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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 Steve Cyrkin, Admin on June 13, 2010 at 11:24pm
Jay, two of our Beatles experts saw your signatures and you are right—they look like stone genuine examples of genuine 1969 Beatles autographs and VERY rare! One of our experts, Roger Epperson, got them by email from me, so he didn't know you said they were signed in 1969 and he identified them as such immediately.

I'm not an autograph expert, so what was fascinating to me is that when I sent it to him, I said that it looked to me like Lennon might have signed Paul's signature. I saw some similarities, especially the small 'L's, and Paul's didn't look like his handwriting to me. I was dead wrong! This is an example why everyone's valuable autographs need to be checked out by respected experts.
Comment by Steve Cyrkin, Admin on June 13, 2010 at 11:35pm
By the way, as far as I know all of the ARA, Rock Star Gallery and Célébrités Galleries signed albums came with authentication papers from Christopher Morales, and some of ARA's came with E'Lyn Bryan's as well.
Comment by Steve Cyrkin, Admin on June 13, 2010 at 11:48pm
George, I'll try to do Rolling Stones albums soon. Somehow ARA seemed to have good luck securing them.
Comment by Josh Board on June 14, 2010 at 2:34am
Something else for people to look at. In the Abbey Road examples...even though all the signatures are the characteristics we all know from the many, many Beatles signatures we've seen -- look at George Harrison for a long time. Then look at Paul McCartney. It looks like they were signed in the exact same hand.
Comment by Josh Board on June 14, 2010 at 2:37am
Another thing (and I thought I said this before in some thread)....one thing I always look for with signed albums is...signatures that don't show up well. For example, every autograph collector has stories of signatures that we got that are all messed up. My pen ran out during Seinfeld signing a video. My friends paint pen exploded on Led Zep's John Paul Jones. Jack White of White Stripes, smeared his signature accidentally as he was handing the CD back to me. Debroah Harry of Blondie, signed it on the back of the record, instead of the front album cover. Olivia Newton John signed my Xanadu record upside down. I have 25 other stories like this, including many that sign with a black Sharpie, on the one small black area of an all white album!!! You want to yell and scream, but instead you say "thank you" as they hand it back.

Yet, EVERY TIME you see these albums sold (for great, low, low prices)....well, the signatures are all so easy to read. No smearing. George Harrison never signed on the black spot, but right next to where he's walking across the street. They're never personalized.

These are things people need to think about.
Comment by Jim McFiver on June 14, 2010 at 9:54am
Back in the early days of eBay, I'd monitor Beatles autographs for forgeries. I'd been a fan since 1964 and had made it a hobby to collect pictures and information about their actual signatures.

It was the wild-wild west in the online world at that time, and as today, the majority were fakes.

Initially I began contacting the bidders and buyers, sharing with them genuine examples of Beatles signatures, and cautioning them about their items. Needless to say, most of these folks, not to mention the sellers, told me to get lost. I was even threatened with physical violence.

Eventually another memorabilia dealer told me it was a hopeless endeavor and that I was wasting my time. "Anyone who'd drop several thousand dollars without doing their research was an idiot anyway!", he said. And I had to agree.

The horrible thing is Beatle fakes fly in the face of what the band stood for. I thought I was honoring them and their legacy by chasing the rats out. But it was not to be.

Congrats on your investigation and "look out for yourself!"
Comment by donc on June 14, 2010 at 10:55am
Are there reputable vendors to buy Beatle autographs? I’ve visited the Tracks website and they are expensive, but the autographs look authentic, and come with a COA. Can someone steer me in the right direction on where to buy Beatle autographs.
Comment by Jim McFiver on June 14, 2010 at 11:22am
I would suggest there are less than a handful that are consistently rock solid: Frank Caiazzo, Tracks UK and fab4collectibles, out of New York City.

Yes, each is very expensive. But unless you have family in Liverpool who saw the band at the Cavern, these folks are the best.
Comment by donc on June 14, 2010 at 11:43am
Jim, thanks for the info. I thought Frank Caiazzo was being sued by ARA. Was there a resolution to this case?
Comment by Steve Cyrkin, Admin on June 14, 2010 at 12:35pm


I second your recommendations, and none are Autograph advertisers. But you only mentioned ones who primarily focused on the Beatles, and there are a lot of great dealers and auction houses that do Beatles but don't specialize in them. All can be sources of great Beatles material, but not all legit auction houses offer lifetime guarantees (like Sotheby's and Christie's don't), so you need to do your homework.

Don, keep your wallet in your pocket until you understand the marketplace. Look at dealers and auctions everywhere and ask dealers questions, and ask them here, too. And don't buy from anyone you can't talk to on the phone. Our BS detectors work better by phone than email.


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