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Buyers snap up fab Beatles memorabilia at Christie's auction

A trio of Beatles-related lots comprised more than one-third of the total sales at the Popular Culture: Rock and Pop Memorabilia auction by Christie's.
Lennon Ono Bed Peace Placard

This placard from John Lennon and Yoko Ono's 1969 Bed-In for peace in Montreal sold for more than $155,000 at auction Nov. 15, 2011. Photo courtesy Christie's.

By Susan Sliwicki

A trio of Beatles-related lots comprised more than one-third of the total sales at the Popular Culture: Rock and Pop Memorabilia auction by Christie's.

The Nov. 15 auction resulted in sales of $767,432 (all figures include buyers' premiums), and 150 of the 216 lots offered were sold, according to a news release. Earning top lot honors was the 'Bed Peace' placard that hung above John Lennon and Yoko Ono's bed at their historic 1969 Montreal Bed-In for Peace in Suite 1742 of the Queen Elizabeth Hotel. Signed in black ink by Lennon and green ink by Ono, the piece included caricatures of the couple in Lennon's hand. It brought $155,892.

A full set of 15 of Lennon's lithographs housed in the original white vinyl "Bag One" case sold for $69,330 — more than twice the presale estimate of $24,045-$32,060. Each lithograph was signed by Lennon, and each was numbered 52/300. All of the prints were listed in Mint condition, while the bag showed minor marking and minimal signs of age, according to the Christie's online catalog.

Paul McCartney letter to drummer

A handwritten letter from Paul McCartney to an unknown drummer that included the offer of an audition for The Beatles sold for more than four times the pre-auction estimate at Christie's pop culture auction held Nov. 15, 2011. Photo courtesy Christies.

A handwritten letter from Paul McCartney to an unknown drummer sold for $55,412.

"A dramatic, last-minute telephone bid competing against bidders in the room and online secured the rediscovered Paul McCartney handwritten letter generating a result far in excess of the presale estimate for this very important document," Director Neil Roberts said in a news release.

The letter, which was a response to an Aug. 8, 1960, ad in the Liverpool Echo (Box KP 60) that read "Drummer — Young — Free," was expected to fetch between $11,221 to $14,427, according to the online catalog. The auction house graded the letter in good/fair condition overall, noting some fading to the ink, slight water damage and minor splits and tears along the fold lines and paper edges.

Dated Aug. 12, 1960 — four days after after McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Stuart Sutcliffe had verbally committed to travel to Hamburg on Aug. 15, 1960 as a five-piece band — the letter is one of the earliest documented occasions that the band referred to itself as The Beatles. The story behind the letter's discovery is a collector's dream. A Liverpool man found the folded-up letter inside of a collectibles price guide he purchased in early 2011 at a sale in Bootle, near The Beatles' hometown of Liverpool.

“Following an ongoing trend for popular culture sales at Christie’s, Internet bidding played a significant part in the sale, with over 36 percent of lots bought or directly under bid online," Roberts added.

A range of instruments, clothing, posters, awards, signed items and ephemera once owned, worn, played or inscribed by international legends of the music industry were among the auction . Other highlights included:

• A set of 30 black-and-white transparencies (35 mm) of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, $48,090. The images were taken by Henry Passar in Paris and Amsterdam in March 1969, and they were sold with the copyright. (Preauction estimate: $15,700-$23,600).

• A two-piece suit and western-style shirt worn by The Sex Pistols' Sid Vicious at court appearances circa 1978, $16,030. Made from navy blue fabric flecked with silver lame thread, the suit featured a single-breasted jacket and was labeled Kammgarn TREVIRA inside. The black shirt had snap buttons. The lot also included four black and white photographs showing Vicious wearing the suit, as well as a Victoria & Albert Museum catalog and five commemorative postcards. (Presale estimate: $16,030 to $24,045).

• Two early pen and ink drawings by John Lennon, $14,026 apiece. One drawing featured a humorous illustration of a couple sitting up in bed, titled "We're Just Good Friends;" the other is a humorous depiction of a middle-aged couple pushing a pram, surrounded by 10 infants, titled "But I Do Love You Dear." Both drawings were given by Lennon to a female friend during their time together at the Liverpool College of Art, circa 1958, according to the catalog. (Presale estimate for each drawing: $11,221 - $14,427).

• A black and white photograph showing John Lennon and Yoko in bed, $13,024. The photo was taken by Henry Pessar in 1969, during the couple's Bed-In For Peace in Room 702 at the Amsterdam Hilton Hotel. Signed and dedicated in black marker pen "To Henry Proust Love John Lennon Yoko Ono," the photo also features Lennon's customary portrait caricatures. (Presale estimate: $6,412 - $8,015).

Live 8 Africa Guitar

A host of signatures of famous musicians, including Paul McCartney, Slash and David Gilmour, adorn this guitar sold to benefit the Band Aid Trust. Photo courtesy Christie's.

• Eric Clapton's 1980s Fender Stratocaster Elite model guitar, $11,021. The cream finish guitar features a maple neck with skunk-stripe routing, 21- fret fingerboard with dot inlays, three Fender Elite-style pickups, three rotary controls, selector switch and active electronics. Case included. (Presale estimate: $9,618-$12,824).

More than a dozen items that were donated or autographed to generate money for The Band Aid Trust also were featured in the sale. They included:

• Pete Townshend's owned and Live Aid-used Roger Giffin/Schecter guitar, $55,865. The black and white guitar with a Telecaster-style body was accompanied by a signed letter from Townshend about the instrument's provenance. (Presale estimate: $48,090 - $80,150).

• A custom-made guitar with an African zebrawood body in the shape of the African continent, $24,045. The guitar is signed on the body, fingerboard and neck by artists including Paul McCartney, Pink Floyd's David Gilmoure, The Who's Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey, Slash, Keane, Pete Doherty, Sting, Bob Geldof, Neil Morrissey, Annie Lennox, Robbie Williams, Snoop Dog and members of Sterophonics, UB40, Velvet Revolver and The Killers. (Presale estimate: $9,618 to $12,824).

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