Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Rarest, Most Desirable Book By John Lennon Comes To Auction

By Stephen J. Gertz

"We're all in a bag, you know?...I was in a pop bag, going round and round, in my little clique. And she was in her little avant-garde clique, going round and round. So we just came up with a word. If you'd ask us what Bagism is, we'd say, 'We're all in a bag, baby'" - John Lennon, Avant-Garde, March 1970.

A scarce, complete, unnumbered and out-of-sequence first edition copy of John Lennon's Bag One, his 1970 collection of lithographs limited to 300 examples, is being offered by New England Book Auctions on Tuesday May 29, 2012. It is expected to sell for $20,000 - $30,000.

The only other copy to ever sell at auction fell under the hammer at Sotheby's twenty-four years ago, in 1988, for $12,155.

Bag One is a series of fourteen signed original lithographs originally conceived and executed in 1969 to commemorate Lennon's wedding to  Yoko Ono and their subsequent honeymoon  in Amsterdam.

The lithographs were scheduled for a two-week exhibition at London Arts Gallery at 22 New Bond Street on January 15th 1970.  On the exhibit's second day, however, Scotland Yard raided the gallery and confiscated eight of the fourteen lithographs on the grounds that they were obscene and "exhibited to public the annoyance of passengers, contrary to Section 54(12) of the Metropolitan Police Act, 1839, and the third schedule of the Criminal Justice Act 1967."  

Text leaf.

The case was later dismissed when the magistrate hearing the case determined that they were unlikely to deprave or corrupt.

The lithographs were soon afterward exhibited by Lee Nordness Galleries in New York City, February 7 through February 28, 1970.

"The American opening of Bag One was a lavish affair... I flew over on John's behalf to film the proceedings. The whole of the New York art scene and all the 'beautiful people' turned out. Dali came with his pet ocelot on a leash. The lithographs were on view in a specially created environment, where spectators were asked to remove their shoes. The next month's issue of the prestigious Avant Garde magazine featured the Erotic Lithographs on the cover and as the major inside spread" (Anthony Fawcett. One Day at a Time, pp. 164-173).

Cinnamon Press of New York issued the first edition in 1970 simultaneously with the exhibitions. Laurens A. Daane of Amsterdam published a subsequent edition afterward in the same year.

The whole, inside story of Bag One, from conception through exhibition and publication, was related by Lennon and Ono's personal assistant, Anthony Fawcett, in his 1976 biography, John Lennon: One Day at a Time. A Personal Biography of the Seventies. You can read that section here.

A copy of Bag One was offered in the Rock & Roll Pop Culture Auction held by Gotta Have Rick and Roll in December 2011. It was estimated to sell for between $75,000 and $100,000, with minimum bid $72,500. It did not sell, "irrational exuberance," evidently, not limited to the financial markets.

The auctioneer, high-as-a-Mr. Kite, it seems, was, apparently, under the influence of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, rather than Lovely Rita, down-to-earth meter-maid, when conjuring up that strictly from Alpha Centuri estimate.


LENNON, John. Bag One. New York: Cinnamon Press, 1970. First edition, limited to 300 copies. Folio. Title page, text leaf, and fourteen SIGNED in pencil lithograph prints ( 58 x 76 cm) on BFK Rives paper, loose as issued in white vinyl portfolio with black lettering and three ribbon ties, here foxed and stained.

Images courtesy of New England Book Auctions, with our thanks.


  1. Unless I'm missing something here, didn't Christie's London sell a complete copy of Bag One in November 2011 for GBP 35,000 (US $55,975)? From

  2. Yes, I note that now. Curiously, ABPC has yet to record that copy's sale, which is why I missed it.
    Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

  3. May 23, 2012

    With one exception the so-called Bag One lithographs are actually non-disclosed reproductions.

    The Urban Myth continues. To learn more, cut & paste:

    Caveat Emptor!

    Gary Arseneau
    artist, creator of original lithographs
    Fernandina Beach, Florida

  4. Imagine an entire world living in peace… John saw the beauty and inherent good in humanity. I tried to do his legacy justice and channel his world-embracing and loving energy this week with a tribute portrait inspired by his music and his passion for changing the world. You can see this new work of art in memoriam on my artist’s blog at along with some pictures showing how I created it. See John holding the Universe in his hand and spreading his message. When you stop by, let me know how his words and music have affected your life and creativity!


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