In 1964, two clever Beatles fans in Kentucky wrote to the maitre d' of the Deauville Hotel in Miami Beach, Fla., asking, "If you happen to find any Beatles autographs lying around, would you mind sending them to us?"
The Beatles stayed at the Deauville while performing on "The Ed Sullivan Show" in February '64.
Hey, why not take a shot?
A few days later, a package arrived on the Beatles fans' doorstep. Inside was a room-service menu with "John Lennon" scribbled on it and a publicity shot of the Beatles supposedly signed by Ringo Starr.
This week, nearly a half-century later, the PBS show "History Detectives" will help the two fans find out if their Beatles autographs are real …
… or, like many celebrity autographs floating around the Internet memorabilia market, 100 percent fake, not worth a dime.
"History Detectives" airs at 8 p.m. Tuesday on Channel 8.
Lennon's autograph is the most collectible and valuable of all the Beatles', according to the show. Depending on its condition and what it's written on, a Lennon signature is worth "between $1,000 up to $100,000."
The market for Lennon memorabilia is booming for several reasons.
One, he is a music legend, the founder of the Beatles, the biggest act in show-business history.
Two, he isn't signing autographs next weekend at a baseball-card show in some hotel lobby. Lennon was murdered in 1980.
Three, he's John Lennon!
I had fun watching a preview of "History Detectives" until I heard that "up to $100,000" figure. That caught my attention.
I have a John Lennon-autographed album, beautifully framed, on my living room wall.
And I don't have to wonder if it's real or fake. The autographed album was given to me by Lennon's widow, Yoko Ono. It's real, all right.
Back story: About 15 years ago, I did a freelance job for Ono. When I was finished, her representative called and asked how much I was going to charge her. I said, "Nothing. I'm a huge Beatles fan. I can't take her money."
But I did throw in some fine print … "if she'll do a phone interview with me for the Houston Chronicle."
She called. I did the interview. The column ran. That was the first of a few times she's called for my column.
A few weeks later, her representative called again and said Ono wanted to give me a present. I should stay home the next day for when it arrived.
I love presents! I love when the UPS truck pulls up in front of my house.
The driver handed me a large square package. Inside was a framed copy of Lennon's solo debut album, "Plastic Ono Band."
It took a while for me to realize that the album was autographed. And not only did Lennon sign it, he drew a funny little cartoon of himself.
On the back was a letter of authenticity.
"This certifies this is an original album hand-signed by John Lennon with original self-portrait drawing - John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band debut solo album, 1970."
"Up to …" how much again?
As far as Lennon autographs go, this would be hard to top.
It's not personalized, "To so-and-so," which reduces the value of an autograph. Buyers don't want an autograph on a restaurant napkin saying, "Dominic, great veal parm, Rodney Dangerfield."
My autographed "Plastic Ono Band" album is in perfect, mint condition, never circulated, no fingerprints, price tags or smudge marks.
The value of a celebrity autograph is determined by many factors - the most important being, is it real? My Lennon autograph is authentic. I didn't buy it off a table at a rock-memorabilia show or from a secondary market Internet dealer.
I've met many famous people along my way, but I've saved only a handful of autographs. I have a personal note from President George H.W. Bush, a press badge signed by President Bill Clinton, boxing gloves signed by Muhammad Ali, a baseball signed by Willie Mays, a tennis ball signed by Chris Evert and an original Donnay racket signed by Bjorn Borg.
I also have a photograph signed by Paul McCartney, but it's not worth nearly as much as the Lennon autograph. Paul is not dead. He is fan-friendly, a comparative autograph-signing machine.
Also, Paul is Paul, and John was John.
I don't know what to do with my autographed Lennon album. If I sold it, I wouldn't know how much to ask. I watch "Pawn Stars," and the gun expert says Davy Crockett's rifle, "Old Betsy," is worth $500,000 … and then Big Hoss offers the shnook $750.
I have never been turned down for an autograph. Three times, I was given one I didn't ask for. Astros announcer Milo Hamilton gave me a short stack of vanity baseball cards he already signed. Vaudeville entertainer Rudy Vallee gave me an autographed copy of his autobiography. And former Channel 11 sports anchor Gifford Nielsen signed our score sheet after we bowled in a charity event. I beat him by 50 pins. I should have given him my autograph.
Value is based on only one thing - what somebody is willing to pay for it. Jeremy Lin is a $25 million basketball player because the Houston Rockets are willing to pay $25 mil. I know that "Linsanity" will sell tickets, but winning will sell even more.
While I decide what to do with it, I've taken the Lennon album to a safe house. I'm not used to having something worth something. The only art I've ever owned was stuck on my refrigerator door.
I don't want to sell the Lennon album. I love showing it to guests. I don't have too many things that nobody else has.
But I also have a kid who just got his driver's permit. I could probably flip it into a cool ride.
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