‘Holy grail’ of Beatles’ rarities, signed on train to DC concert, up for auction

All four members of the Beatles signed this promotional copy of “Meet the Beatles” for George Harrison’s sister, while traveling by train to the band’s first U.S. concert, on Feb. 11, 1964. (Courtesy RR Auction)

While the most casual music fan knows The Beatles first live appearance in the United States was Feb. 9, 1964, on the Ed Sullivan show, some aren’t aware their first U.S. concert was two days later at the Washington Coliseum.

Now, a piece of Beatles memorabilia, being hailed as the “holy grail” of collectibles is up for auction: A “Meet the Beatles” promotional album, signed by all four band members for guitarist George Harrison’s older sister, Louise, as they traveled by train from New York City to D.C. on Feb. 11, for that evening’s show in Northeast D.C.

“They couldn’t fly because there was so much snow in Washington — eight inches — so they had to take a train,” said Bobby Livingston, executive vice president of RR Auction, which is conducting an online auction of the album.

What makes the signed album so desirable is that it captures a legendary moment in Beatles lore with an insider’s vantage point in the hours after the Sullivan show had launched American hysteria.

“The Beatles were inaccessible,” Livingston said. “By the time they got to the United States, U.S. albums (“Meet the Beatles”) were different from the Parlophone versions in the U.K. (“With the Beatles”). So, you couldn’t really get to the Beatles and have them sign a promo album of “Meet the Beatles.”

Louise Harrison had moved to the United States before her brother joined The Beatles. She accompanied them during their initial tour of the U.S., and was aboard the train with the band, traveling from New York to D.C.’s Union Station.

“The ‘Meet the Beatles’ album that we have on Capitol Records is a promo copy, and if you look at the back, you can see the big red stamp indicating it was promotional, which means she had to get it from the record company,” Livingston said.

“What we have is probably the most significant Beatles record that exists — we think it’s the holy grail.”

On the back of the album, over the liner notes, each band member inscribed a personal note to Louise Harrison.

“In those days, the Beatles typically signed on the back, because on the front, it was wax-covered, and the ballpoint pen wouldn’t show up as nice,” Livingston said.

“George signed it, ‘To Lou, with love from brother George Harrison.’ [John] Lennon signed it, ‘Lou, many love from John Lennon.’ But [Paul] McCartney wrote, ‘To Louise, with love, from your older brother, Paul McCartney.'”

Livingston said McCartney, who was only nine months older than George, had a running joke with Harrison about the differences in their ages.

Louise Harrison owned the album until the 2000s, and sold it at auction a few years ago, according to Livingston. The album’s current owner is reconsigning the album in the auction, which will be held Oct. 7.

Livingston said he expects the signed album will be auctioned for more than $100,000.

“The Beatles’ First US Visit” includes documentary footage of the Feb. 11, 1964 train trip to Washington, D.C. 

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

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