Monday, October 17, 2022

The mystery of the tablecloth has been solved!

 In 2016, I wrote about the tablecloth The Beatles doodled on while backstage in San Francisco in 1966.  You can read that story here.  

Quick recap:  The caterers, Simpson's Catering, brought The Beatles and their crew their food while they were backstage before the San Francisco show and also supplied the tablecloth for the table.   The Beatles used the colorful Japanese pen gifted to them by fans to draw doodles on the tablecloth after the meal.   Joan Baez was also there, and she drew on the tablecloth.   Afterward, Simpson's Catering took their tablecloth back with them, now adorned by Beatle art and autographs.  It was put on display in the shop's front window, and many fans stopped by to see it and take photos of it.   Then six days after the concert, someone broke the large window and took the tablecloth.    

That is all we knew about this piece of Beatles artwork.   It has been missing since 1966.   Although I do have to say that someone in the comments section of the article from 2016 someone came forward and said that the guy who originally stole the tablecloth in 1966 gave it to his uncle, who had no idea it was stolen until the 1980s.    Whoever had the tablecloth gave it back to the son of the caterer in 2020, and now he is selling the tablecloth through Bonhams auctions.  

You can bid on the famous tablecloth here.    It only has one day left!

Thanks to this auction, we can see the artwork up close. 

This is the biggest section that is made by a Beatle.   John Lennon drew all of the yellow areas.  Paul signed his name in bubble letters and put an arrow.  

These drawings were drawn by Joan.   Who do you think she was doodling?

George and Ringo were seen drawing at the table.  But when I looked closer, I realized that they had doodled on paper and not actually on the tablecloth.   What a shame!   I am sure those scraps of paper are long gone.   The caterer asked George and Ringo to autograph the tablecloth. 

This photograph by Marilyn Doerflers really shows some of the art -- notice John's yellow drawing especially?

I am glad that this mystery has been solved and that the tablecloth has survived all these years.  I find it a bit disappointing that there isn't more artwork on it (such as the one they did in Japan the same year), but original John Lennon art is always awesome. 


  1. That is an amazing piece of Beatles memorabilia history! I'm delighted it was returned to the original owner's family. Excellent story. Now to head to Bonhams and bid . . . .

  2. You may be interested to know, that the tablecloth shall be on display in a museum in Frankfurt, Germany from next Thursday, Feb.22. Whenever Beatles fans come toFfrankfurt, they are welcome to visit it. Here is the link to an (german) article in the local newspaper:

    1. That is great news! I am so glad to learn that it is giong to be on display. I hope some fans in the area take photographs and share them. How long withthey be on display at the musuem?

    2. The tablecloth will be on permanent loan to the museum.

      Here is the english translation of the newspaper article:

      How the Beatles' tablecloth came to Frankfurt

      Decorated by the Beatles and Joan Baez: the tablecloth from 1966 is on permanent loan.

      Decorated by the Beatles and Joan Baez: The tablecloth from 1966 is on permanent loan.

      A chance find at an auction brought a tablecloth painted by the Beatles to Frankfurt. It is now on display at the Museum Angewandte Kunst.

      Was it really steak that John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr and the Beatles ate together with Joan Baez on 29 August 1966? You could probably do a DNA analysis to find out the menu sequence. The once white tablecloth of the catering company Jo Vilardi from San Francisco is stained enough. And also painted all over: The Beatles did not necessarily serve as a role model for good table manners. Instead, Frankfurt's Museum Angewandte Kunst now has an almost legendary exhibit.

      The "Fab Four" tablecloth was lost for 55 years. It only reappeared in 2022: a man had received it from an acquaintance in settlement of a debt and never sold it. The tablecloth, which features autographs and the slogan "Paul McCartney did not lay a hand on this table", was stolen property. A few days after the Beatles' last official concert on 29 August 1966 in San Francisco's Cadlestick Park Stadium, it was stolen from the caterer's shop window.

      The fact that it is now in Frankfurt is down to chance and a certain playful instinct: Florian Schilling, the Frankfurt supervisory board business consultant, had also read about the spectacular find, which was sold at an online auction in October 2022. "I suspected it would fetch hundreds of thousands," he says, as a number of Beatles items have realised enormous prices. He bid at the very beginning. Because he had always liked the Beatles and didn't expect to win the bid.

      But he got it. "I was surprised at the quality," says Schilling. John Lennon, who had studied art, drew a yellow sun wheel and an abstract machine. That's for sure, says Schilling. "But we don't know whether the portraits are of Paul McCartney or Joan Baez." He can't ask Baez. He contacted her management and received a cancellation, says Schilling. In the meantime, he has familiarised himself deeply with the history of the Beatles, so deeply that he has even given a lecture on the band's complete works - all thanks to the tablecloth.

      "I have great fun with it and with this story," says Schilling. Hanging up the tablecloth at home was not an option for conservation reasons alone. The Beatles Museum in Liverpool was also interested, but Schilling has given it to the Frankfurt museum on permanent loan. The museum will be celebrating four new additions to the permanent exhibition "Elementary Parts" on 22 February at 7 pm. The Beatles scarf is guaranteed not to get any new stains: It will be on display behind glass.

      Translated with (free version)