The Hot Bid: Beatles concert poster sets world record

Beatles concert poster

The Beatles’ 1966 Shea Stadium New York concert poster set a world record when it sold for $137,500. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions

NEW YORK – On occasion, The Hot Bid revisits remarkable antique and vintage collectibles that have sold. Today’s subject is a rare concert poster that sold at Heritage Auctions in April 2020.

What you see: An original 1966 Beatles Shea Stadium concert poster that sold for $137,500, which set and a new world auction record for an original concert poster.

The expert: Pete Howard, consignment director at Heritage Auctions for entertainment and music.

How often do you find original 1960s posters for Beatles concerts of any kind, not just the Shea Stadium one? It’s very unusual. There’s not a lot out there. I’m not going to say [genuine originals] are nonexistent, but when somebody calls me and tells me they have an old Beatles poster, I get bored pretty quick. It’s always some bootleg.

Do Beatles concert posters survive in larger numbers than concert posters that feature their contemporaries? Were concertgoers more likely to peel one off the wall and bring it home because it showed the Beatles? Surprisingly, and almost shockingly, that’s not the case. Beatles and Elvis posters are as rare as posters for Paul Revere and the Raiders. No one got the coolness of original Beatles posters then. No collectibles market was established at all.

So concert-goers were rarely moved to spontaneously grab a poster during or after the show? Yes. In the case of the Winter Dance Party poster, a person walking by saw it and took it down. Most of the time, they’d walk by. The show was over. Nobody said, “Gee, this will be worth money to somebody.” Nobody. Zero.

I have to say, the Beatles poster itself is not very interesting-looking. The band photo looks like it was shot in 1962, but that’s totally how the Beatles looked in 1966. Their current publicity photos from 1962 to 1966 would look the same. 1967 is when the sideburns happen. When they were touring, it was mop tops and suits and ties.

Still, it looks like whoever did it put five minutes of work into designing this thing. I can’t rubber stamp the five-minutes comment. They put a little work into it. They were following a template: Promoter, name of band, photo, venue, date, when tickets were available. It was boilerplate. The only creative thing in the format is the letters of the word “Beatles” are tilted a little bit to make it look more fun.

And I understand that some time after the show, the promoter started selling reprints of this Beatles concert poster? Sid Bernstein promoted the Beatles at Shea Stadium in 1965 and 1966. In 1965, he didn’t make a collectible or worthwhile poster. The concert sold out instantly, so there was no need. In 1966, the Beatles didn’t sell out, so he made this poster. I can’t date when Bernstein did reproductions, but he did not pass them off as real. Plenty did some without his permission. Bootlegs are out there by the millions.

Before we spoke, I received a flyer from Heritage Auctions in the mail that showed this record-setting Beatles concert poster and a Grateful Dead “Skeleton & Roses” poster from 1966, which sold for $118,750. No disrespect to the Beatles poster, but the Grateful Dead poster… some designer lavished some time on it. They’re very different. Both are from the same year, and both were created for one reason only–to sell tickets. But the Grateful Dead design is a completely different concept and ethos, and there are different reasons to collect each poster. The Beatles poster is a rarity. The Grateful Dead poster was condition grade 9.8, which made it expensive. There are hundreds of first printings of the Grateful Dead poster out there. For the Beatles poster, there’s four. There are probably as many 9.8 grade Grateful Dead posters as there are Beatles [Shea Stadium] posters in any condition. That’s why they soared past $100,000.

As you just said, few copies of the original 1966 Beatles Shea Stadium concert poster survive. Is it possible to know how many were printed? A couple hundred is a good guess.

What’s the provenance of this Beatles concert poster? We don’t know whether the consigner went to the 1966 show together with his sister or if he went alone, but he saw the Beatles in Shea Stadium in the 1960s. Whether she went or not, she took down the poster. Fifty years went by. The sister passed away. He went through her stuff and found the poster. It wasn’t a new revelation. She’d hung it on her wall at home.

In November 2019, Heritage Auctions sold a different example of this poster for $125,000. Six months later, the record broke again. Could you discuss whether and how the two events were related? I get the impression the April poster might not have come out if the November poster hadn’t done so well. It’s not a coincidence at all. It shows you how strong and coveted the poster is.

The Beatles concert poster had a rating of Very Good Plus. What does that mean in this context? The image area is undamaged, and the poster is whole. There are minor folds or tack holes, but no major tears.

The Beatles concert poster advertises a show at Shea Stadium. Does the venue matter, or is it just gravy? It’s more than gravy. Shea Stadium is an iconic venue and it’s a huge part of Beatles history. It was considered the biggest rock concert in history at the time. If the poster said “Forest Hills Stadium, New York,” I’d expect it to go for a lot less.

What other Beatles concert posters are made more interesting to collectors because of the venue name? In America, nothing touches Shea Stadium. It’s the iconic venue, and it’s New York City. A German Beatles concert poster could hit six figures at auction. The right Cavern Club poster – where they honed their skills – could reach this [record sum].

Do any genuine Beatles Cavern Club posters survive? It’s iffy. There’s a “June 11, Beatles” poster in marquee style, which doesn’t have a band picture. There might be two or three that survive. But the rarity’s there, and the venue is there. It could challenge a Shea Stadium poster. A German one that would blow right by it is the Kaiserkeller club in Hamburg. The Beatles played there for a couple of months. There are only three hand-painted Beatles signs, but they’re still posters.

What is the 1966 Beatles Shea Stadium concert poster like in person? It’s on cardboard, but it shows its age. One has to be careful in how they handle it.

What was your role in the April 2020 auction? Were you the auctioneer? No. Usually, I’m at the front of the podium, but it was the first coronavirus sale. I had to watch it from my computer, like everyone else did.

Did that make the auction of the Beatles concert poster less dramatic? I don’t think so. It was quite exciting to see it go up and up. I was completely on the edge of my seat, just dying.

Were you surprised that the Beatles concert poster sold for $137,500? No, because it’s a great poster and it [the record sum] was very close to the last one we sold. We did have the 2004 result to measure things against. November 2019 was just short of that, and April 2020 was just beyond that.

How long do you think this world auction record will stand? What else is out there that could meet or beat the Beatles concert poster? I’d venture to say between 10 or 20 different posters could set a new world auction record. In the psychedelic poster world, a super-iconic Jimi Hendrix flying eyeball, if it came up in a high grade – 9.8, 9.9, or 10.0 – it wouldn’t surprise me if it beat the record. A large Elvis Presley from the 1950s with a picture on it – that wouldn’t surprise me. A Grateful Dead Skeleton and Roses poster, the next 9.8 grade could blow by a Beatles Shea Stadium and set a new world auction record.

Why will this Beatles Shea Stadium concert poster stick in your memory? Anything that sets a world auction record is going to completely stick in my memory. It’s bragging rights for the company, and it’s wonderful for the hobby. And it happened during the COVID-19 pandemic, which is another reason it’s memorable.

Pete Howard appeared previously on The Hot Bid talking about an original 1959 Winter Dance Party poster that featured Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper.

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By SHEILA GIBSON STOODLEY

Sheila Gibson Stoodley is a journalist and the author of The Hot Bid, which features intriguing lots coming up at auction.