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Elvis' First Guitar to Go Under the Hammer at UES Auction

By Mary Johnson | September 14, 2011 7:22am | Updated on September 14, 2011 7:24am
Elvis' first guitar could fetch hundreds of thousands of dollars at Guernsey's rock 'n' roll auction on Sept. 24 and 25, 2011.
Elvis' first guitar could fetch hundreds of thousands of dollars at Guernsey's rock 'n' roll auction on Sept. 24 and 25, 2011.
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DNAinfo/Mary Johnson

UPPER EAST SIDE — Elvis Presley's first guitar is understandably old and tattered, the wood faded and held together by pieces of yellowed masking tape.

But it’s still exciting music fans.

On Sept. 24 and 25, the guitar will be part of a rock ‘n’ roll auction presented by Guernsey’s Auction House, which will include more than 1,000 lots of memorabilia, said Guernsey’s owner and president, Arlan Ettinger.

“We’re known for interesting, large projects,” said Ettinger, who founded the company in the 1970s.

In addition to The King’s guitar, the collection includes photos from famed Beatles photographer Astrid Kirchherr, John Lennon’s Mercedes station wagon (the last vehicle he owned), Michael Jackson’s moon-walking self-portrait, autographed images of legendary music stars that once hung in Manny’s music store in Manhattan, and six pieces of original artwork by Jimi Hendrix.

Ettinger estimates that Elvis’ guitar, for which the performer's parents paid just $10, could fetch $300,000 to $400,000.

In a previous auction, Guernsey’s sold two Jerry Garcia guitars for $1 million each.

“One could imagine that this guitar is worth as much if not more than that,” Ettinger said. “You’ve got to marvel at this guitar.”

One entire day of the auction will be dedicated to Beatles memorabilia, with Kirchherr’s images taking center stage.

Kirchherr met the Beatles in Hamburg, Germany, in the 1960s and became a friend and photographer of the band. She was even engaged to Stuart Sutcliffe, the so-called “fifth Beatle,” until he died at the age of 22 from a brain hemorrhage, Ettinger said. He got to know Kirchherr in the process of putting together the auction.

“She lives a quiet life,” Ettinger said of Kirchherr’s reason for selling so many items. “In time, I think she was ready to move on.”

Included in the collection of Beatles memorabilia are letters that Sutcliffe sent to Kirchherr, as well as 10 of Sutcliffe’s artworks, Ettinger said.

Hundreds of Kirchherr’s iconic images will also go up on the auction block, complete with the negatives and copyrights.

“That’s unique within the world of auctions,” Ettinger said. “There’s no precedent to point to.”

Ettinger said a photo of the Beatles from a lesser-known photographer recently sold at auction for $7,000. Given Kirchherr’s connection to the band and the inclusion of the copyrights, there’s no telling how much her photos could sell for, he added. 

The auction will also mark the first time that artwork by famed guitarist Jimi Hendrix will be publicly sold, with six pieces going up for sale.

In addition, the auction will include roughly 600 autographed photos that once lined the walls in Manny’s music store, a favorite among celebrity musicians.

“Manny’s was a famous music store on West 48th Street in Manhattan,” Ettinger said. “It became very much a tradition that if you went to Manny’s… you left Manny with a picture of yourself, often inscribed to Manny by these celebrities.”

The tradition began in the 1930s, Ettinger said, and the autographs were often irreverent and casual — like one of the Rolling Stones in which the rockers drew conversation bubbles next to their heads, or the one of Bob Dylan on which he wrote, “Keep one eye closed at all cost.”

“Rarely does he autograph anything,” Ettinger said of Dylan.

Going through the photos from Manny’s was Ettinger’s favorite part of putting the auction together, he said. It was a group effort, as he and his staff gathered together to sift through photos and read the inscriptions.

“About four or five people had the fun of saying, ‘What’s in that box?’” he recalled with a smile. “These were pictures that hung for the world to see, in some cases for half a century, at this legendary music shop.”

The auction will take place on Sept. 24-25 at 82 Mercer St. in Soho. Bidders will also be able to participate online. For more information, visit www.guernseys.com.