The BBC reports that someone paid $290,000 for a copy of the Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover signed by every Beatle shortly after the album was released in 1967. The sale price broke a record and brought almost 10 times the $30,000 that was expected when the item was put up for auction.
Sgt. Pepper’s is generally viewed as one of the most influential albums ever recorded, and its lavish, beautiful cover fit perfectly with the music inside and the beginning of the Summer of Love. From the iconic front cover, with the Beatles surrounded by photos of famous people at a gravesite, to the lush and sparkling interior photo of the Beatles in the satin band uniforms (which is where the auctioned album is autographed), to the back cover of the song lyrics and a picture of the Beatles featuring Paul McCartney’s back, the Sgt. Pepper’s cover is a tantalizing treat for the senses. But $290,000?
I’ve never understood the point of autographs. It’s one thing if you collect the autographs yourself and had a personal story to tell about every famous person you encountered through that hobby. Paying huge sums for autographed items collected by others, however, makes no sense to me. The scribbled signature means nothing, in and of itself; I could no more distinguish a genuine John Lennon signature from a reasonable forgery. The real value of the autographed item, apparently, is confirmation that, at one moment in time 45 years ago, this cardboard object briefly passed through the hands of the four Beatles. But, so what? Does the new owner experience a vicarious thrill at holding something once touched by his heroes, two of whom are now dead? If so, isn’t that somewhat . . . odd? Or is the buyer just a cold, calculated investor willing to gamble that, in 10 or 20 years, someone will pay even more for this piece of cardboard, which will be carefully stored in some climate-controlled safe?
Either way, $290,000 seems like an awful lot of money to pay for an album I once got for $7.99 at the neighborhood record store.