By Frank Caiazzo
“Autographs of The Beatles,” by leading Beatles autograph expert, Frank Caiazzo, was originally published in the October and November 1995 issues of Autograph Collector Magazine [now Autograph]. One of the most important works on Beatles autographs, this two-part authentication series has stood the test of time. We’re publishing it unedited, with the original B&W images from the magazine.
Among the many areas of Beatles collectibles, autographs of the Fab Four are certainly increasing in interest and value. Autographs are uniquely special in that they represent an occurrence of undivided attention by these legends, a frozen moment in their lives captured and forever treasured. But if you should decide that you would like to invest in anything supposedly penned by The Beatles, from a single autograph to a set of all four signatures, from a letter written by one of them to a manuscript for a Beatles song (often referred to as handwritten lyrics), there are a few things you should know first.
Beatles Autographs are a Big Topic
Beatles autographs are a lot of ground to cover, especially in light of the fact that these four signatures alone can be very tricky and tough to get a good handle on without fairly intensive study. Over even short periods of time, their signatures were constantly undergoing minor characteristic changes, an evolution which saw the most drastic transformations during the year 1963—John and George in particular, seemed to be searching the most for a new “autographic identity.” Because of certain characteristic changes, it is actually possible for someone who is highly familiar with their signatures to date them (even to within a month or two) with a fair amount of accuracy. This is possible simply by knowing when even the most subtle changes took place, and applying this knowledge when looking at a signature or set of signatures of The Beatles.
BEATLES AUTOGRAPHS ARE HEAVILY FORGED
As mentioned earlier, The Beatles signatures are very heavily forged, with these forgeries ranging in caliber from extremely poor to very cleverly executed. But no matter how well done the signatures are, a forger will be much more consistent with his style of “manufactured” signatures than The Beatles true autographs ever were. It is easy for him to “lock in” to a particular style wrought with errors and lacking the true feel and essence of the signatures he is forging.
If he has bad characteristics within each signature (all forgers have several, visible to a well-trained eye) ranging from the proportion of the letters amongst themselves, the formation or shaping of the letters, angles of the letters with respect to one another, or what I call “trade secrets”—things like where and when an “i” might be dotted, where a photo or LP is most likely not going to be signed by each individual, anachronistic errors such as signing a later photo or LP with an earlier style of signature, etc., a forger will always be consistent and his bad characteristics will always be evident.
Quite frankly, once pointed out, even to a layperson, it would be easy to distinguish any forger’s distinct style each and every time. But it is only a person who is very knowledgeable of Beatles signatures who can easily spot these characteristic errors and pass along such tips, especially in the case of well-executed forgeries.
As you can see, that because of the variations between authentic Beatles signatures over time, and a great many different styles of forgeries filling in the cracks, this makes for a volatile mix, a virtual landmine effect when the whole picture is viewed at once. For every set of Beatles signatures sold over the past 10 years, at least 50 percent of them have been either forgeries, or “ghost signed” by Neil Aspinall, which brings us to his story.
Aspinall, who was The Beatles’ road manager starting in 1963 (he runs Apple today) [editor’s reminder: this article was written in 1995] , signed literally hundreds upon hundreds of items for them when they were either not available while on tour amidst the hysteria of Beatlemania, or simply did not want to be bothered with autograph requests. Often while on tour, they slept well into the afternoon if they could.
Neil’s “Beatles” signatures were not necessarily done to deceive buyers and sellers of Beatles autographs, because at the time, there really was no market for them as we know it today. It was simply part of his job to satisfy some of the autograph requests The Beatles received (through Neil) while on the road, especially after 1963. His signatures have until recently sold quite well through auctions and dealers alike, but they are really very easy to distinguish from genuine Beatles signatures—unlike many of the deliberate and often clever forgeries created for no other reason than to make easy money and rob the unfortunate person who ends up with them hanging on his wall (although the piece probably passed through at least one unsuspecting middleman or auction house, who also made money on it!).
In fact, on The Beatles’ initial visit to America, the plane ride over from England gave Neil an opportunity to sign the stacks of Capitol promotional photographs he was given in anticipation of a large number of requests. He soon got tired of signing The Beatles’ full names and ended the trip by signing the photos with their first names only. (It is interesting to note that a high-ranking New York police official whose job it was to brief the band on security measures before they departed the plane, wound up the proud owner of two of these Aspinall signed photos, even though there are pictures of him coming off of the plane with The Beatles!) Oftentimes when there was a police request for Beatles signatures, Neil was the one who did the signing, merely to keep those who were responsible for guarding their lives in a particular city as happy as he could.
Anyone who wrote to The Official Beatles Fan Club in the 1960s requesting autographs undoubtedly received signatures in response to their request, signatures which were signed by secretaries of the Fan Club, along with a letter stating that “the lads were more than happy to sign for you.” Again, this was done not to deceive, but to satisfy the impossible numbers of people who wanted to own something signed by The Beatles.
Keeping people happy, especially Fan Club members, was a big priority. Although these secretarial signatures have in the past sold as being authentic, they are quite easy to distinguish. But because of variances in the situations surrounding the time and place where the signatures were obtained, The Beatles’ signatures could look markedly different, even when signed within a few days of each other.
For example, did Paul use his right hand as a backing for a leaf of paper he was signing, or did he use George’s back? I have seen both in photos because no flat surface was available. Were The Beatles literally “on the run” between their limo and a backstage door as they were signing, or were they seated behind a bar as they were on Dec. 14, 1963 at the Wimbledon Palais in London?
Regardless, certain characteristics within their signatures could vary almost month to month in 1963, their most fertile signing year by far. They signed so much that year because they were touring throughout England the whole time, starting out virtually unknown outside of Liverpool and continuing along on a backbreaking schedule of concert after concert, BBC radio appearances, TV shows and photographic sessions. During this time, the Beatles were very accessible and no reasonable demand was refused, the least of all being autograph requests.
In February, 1964 The Beatles came to America and from that point forward changed the face of popular music forever, while achieving phenomenal worldwide fame unequaled by anyone before or since. It is not surprising then, that from the time they appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show on Feb. 9, 1964, until they officially broke up in April 1970, they were increasingly less accessible and, of course, highly guarded.
In Australia in June, 1964 they were greeted by 300,000 fans as they stood on a balcony waving to the massive crowd. Although this sounds extreme, wherever they went they were surrounded by mass hysteria. While on tour they spent most of their time imprisoned in their hotel rooms, often occupying entire floors with guards at all entrances. As time went by they signed less and less.
Very few 1965 examples have surfaced, and 1966 is a tough set to get. Contrary to popular opinion, The Beatles did very little signing in the U.S. at all between 1964 and 1966 (the last time all four were in America at the same time). In fact, 90 percent of everything The Beatles signed as a group was signed in England and, of that, most was signed before the end of 1963. The Beatles signed more in 1963 than they did the rest of their career combined!
After they stopped touring in August, 1966, The Beatles were rarely seen together as a foursome, although they did continue to record together until August, 1969. Sets of autographs have surfaced from the year of psychedelia, 1967, and only because they were out in public together for two weeks touring the English countryside in a bus while filming Magical Mystery Tour in September. The only people who got signatures after that were the “Apple Scruffs,” or groups of people who congregated outside of EMI Abbey Road Studios or Apple Headquarters and caught them individually as they came and went.
Needless to say, sets of all four signatures from 1968 and 1969 are nearly impossible to find. One of the most difficult sets to put together would be a set of all four Beatles’ signatures on a single item (LP/photo, etc.) obtained individually as solo artists, post 1970. Yet this is an area heavily targeted by forgers. With the exception of documents signed by all four in the 1970s, I have seen no more than 15 such sets, yet I have seen at least 30 Sgt. Pepper signed albums alone that purport to have been, by the style of each forged signature, signed in the 70s and 80s.
I have spoken to an in-person autograph recipient who was lucky enough to put together two post-Beatles sets and it took him almost eight years to do it. Of these two sets, George signed one first name only. In 1994, he needed money and decided to sell his in-person Beatles signatures, including these two sets. He offered them to two noted autograph experts, one of whom actually claims to specialize in Rock and Roll. Both dealers said that his signatures didn’t look good to them, to which he reacted with great indignation. Then he offered them to me and I was extremely delighted.
There is a hierarchy of Beatles autographs as far as desirability and value goes. They are, to a degree, subjective and realize possibly the most variance among the many areas of Beatles collecting. The value examples given here are merely recent pricing trends as of mid-1995.
In a very real sense, the item upon which the autographs appear has the most significant effect on value and desirability. First in line is a signed album cover, or a 45 RPM picture sleeve from the 60s. These are certainly the most sought after in that they encompass all the desirable attributes in terms of historic and aesthetic appeal that relate directly to their claim to fame, because The Beatles were first and foremost about music.
Signed LPs command anywhere from $4,000 on up, depending upon factors such as the title, overall condition and contrast of the signatures. But one thing to keep in mind is that because these are so desirable, they are a big target for forgeries. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Meet The Beatles are the most commonly forged LP titles in America, due obviously to the stature that they hold as far as Beatles albums are concerned.
In England however, there doesn’t seem to be any particular favorite for forgers, although they do seem to be clever enough to go for the original mono Parlophone issues (LPs or EPs), as well as the two red label singles, Love Me Do and Please, Please Me.
In all, I have seen just about every U.S. and U.K. album title show up at one time or another with signatures that were not authentic. Of these, a small percentage were signed “honestly” by Neil Aspinall.
An equally desirable, yet much rarer item, would be a legal written contract or document containing all four of The Beatles signatures. These are interesting in that they fall into more of a utility/business nature and are not simply the result of an individual or fan’s request. Obviously the advent of items like this are the byproduct of daily business activities. In these cases the collector of such an item will possess a piece of The Beatles’ lives that they themselves had no intention of anyone even seeing other than those directly involved.
In recent years there has been a deluge of Apple signed checks and documents that have entered the marketplace for the first time, at first slowly and then more rapidly, almost causing a flood in the market—only to end up in collections and become available only occasionally.
There are some collectors who will only buy checks or documents because they feel that these are unquestionably authentic. For the most part this is true, although there have been a few contracts that were forgeries coming from California in the past few years. While these particular contracts appear to be “official” on the surface, with various magistrate stamps, date stamps and seemingly legal verbiage, the signatures (usually Brian Epstein and John Lennon) were very poorly executed.
Contracts signed by all four members are very collectible, when they are offered, with prices starting in the $5,000 range. The cost could rise sharply, however, if the body of the contract contains significant information regarding the history of the group and their music.
Next in line of desirability to collectors would be signed photographs, which are actually quite rare and again a big target for forgeries. There are scores of signed magazine photos which have been sold over the years that are not authentic. These are popular with forgers because they can buy a magazine chock full of photos to sign rather cheaply. I have seen Beatles magazines (one that comes immediately to mind is a book put out by PYX Productions in late 1963, with beautiful color photos on the front and back and a variety of black and white “collarless suit” poses within) that have been signed on every usable photo, turning them into a forger’s goldmine.
Authentic vintage signed 8x10″ photographs are difficult to come by but, when they do come along, they are extremely desirable and in the $3,500 plus range, depending upon the condition of the photo and the contrast of the signatures. Signed photos containing classic Dezo Hoffman poses can bring $4,000 or more.
Read Part II of Beatles Autographs Authentication.