Stained, doodled and stolen: Lost Beatles’ linen up for auction

A pilfered relic from the night of the last concert the Beatles played together has been recovered and is going on the auction block.

It’s a 14-inch by 17½-inch cotton tablecloth bearing food and drink stains, autographs and several “acid-inspired doodles” and portraits by the Fab Four and Joan Baez. The group created the item during a catered dinner they had in a locker room at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park on Aug. 29, 1966 — the night of the Beatles’ last gig. The piece is being offered to the public in a Bonhams online auction beginning Friday for an estimated $15,000 to $25,000.

That night, the locker room had been set up as iconic band’s dressing room and dining area and had been described as “chaos.” The scene — even John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison’s doodling with Pentel markers — was chronicled in the concert’s many music reviews at the time.

A closeup of a tablecloth with signatures and drawings by the Beatles from 1966.

A closeup of a tablecloth with signatures and drawings by the Beatles from 1966.

(Bonhams)

“At some point in the time the band had before going on stage, the Beatles sat down to dinner with Joan Baez and others, to eat around this tablecloth, doodling and writing on the cloth in between eating their food,” according to the Bonhams listing.

“As the scene unfolded around the table, the band were experiencing mixed feelings of relief and celebration,” it said. “The significance of that night was not lost on the band and Lennon and McCartney both carried cameras on to the stage with them to record the moment.”

The tablecloth belonged to caterer Joe Vilardi, the owner of Simpson’s Catering, which provided the evening’s meal. After that night, the caterer kept the linen and proudly displayed it in his Clement Street storefront in San Francisco for six days. That is, until the glass was smashed and the tablecloth was stolen, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. The Vilardi family searched for the tablecloth for 55 years.

Incredibly, after all this time, the tablecloth was returned to the grandson of Vilardi earlier this year, Bonhams said.

“Fast forward to 2022 when the owner [Vilardi’s grandson Michael Vilardi] was contacted by someone who was in possession of the tablecloth after her brother was given it in lieu of a debt in the 1970s and the tablecloth was happily given back to the rightful owner,” the listing said.

The tablecloth features a number of sketches, including a yellow one by Lennon depicting a hairy creature on a bike next to a series of wheels; a series of portraits in various inks by Baez (possibly with minor contributions from McCartney, with an inscription “in an unknown hand ‘did not lay a hand on this table’ and bubble lettering in orange pen ‘Paul McCartney,’” the listing said); Starr’s autograph in black; and Harrison’s autograph in red pen.

A tablecloth with signatures and drawings

A tablecloth with signatures and drawings by the Beatles from 1966.

(Bonhams)

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