The white suit that John Lennon wore on the cover of Abbey Road recently sold at auction for $46,000. The two-piece suit, which had been made for Lennon by a French designer, was purchased by an on-line bidder who wanted to remain anonymous. It is not clear whether the suit will end up in a museum or in some private collector’s basement.
What is the value of this kind of memorabilia? In this case, the value is precisely the $46,000 the anonymous bidder was willing to pony up. More broadly, of course, the value of such items is that they evoke a time, a place, and a person. Anyone who sees the suit and hears what it is will think of the iconic cover photo, where Lennon led Ringo Starr, a barefoot, smoking Paul McCartney, and George Harrison across the street on a striped crosswalk, with the white Volkswagen in the background. And knowing that the suit has been worn by an important historical or cultural figure allows the viewer to establish a more intimate connection with that figure. “Hey, John Lennon wore this very suit. Gee, I thought he was taller.”
I am not a collector, and I can’t imagine paying thousands of dollars for an old suit. But Lennon’s suit would be a nice thing to see in an appropriate museum — say, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — so visitors could look at it and think of a blue sky day when four rock music giants who were coming to a brilliant end to their collaboration walked across a British street.