Gail Rennard was a plucky young 16 year-old living in Montreal when she heard that John Lennon and Yoko Ono where staging their famous “bed-in” at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in 1969 as a peace protest. Gail managed to sneak in and meet the Beatle and he ended up giving her hand-written lyrics to the peace anthem, “Give Peace a Chance.” With a sense of his own provenance, Lennon told her to hold on to them, as they would be worth something one day.
On July 10th 2008, they were sold for $834,000, more than twice the original estimate. Rennard was astounded. What makes this object so valuable? Does it look particularly beautiful? Is the item so valuable because, the song would be lost forever without the lyrics?
Of course, not. The reason is psychological essentialism. John Lennon is worshipped and as he penned the lyrics with his own hand, he created the object and for many it is imbued with his essence. That’s why the TV presenter on the morning chat show dealing with this story was in awe of touching the piece of paper.
By spooky coincidence, we have a study coming out shortly with Susan Gelman and her students where we examined attitudes to such historical items. Remarkably one of the items we asked participants to evaluate was a sheet of handwritten lyrics by the Beatles. Not only did people rate this as valuable and worthy of being displayed in museums, they also wanted to touch the item. It is gratifying when research findings are supported by real world examples.
Do you have any other good examples from the world of memorabilia collecting?