The Beatles' First Contract Sells for £275,000

Without question, the Beatles are one of the most iconic bands of all time. In fact, they are the best-selling band ever with over 800 million albums sold worldwide. Since the 1960s (“Beatlemania”), the group of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison & Ringo Starr have been a major influence in music throughout the decades. Their first management contract with manager Brian Epstein was sold at an auction for £275,000 (US$345,000) with the funds going to the Ernest Hecht Charitable Foundation.

From left to right: Pete Best, George Harrison, Paul McCartney, and John Lennon

This was the first of two contracts between Epstein and the Beatles as the first contract consisted of original drummer, Pete Best who was then replaced by Ringo Starr in August 1962. The agreed upon contract was signed on 24 January 1962 which consisted of a management fee of 10% (negotiated down by McCartney from the original 20%) with an increase to 15% if the band’s income exceeded £120 per week - about US$150 at the time but roughly US$3,100 today. The document had to be endorsed by the parents of McCartney, Harrison and Best as they were under 21 at the time.

The second contract after Starr had replaced Best which gave Epstein a higher percentage of the earnings (20-25%) was last sold in 2015 at a London auction for £365,000 (US$455,000). Epstein was responsible for all of the band’s publicity, their engagements, their scheduling, and “all matters concerning clothes, make-up and the presentation and constitution of the artists’ acts and also on all music to be performed.”

Brian Epstein with the Beatles

Before discovering the Beatles, Epstein was a record shop owner and music writer. He saw them perform at Liverpool’s Cavern Club in November 1961 and saw something special in them - star quality. According to Gabriel Heaton, Sotheby’s specialist who was in charge of the auction, “Epstein was just blown away by the passion, the energy, the charisma, the raw sexuality on the stage.” He later added “The Beatles had the stage energy but he installed a sense of professionalism in them. Epstein stopped them eating onstage, made sure they played the songs properly and coherently, and he got them bowing at the end of a set.”

Brian Epstein

However, the contract did not contain Epstein’s own signature as he later admitted that he “had not 100 percent faith in myself to help the Beatles adequately…I wanted to free the Beatles of their obligations if I felt they would be better off.” But Epstein knew he would remain true to his terms regardless and he soon became a prominent piece to the success of the Beatles. Beatlemania, coined to describe the group’s massive breakout and fan frenzy throughout the 60s. In February 1964, the group began to tour the U.S, with televised performances being watched by over 70 million people establishing the Beatles as an international icon. From 1964 to 1970, the Beatles had the top-selling US single once every six weeks and top-selling album once every three weeks.

Epstein died of a drug overdose on 27 August 1967, which marked the beginning of the end for the group as many issues arose in the years after. Epstein was often considered the Fifth Beatle and without him, they were lost. In 1970, Lennon told Rolling Stone that “I knew we were in trouble then…I thought: We’ve had it now”. The Beatles would then officially separate in 1970 with each artist going solo. 

The Beatles, signed management contract with Brian Epstein, 24 January 1962
Lot no.: 168
Provenance: Brian Epstein; his publisher Ernest Hecht
Estimate: £200,000-300,000
Price realised: £275,000

Auction details
Auction house: Sotheby's London
Sale: English Liteature, History, Children's Books and Illustrations