John Lennon's long-lost acoustic Gibson J-160E, used in the recording of the Beatles' Please Please Me and With the Beatles LPs, shattered all estimates Saturday on the Julien's Live auction block, as the instrument sold for $2.41 million, a record for a guitar with music history significance. Lennon purchased the Gibson at Rushworth’s Music House in Liverpool in September 1962 for £161. The guitar, which was lost for over 40 years, sold for three times its $800,000 estimate to an unspecified buyer who asked to remain anonymous.
It's unclear how Lennon was separated from the instrument, which was also used on the Beatles' first single "Love Me Do" / "P.S. I Love You," but it resurfaced in a San Diego music shop in the summer of 1967; however, the purchaser had no idea the guitar once belonged to Lennon. It wasn't until 2008 that the guitar's provenance was discovered. "Its importance in Beatles history cannot be overstated; this guitar is intimately bound to the early career of The Beatles," Julien's Live said of the guitar. "This is the earliest and most significant John Lennon guitar to be auctioned."
By comparison, Lennon's Gretsch guitar, used on the Beatles' 1966 single "Paperback Writer," sold for $530,000 to Indianapolis Colts owner and guitar collector Jim Irsay in November 2014. Irsay also spent $965,000 for Bob Dylan's Fender Stratocaster used at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, the infamous "Dylan goes electric" guitar. A white Fender Stratocaster signed by an army of guitar gods – Keith Richards, David Gilmour, Eric Clapton, Brian May, Jimmy Page, Pete Townshend and others – sold for $2.7 million at a charity auction for tsunami victims in 2007.
Half of the proceeds from the sale of Lennon's Gibson will go towards the Spirit Foundation, a charitable organization that he and Yoko Ono formed.
Lennon's acoustic Gibson wasn't the only Beatles-related item to far exceed expectations: The band's Beatles-emblazoned Ludwig bass drumhead, used by Ringo Starr during the Beatles' February 9th, 1964 debut on The Ed Sullivan Show, sold for $2.125 million, more than doubling its $1 million estimate. The drumhead was also used at the Beatles' first U.S. concert at Washington Coliseum on February 11th, 1964 as well as other stops along the Beatles' inaugural North American visit. A baseball signed by all four Beatles in 1966 also sold for $100,000.
Another significant item on the auction block – Kurt Cobain's green cardigan, worn by the singer during Nirvana's legendary MTV Unplugged performance – more than doubled its $60,000 estimate. That well-worn Manhattan brand sweater, featuring discoloration and a missing button, sold for $137,500.
Elvis Presley's 24K gold leaf piano, a staple of the rocker's Graceland estate, also sold for $600,000.