Hailed as The world's most famous drumskin, it has been said that the drum seen on the front cover of the Beatles' ground-breaking Sgt. Pepper album has ...become in itself a part of the Beatles' iconography.... This drum is arguably the most iconic image associated with the Beatles and the album cover remains the most famous record sleeve image of all time, epitomising the spirit of the Sixties.
The design of the album cover and the drum itself was conceived by Peter Blake and the drumskin was painted by fairground artist, Joe Ephgrave. Ephgrave painted two different versions of the drumskin (see Evans, Mike The Art Of The Beatles); the alternative design is apparently in the collection of Sir Paul McCartney.
The album itself was a major production, taking nine months to record, and The Beatles wanted the cover to complement the music and to be as visually engaging as possible. For their outfits they went to theatrical costumiers Bermans, ordering military-style uniforms in bright psychedelic colours in materials of their choice. Having decided on the title and ordered the uniforms, on the advice of gallery owner and friend Robert Fraser, they brought in Peter Blake, a leading exponent of Pop Art, to design the cover. Blake recalled that ..Getting a professional fine artist to design a record cover hadn't happened before that... In an interview, he recounted ...Before I was involved, they had decided that it would be called 'Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band' and so the concept of the Beatles calling themselves by another name already existed. The uniforms had been made and the concept was to have the record like a concert with an overture...I came into something that was taken to that degree, and I suggested that they had just played a concert in a park.. They were posing for a photograph and behind them was a crowd of fans who had been at the concert. By making cutouts, it could be anybody, dead or alive or even fictitious. If they wanted Hansel and Gretel, I could paint them and the painting could be photographed and blown up. I said, 'Give me a list' to the four Beatles, John and Paul both gave me long lists, George would only suggest Indian gurus, and Ringo said 'Whatever the others say is fine by me'. He didn't suggest anyone. It's an interesting insight into them... McCartney's list apparently included Fred Astaire and William Burroughs and Lennon's included Jesus (a reference to his 'Beatles are bigger than God' claim) and Hitler. Two of the sixty characters were contemporary musicians, Bob Dylan, chosen by Lennon, and Dion, chosen by Blake.
McCartney said of their aims for the cover ...We wanted the whole of 'Pepper' to be so that you could look at the front cover for years, and study all those people and read all the words on the back... Lennon commented in 1967... Sgt. Pepper...is one of the most important steps in our career. It had to be just right. We tried, and I think succeeded in achieving what we set out to do... Ringo Starr summed up the album with his words It was flower power coming into its fullest. It was love and peace...
The vendor purchased this drum directly from Sotheby's in 1994 and since that sale, the drumskin has undergone some restoration to the paintwork and has been attached to a military drum identical to that used in the original album photo shoot. Research at the Boosey & Hawkes Archives at the Horniman Museum, London has confirmed that the drum would likely date from the 1930s-1940s.
A photograph of John Lennon taken by Ethan Russell in 1968 shows what appears to be the Sgt. Pepper drumskin on the wall of his study. We believe that this photograph was taken at Ringo Starr's flat at 34 Montagu Square - where Lennon stayed with Yoko Ono following his separation from his first wife, Cynthia. It is not known what happened to this drumskin after the shot was taken in 1968, but the drumskin offered here was discovered in the late 1970s during the renovation of a property in the Chelsea/Fulham area of London and we believe this is likely to be the same drumskin photographed with Lennon in 1968.
Christie's would like to thank Sir Peter Blake for his helpful assistance with the research of this lot.