George Harrison said sales of Beatles memorabilia are “ridiculous” and “out of control”. It puzzled the former Beatle that fans wanted old scraps of paper with their autographs on them, or even stranger artifacts.
When Beatlemania exploded around 1963, savvy entrepreneurs sold merchandise featuring the band’s likenesses without their permission.
in the Here Comes the Sun: The Spiritual and Musical Journey of George Harrison, Joshua M. Greene wrote: “With all that love came a whole lot of money…consumers were spending more money on Beatles paraphernalia than could be accurately counted.” Life magazine recently ran a cover story stating, “A New $10 Billion Power: The US Teen.”
“The baby boomers had become the largest and most influential market power in America, and the Beatles were the beneficiaries. Merchandise and paraphernalia – wigs and wallpaper, dolls and figurines, chewing gum and candy, hats and shirts, belts and boots, balloons and buttons, sheets and pillowcases, photographs and sharpeners, toothbrushes, towels and everything in between – a whole branch of Beatles stuff flooded shops and street corners.
“In 1964, Beatles merchandise grossed more than $50 million in the United States alone. In the week following their appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, the band’s records accounted for a large percentage of record industry sales for the entire year, as they would for years to come.
“By the time they performed at Shea Stadium, Beatles record sales had already surpassed £50m internationally, almost $250m in today’s sales. Everything they touched turned to gold.”
However, Beatles memorabilia didn’t just include Beatles toothbrushes and shirts. Some businessmen invented even more sophisticated goods. For example, during the Beatles’ performance at the Hollywood Bowl, management gave them towels to dry their sweat. Somehow a businessman managed to purchase the towels for $100. Then he cut them into thousands of half-inch squares.
The entire lot sold out in less than a day for $5 a piece, making the businessman more than $100,000 from the Beatles’ body sweat. Such memorabilia became increasingly popular.
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Businessmen were soon stealing everything they could get their hands on from the Beatles to sell to eager young fans.
When the Beatles split up in 1970, memorabilia, including various items of clothing or equipment they used in the recording studio, were somehow stolen and quickly turned up at auction houses. Decades later, in the 1980s, George said those sales of Beatles memorabilia were “ridiculous.”
During a 1987 interview, a reporter spoke about it The Today Show George pointed out that there is “phenomenal” interest in Beatles memorabilia and that handwritten lyrics by John Lennon recently sold for $22,000.
George said: “It’s ridiculous, yes. It actually got out of hand if you ask me. It’s out of control There’s Sotheby’s and Christie’s and Phillips in London, which have specials like every month; One of them seems to have all these things on sale.”
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According to the guitarist, some things sold at Christie’s or Sotheby’s may not be authentic. George said some Beatles memorabilia were “fake”.
“A lot of it is stolen property or missing stuff, and a lot of it is fake,” he told the reporter The Today Show. “I mean, they sell – there’s some autographs and stuff that we signed on planes and things like that, but there’s a lot of autographs that our road managers used to sign.
“They used to sit there with all these pictures, and they learned how to do all of our autographs, and they used to do it because otherwise we’d be doing them all our lives, and that’s why there’s a lot of autographs from our road managers, who actually more are worth than the real Beatle autographs. But there is a lot of junk in there, but they sell it.”
George said he was “kind of” surprised at people’s interest in Beatles memorabilia. “A little, but it’s been like this for a few years now. It annoys me a bit because I could really clean up this game. I suppose it’s nice in a way that if we’re ever short of cash we could sell and go on vacation.
“I have a lot of paper that everyone has written on. I have all sorts of things; Paul’s panties from Shea Stadium. Very cheap, $60,000.”
Auction houses haven’t stopped selling Beatles memorabilia. Things that have not yet made it to the auction age like fine wine. In April 2022, Paul McCartney’s handwritten lyrics for “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” had a starting bid of $450,000 (per TMZ). They were on the market in 2006 and sold for $192,000.