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:
HISTORIC BEATLES COLLECTION RELEASED TO THE PUBLIC!
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:
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:
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: