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Tokyo bidders have yen for Beatles

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A world apart from Liverpool and Penny Lane, Beatles fans from around the globe gathered Saturday to bid for Paul McCartney's birth certificate, John Lennon's cape and other Beatles memorabilia.

The auction, billed as the first all-Beatles auction, was based on the notion that while fans might "wanna hold your hand," they would settle for holding Paul McCartney's violin bass guitar, which went for $202,955, or John Lennon's black velvet cape, which sold for $27,602.It might seem a bit odd to hold this auction - which even included British real estate like Ringo Starr's former house and the Penny Lane barber shop - in Tokyo. But the Japanese are as enthusiastic fans of the Beatles as anybody, and with 68,000 members, Japan's Beatles Fan Club is one of the largest in the world.

"I love their songs," said Hiroyuki Ikeba, 40, a mechanical engineer, who used to play in a band that imitated the Beatles.

Ikeba had hoped to buy one of Lennon's guitar straps, which went to another Japanese bidder for $16,236. Instead, he spent $1,137 for a collection of previously unpublished photographs of the Beatles and $1,380 for a poster promoting the "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" album.

Though telephone bids were accepted from around the world, some of the top bids seemed to come from sober business executives in dark suits here in Tokyo. One mysterious and prominent bidder spent hundreds of thousands of dollars.

His purchases included the McCartney bass guitar, a guitar autographed by all four Beatles ($121,773), a Beatles record collection ($23,542), a gold award received by the Beatles ($21,919), a manuscript of "I, Me, Mine," by George Harrison ($21,919), the Lennon guitar strap ($16,236), and a dozen more albums, posters and other memorabilia.

Another active bidder was Hideo Yanagisawa, a 59-year-old Beatles fan who owns a diamond business in Tokyo. Yanagisawa had been planning to pick up a few things to give to some young friends to "teach the youth about the Beatles, so as to resurrect the Beatles," he said.

He was outbid on many occasions by overseas bidders taking part from London. Those bids were called in to the Tokyo Auction House, which organized the auction along with Bonhams of London.

Bidders in London could watch the Tokyo auction on a television screen and call in their bids, while would-be buyers from America, Singapore, New Zealand, South Africa and the rest of the world mostly called London and had their bids relayed to Tokyo. The auction's nearly 300 lots sold for a total estimated at $1.46 million.

The Beatles apparently were not very pleased that their former possessions were going on sale. Indeed, Sir Paul - he was recently knighted by Queen Elizabeth - obtained a court order in London to halt the sale of his 1966 handwritten manuscript of "Penny Lane," one of the Beatles' most famous songs.