BY SCOTT SULLIVAN
What is real?
Say you’re 17, early ‘60s, Beatlemania breaking. With three high school Chicago friends, you form a band, pay Chess Records to make a demo and try to sell it.
“We sound just like The Beatles,” you tell the producer, desk behind framed by stacks of black vinyl disks, most in boxes unopened.
“We already have The Beatles. Next,” he says.
Lifes’ lessons and times stay lodged in images, sounds and impressions … Ron Levine shares talismans at his Investment Classics showroom tucked behind Saugatuck Dunes Rides Why there? Come see.
In a two-story warehouse Investment Classics boasts early/mid-60s stage jackets worn by John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison, “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Abbey Road” albums signed by all Fab Four. There’s a signed Babe Ruth baseball, Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant jerseys …
Are they real? Frauds, fakes and forgeries have served profiteers forever. Two ways to determine are provenance and forensics. “I find the best experts I can,” Levine says.
Forensics are scientific investigations, the best exhaustive. Experience counts trying to ferret out fraud from proven data.
Levine uses Brooklyn-based Don Frangiapani, who examined documents that led to 1993 World Trade Center bombers’ convictions, for authentication. Is handwriting consistent with past known signatures? If not, the item will be rejected.
Provenance is about point of origin/chain of custody. Yes, The Beatles wore and were photographed in jackets like Levine displays on three mannequins near his desk. Many times. Sixty years later, are these the ones John, Paul and George wore then?
In a locked file near his desk, Levine keeps authentication, among them handwritten letters by London tailor Gordon Millings, who with son Doug made Beatles stage jackets from late 1962 until circa 1967 with “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”
With photos of Harrison wearing his ‘63 stage jacket, Millings offers pages more of details, make, cut and intentions doing so. Why were George’s two front jacket pockets sewn shut? It was common then to enhance stage appearance. This one was silver/grey mohair and wool, Ghillie-style with a pleated back and high black velvet collar — “colours the band would modify for other stage suits and streetwear,” the tailor says.
The Lennon/McCartney suits were auctioned Dec. 10, 2021 backed by the auctioneer as “Lot 130: Two suits sorn by John Lennon and Paul McCartney during The Beatles era. Each consists of blazer, jacket, shirt, tie and trousers.
“Both suits,” say documents, “were donated by Beatles manager Brian Epstein to the famous Madame Tussauds Museum in the United Kingdom, on request to display them on their waxwork models to ensure they fit perfectly.
“Once the suits left the museum, they were put on display at Elstree TV Studios in London. Identical suits also appeared on several famous national TV programs in the UK including ‘This Morning with Richard Judy,’ ‘Schofield’s Quest with Philip Schofield’ and several others.
“From there, they ended up in the hands of a private collector … one of the largest in the UK (who) was chief organizer of British Memorabilia Live Shows every year at the National Exhibition Centre. Very good condition.”
“I hope,” Henry Cook, who owned the suits from the early 1990s until Levine acquired them, “you enjoy them and keep them as long as I have. They are a bit of pop history and I have been lucky enough to be their custodian.”
Lennon wrote and sang, “Strawberry fields … nothing is real.” “I would hope you’d be skeptical,” Levine says. Investors investigate or do not stay investors long. Can you know?
His deck desk looks down on walls hung with vintage signs, many neons, music and sports memorabilia. On the floor below are classic cars: T-birds, ‘Vettes and Porsches mirror-world polished and all for sale. There’s a Wurlitzer jukebox, Seeburg nickelodeon, Michael Jackson signed “Thriller” album, a rare fight poster signed Muhammad Ali/aka Cassius Clay …
“I have something old and new,” says Levine. “Heard of the Million Dollar Quartet?” Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis played an impromptu jam at Sun Record Studios in Memphis Dec. 4, 1956. On a wall is a mounted photo of the session that spawned the 2011 Tony Award-winning Broadway musical “Million Dollar Quartet.” Saugatuck’s Mason Street Warehouse produced sellout shows of it five years later.
Perkins’ original 1955 “Blue Suede Shoes” 78-rpm recording? (Elvis did well with the song next year too.) Levine carefully sets the disc on a velvet Victrola platform spinning, drops the needle. Through the wood horn:
“Well, it’s one for the money, two for the show, three to get ready, now go cat go …”
It was called high fidelity for a reason. “With no Carl Perkins,” McCartney said, “there would be no Beatles.”
The five-way corner west of Blue Star Highway that leads to Investment Classics bears attention too. Take 135th Avenue; head west. It’s the first suite north at 3512 Commercial Blvd. Check out Investment Classics for when it is open. or phone Levine at (269) 775-6000. Interested in select vehicle consignments? Visit www.investmentclassics.net.