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For Sale: Lennon's Steinway, $4.99

December 15, 1996|Steve Hochman

The market for Beatles-related memorabilia is so inflated that a wad of Ringo's pocket lint might run you several hundred dollars.

So imagine what you'd have to bid to even have a shot at owning one of John Lennon's pianos.

How about $4.99?

Yes, the decimal point is in the right place. That's the cost to enter a raffle of sorts being conducted by two West Hollywood collectibles dealers for a black, upright Steinway that Lennon owned and used at his New York apartment during the last two years of his life.

The piano has already been a contest prize, as part of Polydor Records' promotion of "Milk and Honey," the 1984 album of material Lennon and Yoko Ono had not completed before his death in 1980. It was won by a North Dakota woman who put it on the market earlier this year after the death of her husband.

Dealers Alan Libman and Michael Crosby of the Park Avenue Gallery, who acquired it, say that the piano was used by Lennon during the time he wrote material for the "Double Fantasy" album that was released shortly before his death. It bears a cigarette burn, presumably from him.

Now, with Ono's endorsement finalized last week (her share of the take will go to her Spirit Foundation), the instrument is again to be part of a drawing. Entries are being taken by phone, with the contest concluding March 1. As further enticement, weekly prizes of $1,000 and four trips to the Aspen Music Festival are also being given. (The number is [900] 288-7426.)

But the piano is the star attraction. While it's not the famed white baby grand from "Imagine," it's still a treasure.

"Any Beatles instrument is just about the highest level of rock 'n' roll collectible that exists," says Pete Howard, editor of the ICE CD newsletter and an avid collector of Beatles items. "Almost none of their instruments have ever been available."

The raffle is highly unusual in a world where such items are generally auctioned through Sotheby's or Christie's.

"I've never heard of such an approach," says Matt Hurwitz, publisher of the L.A.-based Beatles-oriented magazine Good Day Sunshine. "One thing I like about this, and Yoko probably likes too, is anyone could end up with it. You don't have to be rich. A true Beatles fan can own a piece of John's history."

That, says Libman, is the idea.

"If we gave it to Sotheby's or Christie's, 450 people would get to bid," he says. "This is democratic."

Of course, the dealers are not in this entirely for altruistic reasons. Howard estimates the piano could bring perhaps $50,000 in an auction. At nearly five bucks a pop for the raffle, that's just 10,000 entries.

"I'm just glad part of it's going to charity," Howard says.

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