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Beatles-Signed Abbey Road Albums: What's Real? What's Fake?

Sometimes you just have enough. Brian Waring, a collector from Colorado, was one such fellow. He tried to sell a Beatles-signed Abbey Road and a Stones-signed Sticky Fingers album on eBay, but his listings were kicked-off because they thought they were forgeries. He was sure eBay was wrong—he paid tens of thousands of dollars for them from American Royal Arts, who claimed to be the world's largest seller of signed rock and roll. James Spence Authentication was at a local show, so he asked them to authenticate the albums to prove to eBay they were genuine.

When Brian came back to pick up his albums with JSA COAs, JSA sat him down and gave him the bad news—they were sure neither one was real.

Brian was shocked. ARA was a big, respectable-looking company, and the albums came with authentication papers from Christopher Morales, a court-approved forensic document examiner. But soon he realized JSA was right, so he contacted ARA, sure they would honor their guarantee of authenticity.

All he got was the runaround. So Brian told his story on Autograph Magazine Live! a few weeks ago, to warn other collectors, and, he hoped, get ARA president Jerry Gladstone's attention.

Brian got more than the attention of Gladstone and other collectors. He got a call from the FBI. And it wasn't until he started blogging about it that Gladstone seemed to take honoring ARA's guarantee seriously.

Brian took his blog posts down yesterday, because a refund from ARA seems to be forthcoming. He feels like he's done his part. I agree. Autograph is investigating the FBI's communications in the industry further and will report on them soon. But this is a great opportunity to talk about Beatles-signed Abbey Road albums, and a bit about signed Beatles albums in general.

Abbey Road is one of the favorite Beatles albums of all time. And like all Beatles albums besides Please Please Me and With the Beatles, complete band-signed albums are extremely rare: Only two known examples are recognized as genuine by Beatles autograph experts.

Lizzie Bravo got one of them signed. An "Apple Scruff"—one of the storied girls who were the ultimate Beatles fans—Lizzie was a 15 year old Brazilian teenager who moved to London with her family in 1967 and spent every free moment in front of Abbey Road Studios and more to be as close as she could to the boys she loved. "They Came in Through the Bathroom Window" was inspired by one of the Apple Scruffs, who entered Paul's house through an open window to see him.

But Lizzie was invited into Abbie Road Studios at least once. The Beatles needed girl back-up singers while recording "Across the Universe" in 1967. Paul didn't want to wait for professionals, so he went to the Scruffs waiting outside and asked if anyone could sing. Lizzie said yes...and the rest is history.

Cathy Sarver got the other one signed. Cathy was an American girl who hightailed it to London to meet the Beatles once out of high school. Both got them signed only by hanging out, relentlessly, outside Abbey Road Studios. Well, usually outside.

Abbey Road was released in September 1969, but the photos I have of Lizzie and Cathy are earlier.

Two 1967 photos of Lizzie with John Lennon:

Here's Cathy with each of the Beatles in 1968:

Lizzie and Cathy were in England when Abbey Road came out, so they bought the English release of the album. The English version had a slick, lacquered cover that you had to dig into to sign, so the autographs on both of them are rougher than they would be on American release albums, which had cheaper, lightly coated covers.

I don't have Lizzie's entire album, only the signatures:

John Lennon and Paul McCartney's autographs

George Harrison's autograph

Ringo Starr's autograph

Here's Cathy Sarver's Abbey Road album, signed by the entire band:

The stain in the lower left corner by George Harrison's autograph is from Cathy's cat peeing on it.

The Abbey Road albums above are the only ones called genuine by Beatles autograph experts.

But like all Beatles albums, that doesn't stop people from selling Abbey Road albums they claim are signed by the Beatles—experts be damned. Some of the most common ones that are not considered genuine are the ones known as Southern California forgeries, because that's where they appear to originate from. Most are fairly easy for experts to identify by the characteristics of the signatures. And the signature characteristics generally don't change much or at all with the age of the albums, whereas Beatles autographs changed significantly over time. Of course, an album can be signed years later than its release, or one autograph at a time over a decade or more. But when signed albums come out through the same sources, sold by the same dealers, with similar autographs, whether they're 1963 or 1970 releases, you have to ask...what the heck is going on?

One of the more common and easiest to detect characteristics of the ones called Southern California forgeries can be found in John Lennon's autograph. John Lennon didn't start drawing his smiling face caricature until about 1971, but many of the Southern California examples have it, often with the inscription "With love" or "With love from." But if you're not a pro, don't try to authenticate Beatles or any expensive autographs yourself. It's worth the money to have them checked out by a respected music authenticator.

This is the Abbey Road album that Brian Waring bought from American Royal Arts, stereotypical of what's considered to be a Southern California forgery:

These are the seven very similar
Abbey Road albums that we know American Royal Arts offered from 2006 to 2009, all with the classic characteristics of what are thought to be Southern California forgeries. There likely are others we haven't seen:

We've identified the person who purchased this forged Abbey Road album from American Royal Arts. He's currently trying to get a refund on about $80,000 or more in what he has found to be fake memorabilia from ARA. Not just autographs, but posters as well.

The one right above was featured in an ad that American Royal Arts ran in Newsday in 2008, with the headlines:

Over 40 Years to Assemble—Can be Yours Today!

Here's a close-up of the Abbey Road album featured:

American Royal Arts customers who ask are generally told that ARA's classic rock autographs come from "record industry insiders who wish to remain confidential." If I sold ARA these autographs, I would, too.

But Gladstone fails to tell collectors what he told me two years ago. I confronted him with an image of a Beatles-signed Help lobby card from Forever Legends' Web site that was on page one of his catalog a few months later. He called me to explain that he couldn't get enough autographs from his "industry insiders," so he had to buy from dealers, too. Unfortunately, the three main dealers he bought classic rock autographs from are known as notorious sellers of forgeries:

  • Forever Legends www.foreverlegends.com: Owned by Maria Brockway
  • Heroes and Legends www.heroesandlegends.net: Owned by Myron Ross, who we kicked out as an advertiser in Autograph magazine and was later expelled from the UACC Registered Dealer program for selling forgeries.
  • Autograph Central www.autographcentral.net: Owned by Bryan Slaven, who was also expelled from the UACC for selling forgeries. We kicked them out of the magazine when we realized they were a problem, but unfortunately we didn't know until later that Slavin was booted from the UACC years before.

Gladstone told me over a year later in a three-way phone call last summer with another dealer that he had stopped buying from Forever Legends because he realized I was right—their autographs couldn't be trusted. Unfortunately, it doesn't appear that ARA informed and issued refunds to their customers who bought the music and vintage Hollywood autographs that Gladstone bought from Forever Legends. At least the owner of the "Beatles-signed" Help lobby card hadn't been last I heard.

I'd be surprised if any of ARA's autographs came from so-called industry insiders. ARA sold Beatles albums for about $12,000 to $25,000, virtually all US releases that I know of. There are only about a dozen band-signed US label Beatles albums known, and they'd be easy to sell for $80,000 to $100,000 or more. As would many of the 20 or so UK release band-signed Beatles albums from Hard Day's Night on. (Please Please Me and With the Beatles are more common. There are perhaps 50-75 of the former known, and 15-20 of the latter). This doesn't mean that's all the signed Beatles albums that exist. These are all that are known that Beatles experts believe are genuine. While it rarely happens, every now and then a new band-signed Beatles album is discovered, and that's likely to continue well into the future.

It makes you wonder:

  • Why would people sell their autographed albums for such cheap prices to ARA or their suppliers, when with a few calls or emails they could find out what they're worth?
  • Why would the dealers Gladstone admitted he bought from sell them so cheap if they thought they were genuine? They know the market.
  • If Gladstone really thought the albums he offered were genuine, why would he sell them for cents on the dollar and pay expensive overhead, sales and marketing costs when he could put them in auction or sell them to dealers for many times more?
  • And why would he tell people he bought from record industry insiders and only admit to me that he bought from dealers once we called him on it? Why didn't he tell the truth?

If you've bought signed albums from American Royal Arts, or any dealer operating similarly, these are questions I would ask.

They're not alone. Here's a signed Abbey Road album on the Web site of Rock Star Gallery, with the same signing characteristics of all the ones that ARA has:

And here's a "Beatles-signed" Please Please Me album from Rock Star Gallery, which came out in 1963, with the same signature characteristics. It was only a UK release, so I don't know why the signatures look so good, since it came with a lacquered cover like UK Abbey Road albums. Perhaps the cover was treated so the ink would stick better or it's the pens they used:

But these aren't the only two dealers with similar autographs. Here's a White Album currently listed at Rockin Gems for only $4,995. I found more that looked similar on other sites, but they were too small to tell for sure:

There's only one known genuine White Album. It's worth over $100,000 and this isn't it.

Where there's smoke there's fire. Whether you're looking to buy a signed Beatles album or bought one; whether it's an Abbey Road or any other Beatles album; unless you know for a fact the album is genuine, please learn from this and take heed. Make sure what you're considering buying is genuine. Make sure what you own is too. That's what experts are for.

If you'd like input, advice, or you know you've been stung, email me and I'll be happy to help. And no, I don't have any signed Beatles albums for sale. I don't even sell rock and roll.

Update: We just found another Beatles-signed Abbey Road album from ARA with the same characteristics, but no Lennon caricature. That's nine total with Brian's. Here it is:

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Tags: abbey, american, arts, authentic, beatles, fake, forgeries, forgery, gallery, gems, More…genuine, road, rock, rockin, royal, signed, star

Comment by Garry King on June 10, 2010 at 2:26am
Nice article Steve, Keep it up. We have a seller over here (UK) can't mention the name, who seem to be selling the same items, so i must assume they again are obtaining them from the same source. I know the US authorities seem to be doing something, its a shame they cannot work with those over here to do the same, our lot seem to be clueless!

I have to say though, that you have to respect the 'artwork' of these forgers! Although they are unable to get the signatures right for the years etc, you have to have a certain amount of admiration for their handiwork!

Garry KIng. Autografica.
Comment by CJCollector on June 10, 2010 at 4:53am
I'll have more to write later tonight about this subject but like I always scream "Why don't so-called collectors do their research!!!???" If Mr. Waring had researched "Christopher Morales" I have no doubt he would not have made that purchase. Also, if the FBI get involved in that single transaction, why haven't they (the FBI) done anything about all of the hundreds of Beatles signed albums (ALL FORGERIES) being auctioned off by the infamous "Coach's Corner Auctions?" This month (June 2010) "Coach's Corner Auctions" has five (5) Beatles signed items up for auction of which two (2) are album covers. Two of the items are "authenticated" by Chris "I Never Saw An Autograph I Didn't Like" Morales. How is it possible that "Roach's Corner" continues to sell garbage like that?
Comment by roger epperson on June 10, 2010 at 5:45am
Very well done Steve. This is a great educational tool for collectors!
Comment by Truman Lewis on June 10, 2010 at 6:24am
Steve, another job well done. The fakes are like an oil spill, a lot of finger pointing and no clean up in site - greed breeds greed.
Comment by Mark Saurin on June 10, 2010 at 6:59am
very interesting/informative reading, keep up, this great work Steve.
Comment by Robert Babb on June 10, 2010 at 8:41am
This is awsome steve! This would make a good piece for the magazine in my opinion.
Comment by George Strickland on June 10, 2010 at 10:02am
Hi Steve, Great work to uncover these thieves. Do you have the research for the Stones albums as well. I have a real nice 'Sticky Fingers' framed forgery right now -- only paid $500 for it!!!!! Live and get fu**ed. Thanks!
Comment by mark peterson on June 10, 2010 at 10:11am
Nice job, very informative.I wonder if Cathy still owns her signed copy or sold it to buy a house?
Comment by Steve Cyrkin, Admin on June 10, 2010 at 1:18pm

Cathy started taking her album to Beatles conventions in about 2001, and dealers were fighting over themselves to try to buy it. She finally sold it about five years later to Tracks in the UK.

Comment by Bill Panagopulos on June 10, 2010 at 1:59pm
Stevie, I never pretended to be an Beatles expert, or at least not nearly in the realm of Frank Caiazzo, but after having sold something on the order of 40,000 pieces over the years, I can say this: the vast majority of these look like they were signed within ten minutes of each other! "With love from John Lennon", the "smiley face", the Harrison signatures, all of it looks so contrived and practiced that (if forged) the forger was so stupid he failed to even "mix it up" a little! It's like painting the same Picasso over and over and over again, and repeatedly putting them on the market.

I believe that any test for criminal culpability will lie not only in whether a "forensic examiner" (gag) examined the item and thereby let the seller off the hook - it also depends on whether the seller, using all information at his disposal, should have been aware that there were serious questions as to the item's authenticity and the seller failed to exercise due diligence in further ascertaining whether or not the item was legitimate. I would think this would be especially important when one is selling $20-30,000 items (which should be priced at $60-80,000+) by the barrel-full despite constant impartial advice that such items were of dubious authenticity.

I imagine that if the FBI is indeed involved, they'll sort it out. They're pretty good at that kind of thing.


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