Inside the Collection

Mystery Beatles object

Mechanical wooden/metal figures of The Beatles in shop display
2012/50/1 Shop display, mechanical, The Beatles, wood / metal, maker unknown, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 1963-1964. Collection: Powerhouse Museum.

The Museum has started to develop a new exhibition about the Beatles’ 1964 tour of Australia. We recently acquired an unusual object from around that time. Does anybody know where it originated?

It is a large rectangular wooden board in a metal framework, painted with the four Beatles holding their musical instruments. From left to right, Paul McCartney is holding a black guitar, George Harrison has a green guitar, Ringo Starr has a small drum and John Lennon holds a brown guitar. Each has his mouth open as if singing. Their matching dark suits are consistent with the 1964-65 period, before the Beatles’ clothing began to change in style.

The picture is quite large — 830mm wide and 900mm high. We are guessing that it was an unauthorised, amateur-made, one-off item displayed in a small, independent store to promote the sale of Beatle records, but we’re not certain. We do not know who created it or where it was displayed, although it seems reasonable to assume that it was made and used in Australia. We found it at an antique shop in Mittagong, New South Wales.

Part of the appeal is the naïve, folk art style of its illustration. The Fab Four are portrayed against a strangely incongruous background of green grass and rolling hills. We love the fact that Paul McCartney is depicted playing guitar right-handed. Today the world knows that Paul is left-handed but when the group first emerged, not everybody had noticed.

What makes this mystery object really special is that it has a mechanical action powered by an electric motor. When you plug it in, the Beatles’ heads move from side to side and an arm on each figure moves up and down to play his instrument.

The Beatles in Australia exhibition is being developed in conjunction with the Arts Centre Melbourne, and is scheduled to open at the Powerhouse Museum in October 2013. It will present the sights and sounds of Beatlemania in June 1964 — the arrivals, the receptions, the press conferences, the TV interviews, the concerts and the screaming fans. It will look at how the tour was planned and unfolded, and its lasting impact on Australian music and culture. The exhibition will be as much about the fans as the group. It will display a range of objects from museums, fans and collectors, as well as photographs and video.

If you have something special that you think we should display, please leave a comment.

7 responses to “Mystery Beatles object

  • I have a sgt pepper album, capital records, signed by all 4 beatles I can’t seem to
    get any information on this album. I also have letters of authenticity

  • The Art Gallery of New South Wales has a collection of negatives by Robert Walker, including the series of Beatles visit photos which appeared in Life at the Cross (Oswald Ziegler, 1965). John, Paul, Ringo and George’s arm can be seen in the limo leaving the Stadium in one of the unpublished photos. Otherwise the photos show the crowds outside the Sheraton and Stadium.

  • I have a suitcase full if Beatles memorys..Especially signed poster of the boys..also a bracelet featuring the chap who replaced ringo here for a bit..lots of 60’s memorys..

  • My guess is that David Jones or Mark foy May have had this made to promote all the Beatles merchandise that was made for the tour. It’s the right size for a window display. By the time of the tour most fans knew Paul was left handed but a window designer would not of know. Nice item. I have a few items from the tour you can borrow for the Exhibition, I wrote a book with Glenn A Baker The Beatles Down Under. Roger Dilernia

    • Hi Roger,
      Thanks for the suggestion! You could be right. Thanks also for the offer of items for loan for the exhibition. Unfortunately this post is a few years old and the exhibition has already been and gone. We really appreciate you getting in touch though.
      Kind regards,
      Sarah, MAAS

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