The ‘Tefteller Pepper’ is the world’s most valuable record cover
THE SUNDAY TIMES, 2009
This peculiar alternate Beatles album sleeve turned up back in the Noughties. It was found by an eminent American collector – John Tefteller of Oregon, a man almost fabled for his staggering hoard of rare blues records, who has also dealt in rare Beatles material.
“I bought a collection of records from a relative of someone who had worked at Capitol Records,” Tefteller told me, “and it was all 1950s and ’60s material, primarily jazz. The lady that had it mentioned that there was an unusual Beatles LP in there. I was going through the collection and I saw what I thought was a regular Sgt Pepper LP. Then all of a sudden it hit me: this doesn’t look right. What in the world is this?”
What Tefteller was looking at, still shrinkwrapped and in pristine condition, was a Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album sleeve with the Beatles and some of the famous people removed and other, unfamiliar people put in their places. “I tried to research it and I could find nothing about this. So I started asking people I’d sold Beatles material to in the past about it. And what I heard from a couple of them was that it was made in 1967 as an in-house promotional item.” It transpires that the men staring out where the Beatles should be, where WC Fields and Tony Curtis and Marlon Brando and many others should be, are senior employees of Capitol Records in the 1960s, and this strange gem was given to them by their company as a souvenir.
Two of these turned up on the market a long time ago, but they weren’t in great condition. This one is perfect. It’s phenomenally rare
The execution of this cover modification was artless, to say the least: different-sized black-and-white heads have just been stuck on the image, showing a lack of appreciation for how the artwork was created in the first place. Like many people in 1967, some Capitol Records staff obviously thought this was a simple cut-and-paste collage, which used scissors, magazines and lots of glue. In fact, Peter Blake and his then wife and collaborator, Jan Haworth, made lifesize images of the people in the crowd, from Bob Dylan to Marlene Dietrich, and the Beatles stood among them in a Chelsea studio and were photographed by Michael Cooper.
But how much is “the Tefteller Pepper”, as we will inevitably have to call this precious thing, worth? “Well, how in the world could we determine that?” asked Tefteller. “I have heard that two of these turned up on the market a long time ago, something like 20 years ago or more, but they weren’t in great condition. This one is perfect. I think it’s so phenomenally rare and unusual, the Beatles’ ‘butcher cover’ pales in comparison.” (The butcher cover, well known to collectors, features the shockingly gory image of the Beatles that was initially chosen by Capitol to package Yesterday and Today, a 1966 hotchpotch of songs for the American market.)
In 2011, two years after I spoke to John Tefteller for The Sunday Times about his incredible discovery, Record Collector magazine declared that this sleeve was the most valuable record cover in the world, with an estimated price tag of £70,000. And it’s been getting better all the time. In February 2020, Tefteller announced that he would finally be parting with the Tefteller Pepper. He put it on eBay, asking for a minimum bid of $200,000 (nearly £155,000) and explaining: “I have been saving and preserving this extreme rarity for a long time. As much as I am a Beatles fan and love them, I am ready to pass it along to someone else to care for. I just have way too many original 1920s and ’30s blues 78s that I want to find, buy and restore, and I need the money to do it.” It didn’t find any buyers on this occasion – but watch this space. ♦
© 2014 Tony Barrell