RECORD! Ringo Starr’s Ludwig Drum Kit Commanded $2.1 Million at Julien’s in 2015

A Ludwig oyster black pearl three-piece drum kit that Ringo Starr played on stage and television, with the Beatles, in the early 1960s. It holds the world auction record for any drum kit.

During the holidays, when auction schedules slow down, The Hot Bid showcases world auction records.

What you see: A Ludwig oyster black pearl three-piece drum kit that Ringo Starr played on stage and television, with the Beatles, in the early 1960s. Estimated at $300,000 to $500,000, it sold at Julien’s for $2.1 million–a world auction record for any drum kit.

The expert: Martin Nolan, executive director of Julien’s Auctions.

So, is Ringo Starr pretty much the whole of the market for stage-played drum kits? Does he dominate the category in the same way that Muhammad Ali dominates boxing collectibles, and the way Harry Houdini dominates magic memorabilia? Absolutely. Ringo Starr is the most famous drummer in the world. He’s the Holy Grail when it comes to drummers.

Does it matter that this is a Ludwig brand drum kit? Does it have any inherent value, apart from the Ringo Starr provenance? The real impact on the value and the record sale price is it was Ringo Starr’s. The Beatles helped make Ludwig famous. [The brand] became synonymous with the Beatles and Ringo Starr. There’s no intrinsic value. The value is in Ringo Starr, and that he used it.

Could you talk about how Starr came to choose this kit? Starr had a four-piece Mahogany Duroplastic 4-piece Premier kit [that was worn out]. In April 1963, Ringo Starr and Brian Epstein [the Beatles’ manager at the time] went into a store in London called Drum City Limited. He remembers seeing the Ludwig kit in the window and saying to Brian, “Oh, great, look at this kit!” That’s what it was.

I understand the drum head, which shows the Beatles logo, is a later remake. What happened to the original drum head? The kit was borrowed by Paul McCartney for many performances in the 1970s and 1980s. When he returned it to Ringo, it was returned without the drum head. Paul, according to Ringo, has it framed on a wall in his home.

I understand the Ludwig drum kit is not complete–Starr kept the snare drum. Do we know why? It’s easier to transport and keep with him. He’s used it for very many other performances. He’s quite attached to it, and couldn’t see himself letting it go. He still has it, and Ringo Starr is still performing.

Wow. He’s almost 80, isn’t he? He looks amazing, and has so much energy. He’s an inspiration.

Ludwig made this kit just before it started putting serial numbers on its instruments. Does that matter? Or are there so many photos and films and other things that document Ringo Starr playing this drum kit that it doesn’t matter? It could be a concern, excluding the fact that it comes from Ringo Starr, and the provenance is 100 percent. Ringo helped Ludwig become famous. It skyrocketed them to fame when the Beatles started using this kit. We did a film of Ringo playing the kit and talking about it. If Ringo wasn’t here to talk about it, it could be an issue, but there are so many photos and videos of Ringo playing the kit that there’s no doubt.

Did you play these drums at any point before the 2015 auction? I definitely sat on the seat he sat on and played the hell out of those drums. [Laughs] It was phenomenal to sit there behind such an iconic drum kit and hold drumsticks and play. I got goosebumps. I have the best job in the world.

Was Ringo Starr there when you played? No!

That would be intimidating. Very intimidating. I’m not a musician, but I was drawn to it and to sit there and go, “Wow.” Ringo was fully involved with the project. He and Barbara [Bach, Starr’s wife] came to the gallery many, many times, identifying objects, telling stories. It was really cool.

I got the impression at the time that Starr was more involved than most celebrities choose to be. Is that accurate? In your experience, have any other celebrities of his stature been as involved in their sales? I’d say no. He and Barbara were unique. It was really important for them to get it right–get it all documented and recorded accurately. In a way, it was cathartic for them, letting go. Their level of involvement was truly hands-on.

Where does this drum kit rank in the pantheon of Beatles-played instruments? Were any others used at both the Cavern Club and the Ed Sullivan show, as this one was? Paul McCartney has a Hofner bass guitar that would be really important if it ever came to auction. We sold John Lennon’s 1962 Gibson, which was a record for an acoustic guitar. That was from the early days of the Beatles as well. The drum kit is certainly really important. It’s very historic and extremely well-documented. It was bought by a collector in Indiana.

A Ludwig oyster black pearl three-piece drum kit played by Beatle Ringo Starr in the early 1960s, shown in full from the rear.

I would have thought that Ludwig would have gone for it. There was great interest in it. The winner was Jim Irsay, the owner of the Indianapolis Colts. He’s a huge collector. It was important to him.

After the Beatles’ first appearance on the Ed Sullivan show, Starr stopped playing this drum kit. Do we know why he stopped then–why he didn’t play those drums for the other Ed Sullivan appearances? We have no idea about that, and I haven’t had a chance to talk to Ringo to verify that. There was obviously a good reason for it. Sound was so important to them. Maybe the new setting–a studio with a live audience–was the thinking behind that.

As you said earlier, Paul McCartney played this drum kit, too. How did that factor into its value? It definitely was a factor. There are photos of Paul McCartney playing it, and Ringo Starr playing it–a double whammy. It definitely impacted the price.

I see in the lot notes that Starr has, or had, five drum kits. Was this the only one of the five consigned to the 2015 auction? The other four were not in the sale, correct. He may have earmarked them for his children.

Do we know why he chose this one for auction? It’s certainly one that’s very historic, and it’s in its entirety, apart from the snare drum and the missing drum head. Maybe it’s because he was away from it when he loaned it to Paul for the 1970s and 1980s. Maybe it was easier to let go. But these instruments are really important. [Musicians] talk about guitars and drum kits like it’s a baby. It’s amazing how they remember these items and become attached to them.

So Starr found it difficult to sell? Yeah, yeah. He played it, he’s associated with it, he stored it and kept it for so long. He loaned it to the Grammy museum, and after that he decided to let it go, but it was definitely hard for him to let go.

How did you come up with the $300,000 to $500,000 estimate? By looking at sales of other Beatles-played instruments? Exactly, other Beatles instruments. We thought $300,000 to $500,000 was appropriate. We hoped it would break a million. We could never dream of breaking two million.

What was your role in the auction of the Ringo Starr drum kit? We had a crowded room. I was on a phone with a client–the underbidder. The winner had a representative in the room, and ultimately, he won out.

What do you recall of the sale of the Ringo Starr drum kit? There was great excitement, great buildup, great hype. There were hundreds of thousands of people watching online. Then it came to the drum kit and there was silence. We got to half a million, which was the record for a drum kit. Then $750,000. Then we broke a million. It moved very quickly between one million and two million. It was electric, it was tense, it was exciting.

So you were surprised by the final price of the Ringo Starr drum kit? We had hoped it could break a million and set a world record. Breaking two million was one of those moments when I know exactly where I was. My client couldn’t go any further, so it went to Jim Irsay.

Was Ringo Starr in the room? He was not there, but he was watching online.

What was his reaction to the sale of the Ringo Starr drum kit? He was very pleasantly surprised. It hadn’t been done before. How do you surprise a Beatle? He’s seen everything and done everything. He was really chuffed at the result.

How long do you think this record will stand? I imagine it’d be another Ringo Starr drum kit–maybe the one he played during the 1969 Beatles rooftop concert? It will take a long time to break the record. Possibly, it could be the rooftop drum kit. Because this was the first one [to come to auction directly from Ringo Starr], and he has children he may decide to leave the kits to, who knows when [another] will come on the market? It’s so rare, so unusual, and it’s from Ringo. It’s hard to offer another drum kit that would sell for more than $2.1 million.

Do we know if the drum kit he played during the rooftop concert is still around? I’m not sure, but I think he has all his Beatles kits. It’s very likely [Ringo has it].

Maybe the record will break if this set comes back to auction? It could. Think of the Marilyn Monroe dress in 1999 [which set a record at Christie’s]. Seventeen years later, it sold for $4.8 million. The underbidder kept the paddle [from the 1999 auction] and came back in 2017, determined to get it that time. They waited 17 years.

So we should plan to talk about this drum kit again in…2032? [Laughs] If you want to schedule for 2032, why not?

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

Julien’s Auctions is on Twitter and Instagram.

Image is courtesy of Julien’s Auctions.

In case you missed it above, Julien’s filmed Ringo Starr playing this drum kit and talking about it in a promotional video for the 2015 auction.

Martin Nolan previously spoke to The Hot Bid about John Lennon’s copy of the infamous “Butcher” album cover;  Marilyn Monroe’s record-setting Happy Birthday, Mr. President dress,  a Joseff of Hollywood simulated diamond necklace worn by Hedy Lamarr, Ava Gardner, and several other Hollywood actresses; a once-lost 1962 Gibson acoustic guitar belonging to John Lennon that sold for $2.4 million–a record for any guitar at auction; and a purple tunic worn by Prince.

Would you like to hire Sheila Gibson Stoodley for writing or editing work? Click the word “Menu” at the upper right for contact details.

A Charles Addams Cartoon About Edgar Allan Poe for The New Yorker Could Sell for $12,000 (Updated December 11)

Original artwork for Nevermore, a Charles Addams cartoon about Edgar Allan Poe, which was published in The New Yorker in 1973.

Update: The original art for the Charles Addams Poe cartoon sold for the healthy sum of $22,500.

What you see: Original artwork for Nevermore, a cartoon drawn by Charles Addams and published in The New Yorker on October 29, 1973. Swann Auction Galleries estimates it at $12,000 to $18,000.

The expert: Christine von der Linn, specialist in art books and original illustration at Swann Auction Galleries.

Let’s start by discussing who Charles Addams was, and why we’re still talking about his work today. First, I think we can all agree that Addams’s style was like no other. No one else married gloom, death, and danger with humor, often tempered with tenderness and charm, like he did. He could break down humanity to its basest nature. The New Yorker writer and critic Wolcott Gibbs once described his work as “essentially a denial of all spiritual and physical evolution in the human race.” Ask any cartoonist who their main influence was, and they’ll surely name him. 

How prolific was he? His output was astounding. He submitted his first work to The New Yorker when he was 21 and continued until his death [in 1988, at the age of 76]. He worked for over 60 years and produced thousands of cartoons and 15 anthologies, which have been translated into numerous languages.

Where is most of Addams’s original artwork now? A large portion resides at the Tee & Charles Addams Foundation in Sagaponack, New York. Tee [Addams’s widow] gave a large portion to the New York Public Library. For many years, they had a dedicated rotating gallery for those works.

Where was Addams in his career in 1973, when this was published? He was 61, and still working for The New Yorker.

How did this Addams Poe cartoon come about? I understand the joke was not Charles Addams’s idea—someone else came up with it, and he was asked to illustrate it? Nevermore was, in fact, the first idea that cartoonist Jack Ziegler sold to The New Yorker. At that time, The New Yorker had mostly phased out the editorial practice of having staff cartoonists illustrate caption and concept submissions by other contributors, but it still occurred sometimes. Cartoon editor James Geraghty brilliantly tasked Addams with this one. It was only later that year, when Lee Lorenz joined The New Yorker and invited Ziegler to contribute his own work, that he became a regular cartoonist.

Could we deconstruct this Addams Poe cartoon? It strikes me that it’s much more intelligible and straightforward than other cartoons from The New Yorker I hesitate to answer this because I feel like the more you analyze a cartoon, the less funny it becomes, but I’ll take the bait. [Laughs.] Ziegler and Addams knew that Poe’s The Raven is one of the most famous poems ever written. Its tagline is seared in everyone’s brain, and Poe’s likeness is well known. Therefore, it would have immediate recognition and wide appeal, especially to a cultured readership like The New Yorker‘s. We imagine famous authors to be confident in their work, and, in fact, Poe wrote about the creation of The Raven a year later in his essay, The Philosophy of Composition, explaining that he went about it very methodically and logically. So we can’t possibly imagine that Poe had a moment of doubt or ever considered any creature other than the now-iconic foreboding black harbinger of his spiraling descent into madness. Marry that with Addams’s inimitable skill at depicting anxiety and torment, and there’s the core of the genius. Then you look at the hilariously unsuitable choices Addams showed the exhausted poet contemplating–a basic farmyard pig, a giant, ungainly moose, and a morbid, gormless looking turtle–and it becomes the most hysterically funny thing.

How does the Addams Poe cartoon testify to Addams’s skills as an illustrator, and his skills as an illustrator of gothic images? He was a genius with the details. I love the crumpled up piece of paper on the spare table and floor–what animal choices they contained, we can only imagine. His fingers barely grasping the quill pen from his limp arm resting on his thigh, and the totally dejected look on Poe’s face, are priceless. I also like how something as simple as his excluding the exclamation point after “nevermore” drives home the failure of its delivery. Addams also loved combining animals with gothic themes. He married his last wife, Marilyn, who was known as “Tee”, in a pet cemetery at their home and that is where their ashes are both interred, along with those of all their pets. And Addams was known to be an impeccable draftsman. His editors all remarked that he often handed in his cartoons in a perfect, finished state, with no edits needed. He nailed it nearly every time.

Is this the only instance in which Addams depicted Edgar Allan Poe in a cartoon for The New Yorker, or any cartoon? No. While this is the best known of them, he created three more iterations of The Raven titled Occasionally, Once Again, and the last, in 1983, a lengthier riff on the bird’s refrain, Carnivore, either-or, blood & gore…etc. He likely considered Poe a kindred spirit of the macabre.

I have to admit, when I saw this Addams Poe cartoon in the catalog, I stopped dead, my jaw dropped, and I think I even pointed at the screen. Was that your reaction when you first learned of its existence? I’m so glad you jumped on this, like you jumped on the Gorey cat. It’s a famous Addams piece, so my first thought, which happens with similar iconic Addams cartoon submissions, is that it may be one in a series of reproductions that were printed on watercolor paper with Epson Ultrachrome ink. If someone sends a low-resolution JPEG [of a piece of Addams cartoon art] and does not give dimensions, they can fool you on first glance. I had the same reaction when a consigner approached us with the famous Movie Scream cartoon that we sold in 2017, which brought $31,200.

What condition is the Addams Poe cartoon in, knowing it was created as a piece of functional art, and not to hang on a wall? Quite excellent, really. It was lovingly cared for, framed early on to protect it, and was never exposed to direct light, so the ink is strong. The back has some abraded paper and its The New Yorker stamp is a bit yellowed and frayed, but that adds to its charm, I think.    

What is the provenance of the Addams Poe cartoon? It belonged to Dona Guimaraes, who was a New York Times Magazine home section editor, an executive editor of Mademoiselle magazine, and a friend of Addams, who bequeathed it to current owner, a close friend of hers. It has never been on the market.

What is the Addams Poe cartoon art like in person? Are there details or aspects that the camera doesn’t quite catch? The size of it is impressive– 20 inches by 13 inches, which is on the larger side of some of his work. You can also see the brush work on the board, and the care he took with the areas of shading through ink and wash. When you face a work like that in person, head on, it comes at you with even more force. I’m always encouraging people to collect original cartoons because even though the caption and image are digested at first sight, seeing the medium on the surface and picturing the illustrator creating it adds a special element that connects a person to the artwork. That experience isn’t unique to engaging with fine art. 

How often do original Charles Addams cartoons for The New Yorker come to auction? I’d say about a dozen, on average. These generally consist of cartoons, doodled autographs, and covers for The New Yorker.

Does original Charles Addams cartoon art done for The New Yorker carry a premium? Yes, absolutely.

Could you quantify it? I’d say 50 percent or more. To be specific about it, cartoons for other publications that contain characters that resemble the Addams family tend to bring more. Cartoons that don’t contain them don’t bring as much.

How did you arrive at the estimate for this Addams Poe cartoon? What did you look to as comparables? I looked at the results for other large-scale cartoons for The New Yorker that were also among his most recognizable. I also considered the condition, the provenance, and the fact that it had never come up before. I am generally conservative in my estimates, believing that the auction process will allow works to find their level. I like to attract, not prohibit participation. I’d love to see this reach the level of Movie Scream, though I doubt it may reach the record price set by Sad Movie, a 1946 cartoon for The New Yorker that sold for $40,630 in 2012.

Why will this Addams Poe cartoon stick in your memory? Because it’s a perfect example of Addams’s genius. I had taken a bunch of close-up images of it for a condition report on it for a client. I was at my computer screen, looking at an enlarged, high resolution image of the pig’s face for about the 200th time, with the classic Addams deadpan dot eyes, and I started trembling with laughter, for the 200th time. And because books are fundamental to Swann’s founding and history, an Addams cartoon with a literary theme just gets me where I live. 

How to bid: The Charles Addams Poe cartoon is lot 244 in the Illustration Art sale taking place at Swann Auction Galleries on December 10, 2019.

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

Swann Auction Galleries is on Instagram and Twitter.

Image is courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.

Christine von der Linn has appeared before on The Hot Bid, speaking about original Edward Gorey New Yorker cover art featuring tuxedo catsa spellbinding 1938 Wanda Gág illustration for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfsan Arthur Rackham illustration of Danaë and the Infant Perseusa Rockwell Kent-illustrated edition of Moby Dick and original Erté artwork for a 1933 Harper’s Bazaar cover.

The Tee & Charles Addams Foundation has a website.

Would you like to hire Sheila Gibson Stoodley for writing or editing work? Click the word “Menu” at the upper right for contact details.