hole punches. The card was originally purchased at a Beatles convention in the mid-’80s.

“I go to all kind of conventions. You always see different things. It’s not an odd piece,” Siegel said.

This event might make some collectors or auction houses think twice about offering such pieces. Siegel maintains the Lennon fingerprint had fair, marketable value, and because someone in the government didn’t think so, it was taken back by the government.

“This shouldn’t have been a risk,” Siegel continues. “We’ve been doing this 20 years now in a retail environment, so we get all kinds of people coming in to talk to us. We’re very careful about who we deal with it and what we buy. This particular item here, we didn’t believe had any risk; that’s why it was on the cover of our catalog. Our catalog is worldwide. Again, if there were a risk, I certainly wouldn’t have taken it to auction.”

It’s business as usual at Gotta Have It!, as this fingerprint card case comes to a close, but if an item like this were to come around again, Siegel said he’d probably have to explore it a little further.

Siegel believes the fingerprint card could have sold for more than a hundred thousand dollars, perhaps even two; the auction house assigned it a minimum bid of $100,000. But, Siegel added, there are 90 other Beatles-related items in the Gotta Have It! “Rock & Roll Pop Culture Auction” that are just as exciting as the Lennon fingerprint file.

Paul McCartney’s handwritten “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” lyrics. Photo courtesy of Gotta Have It!

Other items of interest (and minimum bids) include:
• Paul McCartney’s handwritten “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” lyrics ($100,000);
• McCartney handwritten lyrics for “Honey Pie” and Lennon-signed publishing contract for “Honey Pie” ($100,000);
• Original Diana Dors wax bust from “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album ($45,000);
• McCartney drawings ($25,000);
• The Beatles signed “Beatles Limited” carbon letters ($20,000);
• The earliest known signatures for Lennon and McCartney ($14,000);
• A 1963 original Beatles performance poster for Abergavenny Town Hall Ballroom ($14,000); and
• A McCartney hand-drawn and signed T-shirt ($15,000).

For related items that you may enjoy in our Goldmine store:
• Get the closest thing to the full Woodstock experience with the book “Woodstock Peace, Music & Memories.”
• Get the new John Lennon book: “John Lennon: Life is What Happens, Music, Memories & Memorabilia”
• Get the invaluable record collector’s resource: Goldmine® Record Album Price Guide, 6th Edition

About Patrick Prince

Patrick Prince is the Editor of Goldmine

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