At 29 years old, Kristi Braswell-Panarese may be new to the art of auctioneering, but that didn't stop her dad, the second-generation owner of Braswell Galleries in Norwalk, from giving her a very special lot to call Saturday.
So spitting out prices in rapid fire before a packed auction gallery, Braswell-Panarese hammered the final bid on the white suit John Lennon wore in the iconic photograph that graced the cover of the Beatles' 1969 "Abbey Road" album at the gallery's 24th annual New Year's Day auction. Two minutes after Braswell-Panarese took the podium, the two-piece suit -- according to the gallery custom made for Lennon by the French haute couture designer Ted Lapidus -- sold for $46,000 to an anonymous online bidder.
Just 12 hours before, Braswell-Panarese had been in Atlanta, helping the family open a new gallery, when her father called with the idea. Knowing it would be an honor to call the big-ticket lot, gallery owner Gary Braswell decided to hand over the microphone.
"My dad called me and said, `You know what? I'm going to give you a Christmas present," Braswell-Panerese said. "It was nerve wracking, but it was really cool."
Lennon wore the two-piece suit while shooting the cover art for "Abbey Road," the Beatles' last recorded album. The cover photo, taken by Iain Macmillan, has become arguably one of the best-known images of the 20th century. It shows the four Beatles walking across a white zebra crossing on Abbey Road in St. John's Wood, London. Since the 1969 album was released, the image has been widely parodied, with spoofs by the Simpsons, Kanye West, and others. Last week the famous crossing was deemed a protected landmark by the British Department for Culture, Media and Sport, meaning it cannot be altered without the approval of local authorities.
The auction, which also featured other Lennon and Beatles artifacts such as a brown velvet jacket Lennon wore while performing "Imagine," and his and Yoko Ono's gold record award for "Double Fantasy," drew a crowd of over 500, said Kathy Braswell, Kristi's mother and one of the gallery's co-owners.
"The New Year's sale is our biggest sale of the year," Braswell said. "It's like a party."
Like a true family-owned business, every family member helped out. Braswell's son, Ryan, had been smoking brisket since 5 a.m. for a complementary on-site barbecue. The family's younger daughter, Jen, worked registration at the front desk. And Kathy's brother and sister-in-law helped work the floor.
Claude Bentley, of Greenwich, said he dropped by out of curiosity for how much the Lennon suit would net. Bentley, a 25-year client of the Braswells, said the family-run spirit of the gallery makes it more than just a business."
"The Braswell family business as a brand, is one of the most human, compassionate galleries in the area," Bentley said. "What the Braswells have is very genuine. That's what makes me come back."
Another visitor, Hank Gioiella, of Darien, didn't leave empty handed. Spurred on by his son, Gioiella bought Lennon's rusted green 1972 Chrysler station wagon. Gioiella said his son wanted the car, which sold at a hammer price of $5,500, as a symbol of Lennon's peace-loving, non-materialist spirit.
Asked whether his son would fix it up, Hank said no way.
"He wants people to know you don't need nice things," Gioiella said. "The message from John Lennon is that you don't need a lot to live. This is what he was happy with."