Gary James' Interview With The Co-Owner Of
The Magical History Tour:
A Beatles Memorabilia Exhibition
Peter Miniaci and Associates have put together one very impressive Beatles Exhibition. Titled The Magical History Tour: A Beatles Memorabilia Exhibition, it is the most exhaustive Beatles exhibition presented. Rather than go on and on, we'll let Peter Mininaci explain.
Q - Peter, how long have you been collecting Beatles memorabilia?
A - I guess I started in the early '80s. I was in high school. Let's put it this way, I had a few Beatles records when I was 12, 13, 14, because I grew up with five older brothers. There was a sixteen year difference between myself and my older brother and my two older brothers. There was always a lot of records around the house, Beatles, Patsy Cline, Frank Sinatra, Black Sabbath, Frank Zappa and the list goes on. I had all these records at my disposal. A lot of them were just sort of given to me by my brothers and then I thought this would be a really great way for me to start collecting and that's when I started getting into collecting. I would basically save money and go to the record stores in downtown Toronto and start collecting Beatles records. Not so much in the sense of, "I've got to amass a really great collection 'cause one day it's gonna be worth a lot of money." It was just the notion of discovering new tracks, new album covers and collecting the British releases and Canadian releases and the American releases.
Q - When you started collecting, the albums you were buying were affordable.
A - It was affordable. It wasn't uncommon to see a "Butcher" cover for a couple of hundred dollars. Now don't get me wrong, $200 is a lot of money for a 16 year old, but it was there. I can even remember in the '80s following some odd auction and getting the catalogs that you can buy Beatles autographs for four hundred to five hundred dollars.
Q - If they were real.
A - Yeah. If they were real. There's a lot of fakes for sure.
Q - I've read that if you buy the early Beatles merchandise, we're talking games, wigs, lunch boxes, that merchandise increases 10% a year in value. Is that true? Is that too conservative?
A - In some cases it's way more than that. We'll get into it when we talk about the "Double Fantasy" record (the last record John Lennon signed for Mark David Chapman). In most cases you're looking at minimum 5%. You're never going to lose, in all the years I've been dealing with the Beatles' stuff, in buying a Beatles collectable. Where you lose money is some of the mass produced stuff. When you get into the lunch box and Thermos and the trays because they were so mass marketed and mass produced that collectors are only going to look for the Very Good to Near Mint condition items. So when you're trying to sell that stuff and you've got a dented lunch box, it's going to be very hard for you to make money in some cases. But, to answer your question, yes, at least 5% to 10%.
Q - I've read that The Beatles had people on tour with them who were signing the black and white 8x10 photos of them. They had their signatures down. So, how do you know if you have an autograph that was really signed by The Beatles? You have to hire a Beatles autograph expert, don't you?
A - To answer that question honestly, I've got a really good eye when it comes to The Beatles autographs, okay? And understanding whether John signed something or Mal Evans signed something or Neil Aspinall. There are other people out there, my peers, that are amazing at it. I've very fortunate that aside from myself, my partners and I have been collecting for years and we sort of help each other out. I have a lot of colleagues of mine that specialize in authenticating Beatles autographs. I always try to get a second, third, fourth, fifth opinion. In some cases when I was trying to authenticate a George Harrison lyric, I used I think maybe seven people. That was sort of a rare situation because two or three people said it was his writing and two or three people said it wasn't. Then I was really confused because they were all so-called Beatle experts. I can tell the difference. I know Mal Evan's writing. I know Neil Aspinall's writing. So, when I see a set I can tell right away Neil Aspinall wrote it. I never really like to stick my neck out because at the end of the day you always have to be very, very cautious and respectful of anybody who's showing you something because there's always going to be a situation where you're going to see something and it's going be like maybe you caught John rushing off to the airport and he did a really fast signature. Very, very sort of uncommon or sort of untypical of the way he would sign. Then you have to be very careful about making sure he actually signed it. John and George changed their signatures so often over a period of years, even within The Beatles, that ten year period. I actually remember getting involved in a situation where somebody was selling a Beatles record and somebody wanted my help and I said, "Okay, I'll have a look at it." I was really sure that the signatures were accurate, right? And there's really good forgers out there too. So, you have to be really careful. But there was just one huge, colossal mistake that this forger made. He actually used a '71 record, because it was a Gold R.I.A.A. Award. It was issued for that particular record. I can't remember the record that came out in '71. It was a reissue and it was '64 signatures. So, there's no way that you would've had a chance in 1971, 'cause The Beatles had broken up for a couple of years then, to get all four Beatles to sign with the same pen the way they did in 1964. I know that. I basically confirmed with a few other people and they're absolutely 100% sure, and then you're like, "Okay, this is an easy one." But then the person that's looking to sell it, they're upset because they bought it from someone, in some cases legitimately. How am I going to get my money back? It's an area you have to be very, very careful about because as you know, Beatle autographs go for a lot of money. There's always going to be someone that basically is going to do whatever they can to take advantage of it. The difference between a signed Beatles record and a signed Stones record is $200,000. It's apples and oranges. The Stones are not even in the same stratosphere when it comes to value and collectability. You gotta get as close as you can to the truth, the whole sort of paper trail thing. Beatle autographs go for exorbitant amounts of money. If you have readers that have Beatle autographs, or want to buy Beatle autographs and they're looking at somebody's website that has a list of Beatle autographs, I'd be more than happy to help out. And it comes with a really good team of individuals that are in the industry or have been collecting for so many years and they can conclusively tell if something is signed by one of The Beatles or not. So, at least you have that sort of discretion to sort of bounce off.
Q - I take it if someone wanted to start a collection like you have, it would be impossible today.
A - Well no, not necessarily unless you have deep pockets for sure. I think a lot of the big time collectors that I know that have much bigger collections than I do; I have a couple of business partners. Jim Cushman and Dennis Toll. Dennis has The Quarrymen drum kit. He bought that I think fifteen years ago off of Rod Davis who was the original drummer. I remember when he bought it actually and I said, "One day you're gonna sell that for a million dollars," and he goes, "You really think so?" I said, "Yeah, absolutely." But he bought it for a fraction of the price. It's not to say that you can't get those opportunities still. For sure, absolutely. I'm offered for the record, Beatle autographs for in some cases 50% off the market value. People are always surprised. How can that be? Why would you get those opportunities? Well, sometimes somebody that has a program signed by The Beatles that should fetch $30,000, $40,000, really needs cash to pay off a debt ASAP (As Soon As Possible). That's when you get those opportunities. It's like, "Hey Peter, I know this is worth $30,000, but I'm not going to put it at the auction. Do you have a client that would give me $20,000 for it?" So those opportunities happen. And there are people out there that are just waiting for those opportunities and have the money and are willing to invest. A lot of these collectors are not millionaires. Their collections are worth millions. They're regular people. Not everybody's Jim Irsay from The Colts that's worth a billion dollars. He can buy Beatle guitars. I love Jim Irsay's passion and personality and love The Colts. He collects as a fan. He's a huge John Lennon fan. He bought Ringo's drum kit for $2.4 million off of Julian's auction before Christmas (2015). Most of the people are good, honest North American, or not just North American but all over the world, working nine to five, making a decent living. Their mortgage is paid off. Their kids are graduated or they're off doing their lives now. They've got $10,000 or $20,000 or $30,000 a year to play with because they have no debts and they're buying one or two or three pieces. It's one of those things where you can amass a really good collection. You asked me a question earlier as far as the re-sale potential on some of this stuff and whether it's accurate to say 10%. When you get into the one of a kind items you're going to always make a great return on your investment. Guaranteed, one thousand percent because the one of a kind items are exactly what they are, self explanatory. You're always going to find a market for it for sure. The baby boomers are getting older now. What about all those collections? Is my collection going to be worth what I put into it? I always tell people it all depends on what you collected. If you collected a lot of the mass marketed stuff that came out in the '60s, well unless you had everything in mint condition in the original boxes, like the record player in the original box, oh, for sure. Absolutely you're gonna make a good return on that. But if you've got the record player and it's not in the box and it's not playing and you paid $2,200 for it ten years ago, I don't know about that. It always comes down to what you have. I had a Buckingham Palace set of signatures that I sold to a friend of mine and it's actually in our exhibition. It was when The Beatles got their M.B.E. (Members of the British Empire) and it's on Buckingham stationery, the Queen's stationery. Great piece. It's a killer piece. Most people would say that would go for $30,000 to $40,000. It's like, no. This is an over $100,000 item, guaranteed.
Q - Brian Epstein would hand out signed photos of himself. Have you ever seen one of those?
A - Yeah, I have. I've seen it, but not too often. I think I've only seen one.
Q - That's interesting.
A - Yeah. You'll talk to a fellow dealer or collector and they'll say, "I had all the liner notes to when Paul was recording "Ram". It's like, "What? How the hell did that stuff get out? And how did you end up getting it?" I believe the guy, but it's like, "Wow!" A lot of this stuff you scratch your head and think how the hell did this to do list get out of John's possession? Well, John wrote the to do list, but he gave it to his assistant. Then it became the property of the assistant. It's not like the assistant is going to keep the to do list and then give it back to John. So there are certain cases where it makes sense. It's out here because the assistant decided to sell it. It's his property. But then sometimes you're wondering, how the hell did this get out and why did it get out? We have to be very careful with our exhibition because the lawyers advise us that every piece in the exhibition has to be justified. You have to have good solid provenance on it, which we do. You never see Paul McCartney's hand written lyrics out for auction, ever. You see John's. Paul will be very quick with his lawyers to say, "That's my property. Take it down." Of course if you've got deep pockets or a really good lawyer, you're gonna have to battle McCartney's lawyers, justifying why you ended up with those hand written lyrics.
Q - Paul no longer signs. Ringo will only sign if you buy something through his website. Then he will donate the proceeds to charity.
A - I think it's great what Ringo does to be quite honest with you. In defense of Paul, I don't blame him either because his autograph could go for $500, $600, $700 on E-Bay. He's very well aware. He's very smart. He's a very shrewd business person. You always gotta put yourself in their shoes before you judge somebody. I'm not defending Paul or Ringo, but I'm just saying you always gotta put that stuff in perspective. Look, I've been at Beatlefest conventions in Liverpool at a table promoting what it is I'm promoting and after seven to eight hours you get really tired. It's the constant questions. You kind of always have to sympathize with celebrities. I know it comes with who they are. I'm not feeling sorry for them because they're all doing what they love to do in their life. When you think about it, they're making incredible amounts of money. So you're not going to get too much sympathy from most people, but every now and then I understand why Paul and Ringo do that. I do. It's not to say every now and then make an exception. It's got to be very demanding for them. They're Beatles. I tell my girlfriend all the time, Paul McCartney is an walking Mozart. He's a living, breathing Beethoven. He really is. He's an icon.
Q - Funny you should bring up Mozart. When I interviewed L. Russell Brown, the songwriter of "Tie A Yellow Ribbon", he met Paul McCartney on the streets of New York and told him that. Paul said, "I don't know about that."
A - That's interesting. That's a great story. People ask me what you would ask McCartney if you ran into him. I'm definitely not going to say, "Can I have your autograph?". I'm definitely not going to say, "You were a huge influence to me," because he's already heard that stuff. After awhile they become desensitized. When I had my store I would get the odd celebrity to come in and I had Russell Crowe, one of my favorite actors of that time, was doing a Ron Howard movie, a boxing movie and I remember he came in with two bodyguards. My place was really cool. I always had like a couch or two couches, a refrigerator, a TV. I made it very conducive for people to hang out. I had a pretty good comprehensive vinyl and book collection. Russell was going through all the books and the vinyl. I think he was in the store for a good hour or two hours. It was definitely an hour. I was having a lot of fun with his bodyguards. They were great guys. Here he is, one of my favorite actors. I never bothered him. I just wanted him to enjoy whatever it was he was looking at. I was thinking, okay, this guy is interested in The Beatles, which I thought was kind of cool. At the end he walked away and he really didn't say anything to me. Whatever. At the end of the day, I probably would have said something to the merchant, "Hey, nice store," but he just walked out. That's Russell Crowe. Burton Cummings, who was one of my favorite songwriters as a kid growing up, I remember telling him, "As a kid growing up in the '70s my two favorite songwriters were Lennon - McCartney and Burton Cummings and Randy Bachman. He looked at me without even batting an eye and said, "How much is this over here?" He walked away like it didn't even resonate with him. It didn't even pull on any emotional string.
Q - That's rude.
A - Absolutely. It just goes to show you those people are so desensitized. They're so disconnected is probably the word, from us. I remember a friend of nine who's got one of the best Beatle collections in the world, he's got a couple key pieces in our exhibition; he's a jingle writer, a very famous jingle writer in Canada and worked with celebrities all of his life, he said, "Peter, the one thing I learned from celebrities is that 'No' is not in their vocabulary." When you think about that, that was a very profound statement. That sticks with me. They're just so far removed from us. I have no interest in meeting any of the artists that I like because they're not going to give you what you want. At the end of the day it's like, so, what's the point? It's different for you because you're interviewing people. In some cases they're promoting a book or record or whatever. I understand that. You've got an advantage because at least you've got an hour or two to get some insight, but most people don't. What do they get? One question? I was at a press conference for one of Ringo's earlier tours. It was at the Waldorf Astoria in New York. I was like a kid in a candy store. Everybody was there. I mean everybody. USA Today, Good Morning America. All the New York based shows, CNN. I got in for Beatleology magazine 'cause I was the publisher, this little publication out of Toronto. It was great. There was a buzz, an excitement in the air. It was a really great tour. Jack Bruce was there. Eric Carmen, David Fishof comes out, Ringo's then manager, promoter. I can't remember what his official title was. He said, Okay, I'm going to introduce the band." He does. He then said, "I'm going to introduce Ringo and please do not ask him any Beatle questions. Keep it specific to the tour." You could hear this sort of gasp going through the entire crowd. It's like, "You've got to be kidding me. Why do you think we're here?"
Q - In your exhibit, you recreate The Cavern Club, but there's something wrong with the exhibit. On the left side you have a Vox Super Beatle amp. In back of the Super Beatle there's two amps. When The Beatles were performing in The Cavern, the Super Beatle amp hadn't been invented yet. That wasn't around 'til 1965.
A - It always goes back to, "Where are we gonna put this stuff?" You have to make concessions. You have to compromise.
Q - Am I the first to bring that to your attention?
A - No. There's a few people that have brought it up to us. You are a knowledgeable Beatle fan, collector, and you know that. We just tell people we couldn't get that specific era amp and even if we could, the lender fees are exorbitant. Primarily the bulk of the exhibition, the items are from the three partners, Jim Cushman, Dennis Tole and myself. After that we try to get lenders that say, "We're not going to get rich off this exhibition, but I'd really love to contribute something to it because I think it's a really great idea. The Beatles had a really great influence on my life. I want to lend this item. I'm proud of it." But then the odd time you'll meet someone who says, "No. I'm not going to give you my amp." So, you've got to make compromises sometimes. You and myself, we're in the minority. We're in a very exclusive bracket that will know that that is a mistake, misplacing is a better word, but that's okay 'cause most people don't know. It reminds me of George Martin's story. He was offended because John, if he could, wanted to re-record a lot of his tracks. He was not happy with them. George Martin was offended. I understand what John was saying because it's like the exhibition. Is it a ten out of ten? I don't know if it's a ten our of ten. I don't think it's a ten out of ten. I'm not going to mis-lead people. It's impossible to have a ten out of ten. If it was a ten out of ten we would have the Sgt. Pepper suits, but The Beatles are not going to license the Sgt Pepper suits to us. It's not gonna happen. That's gonna be a ten out of ten. Getting something on loan, like McCartney's lyrics to "Fool On The Hill". That's a great item. Or Yoko lending us John's white jump suit that he wore. That would be a killer piece. But hopefully over time maybe we'll get them to contribute. I think it's something to strive for. For what we have I think it's a great experience. I think what makes it really special is the story is really great. It kind of transcends the artifacts.
Q - You have in your exhibit the "Double Fantasy" album that John Lennon signed for Mark David Chapman. I'm sure many people have wondered over the years what became of that album. I'm not sure that album necessarily fits in a Beatle exhibition. Aren't you giving Chapman the fame he wanted?
A - Absolutely. I even have a business partner that won't even mention his name. He'll use vulgar language. (laughs) We get it. I was part of the lobbying to have that piece in the exhibition. The reason behind it is this: The narrative of our exhibition is when The Beatles started. John met Paul, hence The Quarrymen drum kit. So, when we get the Rex guitar in there, which was the guitar McCartney learned to play the instrument and the guitar he used to audition for John. A very famous "Twenty Flight Rock" performance. We're going to get that in our exhibition over the next couple of weeks. So, that's the beginning of The Beatles. That's the journey. The end of the journey is when John was murdered. The end of any potential of The Beatles re-uniting. So, what better than to have the Chapman record? It hits you. It guts you. When you see that record it invokes a certain feeling. There's an ambivalence you feel about it. I remember when I was part of the transition of picking it up and giving it to the buyer in Toronto. I remember I was kind of despondent about that. I called a friend of mine, Jerry Leviton, a great guy. He met John when he was a teenager at the King Edward Hotel and released a book called I Met The Walrus. A really great book. Great guy. Incredible human being. I told Jerry, "I'm feeling kind of despondent about this." He said, "You know what? It's history Peter. You're preserving history. This is very important." I started to feel a lot better about it. I was thinking you're right. People have to have these feelings. I'm okay with it when people walk away saying, "I'm emotional. It made me cry. Why the hell did you put this in here? He's a piece of ..." I wasn't thinking of Chapman. I'm thinking about what it represented. It was just an incredible watershed moment in the history of popular culture. I'm biased once again, but John Lennon is the greatest composer, period, in my opinion. Ever. To me that's it. He got struck down in his prime. Think about some of the stuff that he would've gone on to do. Even though Bowie died young, 67, he still went on to do some really great stuff. I love McCartney's solo records. Look at the concerts he's putting on. It didn't happen for John. That's the script, right? That's the destiny or whatever you would want to categorize it or summarize it. The same thing with George too, right? He died very young. That's another thing too, when you go through the exhibition and you see the post-Beatles and you realize this incredible catalog the four of them released. Think about it. "Imagine" and McCartney's "Ram" and "All Things Must Pass" and Ringo's first record all came out at the same time basically. Can you imagine the '70s? Can you imagine "Maybe I'm Amazed" on the same record as "Imagine" and "My Sweet Lord"? It's like, "Wow! This is incredible!" My point is, you go through the '70s and of course we're looking at it in 2016. So we know John had a finale and George died very young. It really resonates with you. It's a very emotional feeling. That's what we strive for. The artifacts in a way are just telling the story, but secondary. We all go in there wit a different feeling and a different interpretation of what we're trying to experience. Everything is so personal and intimate and individual.
Q - The exhibit is stationary?
A - It's at the Henry Ford Museum.
Q - Are there any plans to take it on the road?
A - Yeah. We're gonna take it probably for the next five or ten years. It's gonna float in the States for awhile. I think it's going to Putnam in Iowa right after and hopefully Chicago and then Minneapolis. I want to bring it up to Toronto because Toronto is one of the biggest Beatle cities in the world. Of course we've got to go to other cities, I'd love to.
Q - You should bring it to Syracuse, New York where John and Yoko had their This Is Not Here art exhibit at the Everson Museum in October, 1971. Or you should bring it to the New York State Fair in Syracuse. They draw close to a million visitors every year and in some years over a million. That exhibit could go over.
A - I think it would. We launched at the PNE in Vancouver and we had 35,000 people in two weeks. I would love to bring it to Syracuse. We definitely want to float it all over North America. We're getting worldwide press now. Billboard did a review on us. ABC Online and the Detroit newspaper said it's a "Must see." So we're getting great reviews. We're getting interest from other venues all over the world. I think it would be quite fitting to travel the world like The Beatles did, unlike Elvis who didn't get a chance to travel outside North America. The Beatles were popular and had huge influence in so many different countries and cultures. They were massive in Australia and New Zealand and Japan. We would love to travel. I think it would be great.