Monday, February 4, 2013

John Lennon's Bag One At $133,500

by Stephen J. Gertz

A complete copy of John Lennon's Bag One (1970) from its forty-five sets only hors commerce (not for sale) issue of the first edition has come into the marketplace. No complete copy of this iteration of the first edition has previously been offered for public sale; this is the first to come out of hiding. Numbered in pencil in Roman numerals "H.C.XXXIX" and signed by Lennon, it is being offered for £85,000 ($133,500) by Peter Harrington Rare Books of London..

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.

It is the rarest, most desirable and difficult to find of all of Lennon's books, no matter the edition and issue. In addition to the 45 hors commerce copies the first edition was comprised of 300 signed copies.

Last year, an attractive complete copy of one of those 300 sets was offered by New England Book Auctions for $20,000-$30,000.

The hors commerce copies are held dearly by those privileged to have had one bestowed upon them by Lennon or Ono. This copy belonged to British advertising executive and fine arts publisher and author, Edward Booth-Clibborn, who won a rather spectacular claim to fame in 1991 while working for British agency D&D.

"Even by the ad industry's extravagant standards, Edward Booth-Clibborn's lunch bill for two at Mayfair's Le Gavroche in 1991 was a jaw-dropper… [a] £448 lunch for two - including a half bottle of wine costing £126 - that grabbed the headlines. Booth-Clibborn charged the lunch against "PR", causing The Independent to suggest later that the initials must have stood for 'profligate romp'" (Campaign, January 28, 2011). Adjusted for inflation that meal cost £750 ($1,185) in 2012.

Copies of the 45 hors commerce sets were reserved primarily for personal distribution by John and Yoko: 30 sets were given to their company, Bag One Productions, and presumably circulated by them amongst their friends. This set was given to Edward Booth-Clibborn as part of the negotiations in January 1970 over a marketing deal between his company, First Run Ltd, and the US licensee appointed by Lennon and Ono, Consolidated Fine Arts Ltd. Booth-Clibborn's British company proposed to produce mass-market posters of the images, and signed a contract to that effect on January 31, 1970.

On February 7, 1970, a jerk present at the New York opening night exhibition of the Bag One lithographs at Lee Nordness Galleries surreptitiously photographed them. Cheap reprints of the entire set were  publicly offered the very next day and Booth-Clibborn's contract was cancelled. He had invested $24,200 in the project; all he got was this copy of the suite. Forty-three years later he can now enjoy a few more profligate romps. Make sure he picks up the tab and leaves the tip.

Should another hors commerce copy enter the marketplace, one owned, perhaps, by Eric Clapton or any other super nova within Lennon's orbit, it will likely sell for at least $150,000-$175,000. Should Lennon or Yoko Ono's copy ever be offered for sale? I suspect an auction estimate beginning at $200,000-$250,000 and ending where the air is thin, leaving room for outer space before the hammer falls.

LENNON, John. Bag One. New York: Cinnamon Press, 1970. First edition, limited to 45 hors commerce sets, this copy being no. H.C.XXXIX. Folio. Title page, text leaf, and fourteen signed in pencil lithograph prints ( 58 x 76 cm) on BFK Rives paper, loose as issued. Lacking the leather bag, which was not included with hors commerce sets.

Images courtesy of Peter Harrington Rare Books, currently offering this volume, with our thanks.

Of Related Interest:

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

Extraordinary Letter From John Lennon To Eric Clapton: Join My New Band!

Yoko Ono Collects Rare Books: The Booktryst Interview.



  1. I have recently acquired what I believe to be one of John Lennon, fourteen signed lithographs, cover page, and text of Bag One, so excited! Hope everyone else is excited!

  2. I have purchased what I believe to be John Lennon lithograph of the 1970 Bag One, I am so excited!

  3. I have a full set as well and will sell it for a lot less than 100,000 if anyone wants to talk!


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