What you see: A baseball signed by all four of the Beatles at what proved to be their final official concert, performed on August 29, 1966 at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, California. Julien’s Auctions estimates it at $80,000 to $100,000.
The expert: Martin Nolan, executive director of Julien’s Auctions.
First off, how rare is it to find anything signed by all four of the Beatles? It’s fairly rare, but what’s rare about this is it’s a baseball.
How many baseballs are out there that were signed by all four Beatles? There are four known to exist.
Have you seen any of the other three? Yes. We sold one a couple of years ago for $100,000.
This isn’t the first baseball I’ve seen that’s signed by celebrities who don’t play baseball. Heck, I’m not even sure if any of the Beatles were into cricket, a distant British cousin of the sport. Why is this a thing–famous people who aren’t baseball players signing baseballs? This was the Beatles’ last U.S. concert tour, and the last performance on the tour, in Candlestick Park in San Francisco. The baseball is appropriate because the concert was in a baseball stadium. The nice thing about it for us is it’s not just Beatles collectors vying to own it, but sports collectors. Music collectors and sports collectors are the two biggest genres of collectors out there.
How did this Beatles-signed baseball come to be? Mike Murphy was a new employee in the clubhouse there in 1966. His sister, Anna, was a huge fan of the Beatles and asked him if he’d try to get tickets for her. He was new, so he didn’t want to rock the boat. He didn’t get her tickets. She stayed at home. He was working the concert and saw it was only half-sold, and he felt bad. He could have easily gotten tickets for his sister. He got the Spaulding baseball, and got each member of the Beatles to sign it and gifted it to Anna. But she had no interest in it. She had wanted to see the Beatles perform live. A baseball had no meaning to her. She threw it into a closet and it sat there for 35 years.
How did the Beatles-signed baseball leave Anna’s possession? Did she give it away? She sold it to collector Terry Flores, who knew her nephew. He acquired it from her in 2001.
It looks like the four Beatles didn’t use the same pen when they signed this ball–George Harrison’s signature is green, Paul McCartney’s is red, and the other two are in a more standard color of pen ink. Do we know why it shook out that way? It’s likely that whatever pen they had in hand at the time was used. One was red, and another was green. They always got requests to sign things backstage. They signed with whatever they had in hand.
You mentioned above that Candlestick Park was only half-full for the August 1966 Beatles concert. I realize no one knew at the time that it would end up being the last Beatles performance during a concert tour, but I have to admit I’m surprised that the show didn’t sell out, and didn’t come near selling out. Do we know why? The Asian tour [the Phillipines section of the Beatles’ 1966 tour] was sort of controversial. They snubbed the leaders of the Phillipines, but it wasn’t intentional. The government removed all police protection for them and all proceeds from the concert as well, and they got beaten up by people. George Harrison said, “We’re going to have a couple of weeks to recuperate before we go and get beaten up by the Americans.” Also, John Lennon had made the comment about the Beatles being “more popular than Jesus” [in March 1966] and it caused a huge outcry, particularly below the Mason-Dixon line. There was negativity about the Beatles at the time.
And why did the August 29, 1966 show end up being the final official Beatles concert? I think they themselves felt they couldn’t do this anymore. They were jaded by it all. 100-watt amplifiers were designed to work great in the Cavern Club, but not for a stadium of 50,000 to 60,000 people. John Lennon would change the words [of songs as he sang live] because the audience couldn’t hear the words–that’s how bad the sound system was. Ringo would watch the backs of his three colleagues, their body movements, to get the rhythm. They weren’t able to work their craft, and [concert-goers weren’t able] to appreciate what they were performing. And there was a sense of… they were young guys, and if they weren’t touring, they were in the studio, recording. They wanted to live life.
What condition is the Beatles-signed baseball in? You have to keep in mind that the baseball is 54 years old, but it’s in good condition. Anna, who got it first, put it in a closet. It was not exposed to light, she wasn’t touching it, it stayed intact. The signatures are covered by a protective coating, so if you hold it in your hand, you won’t erase the signatures.
You’ve seen many sets of genuine Beatles signatures. Where would you rank this set? The quality is good. You can see it yourself online. You know exactly who’s signing. The George Harrison signature is especially legible.
I understand that the Ringo Starr signature had some conservation work. What was done? I’m not exactly sure. The signature has not been altered in any way. They’ve done something to it to make it more evident. It may have been fading. The signature, as an original, is intact.
The Beatles signatures are distributed over the surface of the ball, making it hard to show all four at once. How would you recommend displaying it? All four signatures is key. You don’t want to show just one. What we would advise is having a glass case, a cube case–it should be UV light protective–to go over the ball, and the ball could sit on a carousel and spin.
How did you set the estimate for this Beatles-signed baseball? We thought $80,000 to $100,000 was a fair estimate. Again, there are only four Beatles-signed baseballs, and it [the final Beatles concert] is a pretty historic event. Maybe it’s not their greatest moment, but it’s certainly a milestone. The baseball tells the story of what went down that night.
How does this Beatles-signed baseball compare to the other three? This one is historic because it’s so well-documented, and the provenance is so solid.
This same Beatles-signed baseball was in your May 2019 Beatles auction in Liverpool, and it’s coming up for sale again less than a year later. I understand that stuff happens–death, divorce, et cetera–but why is it coming back now, and how does its returning to auction relatively soon change your strategy for selling it? Yes, the buyer who bought Lot 111 in this upcoming sale bought it last year as an investment. It was reconsigned as we believe it will do better now even though it’s only a year later. The April 2020 auction is celebrating 50 years since the Beatles formally disbanded, and we anticipate, with the current climate and uncertainty in the stock market, our clients and investors are looking to diversify their portfolios. This baseball, signed by all four of the Beatles, is a tangible asset, a great conversation piece, and an important part of our pop culture history. We expect it will sell for a much higher amount on April 10.
Do you think it might set a new world auction record for a Beatles-signed baseball? Yes.
And this is only the second of the four Beatles-signed baseballs to go to auction, correct? You sold the other one that was auctioned? Yes. The two others are in private hands and haven’t come to auction.
And you think it will set a new record because of its connection to the final Beatles concert? Yes, and it’s in a Beatles-dedicated auction. It’s been 50 years since they disbanded on April 10, 1970. You can’t take away the music, you can’t take away the memories, you can’t take away from this item’s importance. It was signed by all four, and two are gone. You can’t get another baseball signed by the Beatles. It’s part of the storyline of what was happening with the Beatles at that time.
The COVID-19 pandemic has played havoc with everything, auction schedules included. How will Julien’s conduct this sale? We won’t be gathering in the room, but it will be a live auction, with phone bids and online bids. There will be an auctioneer, and you can follow along online.
What is the Beatles-signed baseball like in person? Are there aspects or details that don’t come across on camera? No, but when I hold it–gently, to make sure I’m not touching the signatures–I think of the history it represents, and how incredible it is that it’s survived until now. It’s in pretty good nick, I must say.
Image is courtesy of Julien’s Auctions.
Martin Nolan previously spoke to The Hot Bid about a Lucille guitar played on stage by B.B. King, the “Happy Birthday Mr. President” dress that Marilyn Monroe wore to serenade JFK; the first TCB necklace given away by Elvis Presley, a purple Prince-worn tunic that the star donned for a 1998 BET interview, which yielded a famous GIF; a Joseff of Hollywood simulated diamond necklace worn by Hedy Lamarr, Ava Gardner, and several other Hollywood actresses, as well as a once-lost 1962 Gibson acoustic guitar belonging to John Lennon that sold for $2.4 million–a record for any guitar at auction.
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