Tom Fontaine became a collector at the age of 5! 40 years later, he is one of the most respected & credible collector in the world. Auction houses seek his advice, for a Beatles collection item or an autograph. Tom made magazine covers, and, news on CNN. He stated Beatles autographs are probably the most widely forged signatures and, he became an expert in Beatles autographs authenticity, his opinion counts and is respected. Autographs are fun and considered an excellent investment.
Kevin Underwood spoke with Tom Fontaine.
What made you become a collector in such a young age?
Well that’s a good question. When I was between four and five yearsold, like any kid, I looked at the back of a cereal box and noticed for the first time there were cards of cartoon characters that could be cut out to collect. It was the Hanna- Barbera cartoon characters I enjoyed watching on television. I cut them out and eventually looked into other forms of cards and discovered Post cereals had baseball cards on the back and started collecting them as well.
This was the very beginning of this 55 year journey being a collector. Collecting gave me a sense of personal responsibility, and I would take care of my things to make sure they were in order, stacked nicely, put away in boxes etc. Maybe this was because I was a shy and introverted kid.
What I really liked to do was trading with other kids in the neighborhood that brought me out of my shell so to speak., Because I was the littlest kid on the block, the older kids thought I didn’t know what I was doing. But I did! For example, I would buy new baseballcards featuring the latest superstars of the time, then I would trade with the older guys for their older player cards — the late 1950s cards. I just knew those vintage items were the thing to collect, so I traded the new for the old. This was the true start of my becoming a collector. It was a gift.
When did you know you could eventually make a living of it?
I never became a collector for profit. Still today even though my collection is now for sale, I am still that same little boy at heart that looks at my collection often and appreciate all my achievements as a collector. Yes, in order to have the opportunity to collect new items, I would have to trade (like I did in the beginning), sell or place items in auctions.
I was educated in the field of Architecture and followed that path until 2000. I had an opportunity with a friend to change my career and be in the entertainment field but unfortunately the position and project fell through.
I could go back to what I was doing or take a giant leap to fulfill my dream and passion of what I wanted and knew best. It is important to note my Mother, who passed in 2002, encouraged me to follow my dream and with the unbelievable support of my wife Mary then and now, I did just that and I am proud to say, I am the owner of one of the largest individual music and motion picture memorabilia collections in the world..
What exactly do you collect and sell from the Beatles?
Everything! It all started with The Beatles trading cards and continued with magazines so I could educate myself, like I did with all the artists I collected and I then was intrigued by video and actually seeing them on your TV screen again years later on The Ed Sullivan Show, Royal Command Performance, Etc. In the late 1980s, I seriously started collecting autographs, documents, stage clothing, lyrics etc but always collected Beatles. It was natural to move to the higher end items and enjoyed it. In my opinion, The Beatles memorabilia as far as appreciation
in value was after the unfortunate assassination of John Lennon. It was so sudden and so final! I remember that day so well and the next day, all over the world, there was not a record available to purchase as they sold out as soon as stores opened. It brought a sudden end and the thought not we have lost a musical icon, but also a friend to me, the fans, and the last opportunity The Beatles ever reuniting. Collecting has been around forever, but through other conversations with other collectors, it really changed for them as well after December 8, 1980. With my extensive Beatle collection today, it is now time for others to enjoy what I have over the years
How do you source the important collectables, you offer in part for sale?
That is the most important question for a potential buyer .Being called a pioneer in the collecting field by other collectors, media etc, I have been fortunate to be contacted by people who experienced an event or their families that would share their memories that lead me to the item they were offering. That is just an example on how I would obtain items in my collection, directly from the source.
I have always been an extremely careful collector. In addition to a lifetime of research, education, sound judgment, and common sense, I rely on the provenance and the stories that came with the items I have purchased. I made it a priority to the best of my ability, to obtain, in writing, the history or circumstances surrounding the acquisition, event dates, autograph analysis, etc., and to establish the authenticity of each item.
I have been sought out to advise, authenticate and appraise over the years to collectors, dealers. In 2004, I consigned over 160 items in my collection in one auction in which they featured me and the collection.
Later that year, I published a study of The Beatles autographs, featured on worldwide web sites, I have received many emails from collectors thanking me for this extremely valuable tool which provides a successful guide to their collecting.
http:www.autographworld.com/beatles/sigstudy1.asp. It is important for a potential buyer for an item in my collection to be confident and comfortable with me and sharing the history above I have amassed as a collector.
How do you explain the ongoing hype for the Beatles?
The outstanding composers of Lennon, McCartney and Harrison, completed with the best drummer in Starr to create the incredible catalog of music. Their music is timeless for all generations. They set all trends and we followed. That is why the history through my eyes, collecting, is so important to educate the old and the young and preserve these incredible artifacts for decades to come.
Which items are particularly attractive with collectors, which are particularly valuable?
You would have to ask the collector themselves. I can only answer for myself. For me it was the opportunity to own a piece of history that covered their moment in time and even though I was not there for the event, I owned a particular item from that era. As far as what is valuable to collectors in the market, I would say the top would be a handwritten lyric which some have sold
in auctions for millions of dollars, stage clothing or any personally owned items, documents, autographs from special events and what they were signed on such as Albums, Programs etc.
What's the most expensive collector's item you ever got from the Beatles to this day?
I have been very fortunate to currently and once owned some incredible one of a kind items relating the Fab 4. I really cannot pick one as each one at the time I received it was the most important. I collected so much which lead me to share my memories in print and illustrations of items I once owned titled The Beatles and Their Solo Years, A trip Down Memory Lane. That was Part 1. Today, my collection consist of lyrics, clothing, signed albums, programs etc...
Are you selling these valuable pieces ?
The Beatles items currently being featured, which are the most desirable I previously mentioned are for sale. So is the collection that spans over 5 decades of the greatest artists in music history..
Thank you Tom Fontaine