Books & Manuscripts

A Document That Changed History, The Beatles' Original Management Contract

By Sotheby's
The Beatles’ original management contract with Brian Epstein will be offered for sale at Sotheby’s in July , with an estimate of £200,000–300,000. Signed by the band on 24 January 1962, this ‘old piece of paper’ marks the beginning of the transformation of the Beatles into the band that would conquer the world.

I t's hard to quantify the effect that The Beatles had on contemporary culture. From music to fashion, politics, activism and religion, they were a force that shook the existing foundations to their very core.

This 'old piece of paper', the Beatles original management contract, marks the beginning of one of the most significant cultural phenomena to occur in the 20th century. This was the moment when they officially took on their manager, Brian Epstein. Signed by all four Beatles, it's a true prize for collectors.

"This contract was a transformative document not only for The Beatles, but also for the 1960s and popular culture of the time. We feel extremely privileged to be offering such a significant piece of history, a document that set the band on a path that brought them a level of success and cultural influence that was surely beyond their dreams when they put pen to paper to entrust their future together to Brian Epstein on that January day in 1962."
Gabriel Heaton, Sotheby’s Books and Manuscripts specialist

The key relationship between Epstein and The Beatles began some two and a half months before the current contract was signed, on 9 November 1961, when Epstein went to the Cavern Club on Liverpool’s Mathew Street to hear a local band play. From the very first time he heard their sound, Epstein was determined to represent them. He always believed they could be “Bigger than Elvis”, not only because of their music but also because of their charisma and ability to speak to a new generation.

Epstein pitched his services to the band less than three weeks after he first saw them perform. The Beatles rolled into Epstein’s record shop, NEMS, late for their meeting on 29 November. The shop was only a couple of hundred yards from the Cavern but they had stopped at a pub on the way.

John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr rehearse their appearance on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964.

He quickly impressed the band with his obvious passion for their music and belief in their talent, his combination of honesty, class, and wealth, and his experience in running Liverpool’s best record shop which gave him industry contacts that he was prepared to use in their favour. A few days later the band made their unanimous decision and John gave Epstein his answer: “Right then, Brian. Manage us, now. Where’s the contract? I’ll sign it.”

A touching characteristic of this document is that Brian Epstein’s signature is conspicuously absent from it. He chose not to sign it, meaning that, whilst this contract bound Epstein to the Beatles, it did not bind The Beatles to Epstein. He explained: “It was because even though I knew I would keep the contract in every clause, I had not 100 per cent faith in myself to help the Beatles adequately. In other words, I wanted to free the Beatles of their obligations if I felt they would be better off.”

Epstein had no prior experience of music management when he took on The Beatles, but it is inconceivable that they could have achieved all that they did without him. Epstein entered their lives when they were in danger of losing momentum. They had recently lost a band member (Stuart Sutcliffe), and though they were pre-eminent in the Liverpool music scene they were unknown elsewhere, struggled to find gigs at new venues, and were gaining a reputation for bad behaviour.

It took more than inspired musicianship and song-writing to remake popular music, and the presentation, direction, and internal harmony of the Beatles all owed a huge amount to their manager. He was, as Paul McCartney has acknowledged, the Fifth Beatle. “We loved him”, said John, “and he was one of us”.

Stay informed with Sotheby’s top stories, videos, events & news.

Receive the best from Sotheby’s delivered to your inbox.

By subscribing you are agreeing to Sotheby’s Privacy Policy. You can unsubscribe from Sotheby’s emails at any time by clicking the “Manage your Subscriptions” link in any of your emails.

More from Sotheby's