Baby-boomers with a few retirement dollars to spend—and a lot of nostalgia for their youth—continue to buy any rock ’n’ roll ephemera they can get their hands on, from small pieces of the Woodstock stage to scraps of cloth from one of Janis Joplin’s dresses.

But when it comes to generating the big bucks in memorabilia, nobody beats the Beatles. Nearly 50 years after the band broke up for good, the frenzy for all things Fab Four continues, and the band that was only together for seven and a half years generates millions every year through auctions and private sales.

A few months ago, Christie’s auctioned 110 items owned by Pattie Boyd, one corner of the most well-known love triangle in modern history, which fetched $3.6 million. The lots included letters from a lovesick Eric Clapton—extra points for neat penmanship—and dozens of pieces from a seemingly forgiving George Harrison.

Letters from a lovesick George Harrison to Pattie Boyd were part of an auction of Boyd’s estate that earned $3.6 million.

The Beatles themselves haven’t profited much from the sales. They were too busy trying to survive Beatlemania to give much thought to the future, holding on for their lives rather than thinking about things they should be holding on to. Objects that would someday be worth millions slipped through their hands, either lost, given away, stolen, or tossed.

“It didn’t occur to them to keep a lot of things,” says Chris O’Dell, who worked at Apple in the 1960s and later lived with Harrison and Boyd. Handwritten song lyrics handed over for typing, she says, arrived on the backs of envelopes and scraps of paper. “It didn’t occur to me to ask to keep them. Most ended up in the circular file, I imagine.” One exception was longtime roadie and Beatles gofer Mal Evans, who stowed away John Lennon’s handwritten lyrics for “A Day in the Life,” later sold by his estate for $1.2 million.

The Beatles were too busy trying to survive Beatlemania to give much thought to the future, holding on for their lives rather than thinking about things they should be holding on to.

What the Beatles did hold on to, they often later gave away. Lennon handed the Ivor Novello Award statuette he won for writing “She’s Leaving Home” to a young girl who came to his door for an autograph. “All of the Beatles were very generous,” says O’Dell. “They gave away tons of stuff, especially to other musicians.”

While on a tour of Harrison’s 120-room mansion (his widow, Olivia Harrison, denied that it had that many rooms, but she could not confirm the actual number), Stray Cats drummer Slim Jim Phantom was more than a little shocked when Harrison reached into a drawer and handed over a pair of Cuban-heeled “Beatle boots” from the early 60s. Last year they sold for more than $70,000 at auction. For his part, Harrison—whose nickname was “the Cranky Beatle”—once dismissed interest in the group’s memorabilia as “ridiculous.”

Not so, apparently, for Sir Paul McCartney, who is rumored to be anonymously buying back pieces of the Beatles’ past at auction, possibly for a future museum. He probably doesn’t need the broken guitar strings somebody paid $5,000 for last year. He might need his birth certificate back someday, but he’ll probably have to come up with more than the $84,000 it last sold for.

All the Beatles were clothes-crazy—one London tailor made more than 500 suits for them—but they’re most associated with the collarless wool-and-mohair ones they wore in 1963. Each member had dozens of spares for touring and photos. Lennon’s came with extra pants because he often split his onstage. The Cardin-inspired outfits rarely come to market these days, but even 20 years ago one of McCartney’s sold for more than $50,000.

Meanwhile, Lennon’s guitar, the J-160E Gibson acoustic guitar which was stolen from him, sold for $2.4 million in 2015. Today, McCartney’s 1961 Höfner Violin Bass, also stolen 50 years ago and recently recovered, is valued at $13 million.

Baby-boomers continue to buy any rock ’n’ roll ephemera they can get their hands on, such as small pieces of the Woodstock stage.

Any Beatles fan would be thrilled to own a genuine autograph, but so many, unfortunately, are thrilled for no good reason. “About 85 or 90 percent of the Beatles’ autographs I see are fake,” says Garry Shrum, who authenticates them for Heritage Auctions. “Everyone around them could forge their signatures,” says O’Dell. “There was always one Beatle at Apple but rarely all four,” she continues, “[and] whoever was there would sign for himself and then the other three.” Harrison, who once complained that most of their autographs on the market were fakes, is said to have been the most skillful at faking them.

Without question the most morbid Beatles-adjacent relic is the copy of Double Fantasy Lennon signed for his killer hours before his murder. After firing four bullets into Lennon, Mark David Chapman threw the album into a planter near the Dakota—the Upper West Side apartment building where the murder took place—from which it was retrieved by a passerby. The police collected the LP as evidence, then returned it, complete with police markings and enhanced fingerprints. The owner kept it under his bed for 18 years before selling it for $150,000. The album has since been bought and sold several times, and is said to be worth $3 million or more.

Would your children be happy if you spent their inheritance on Beatles memorabilia? A lot depends on when you bought. Prices remained modest into the 1990s and then began an unending climb. A pair of Lennon’ s wire-rimmed eyeglasses sold for around $10,000 at a London auction in 2000, while a nearly identical pair sold for more than $80,000 two years ago.

Peter Jackson’s Get Back documentary, the re-release of Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s Let It Be, and director Sam Mendes’s forthcoming four biopics—one on each Beatle—should keep interest in the group alive for a time, but it’s been 60 years since millions of teenagers screamed at their parents’ televisions during The Ed Sullivan Show. All those youngsters are senior citizens now, and there’s no guarantee the market for Beatles memorabilia will continue to grow. Will a younger generation enthralled with their own guitar heroes think the small, cardboard outdoor sign advertising the Beatles’ 1966 Shea Stadium concert is worth the $275,000 it fetched in 2022? Hard to say.

One thing’s for certain: If the secondhand market is too overwhelming, you can always count on the four owners of Apple Corps—the other Apple—to keep you supplied with fresh Beatles merchandise. Their latest offering is an 11-inch, Lego-style replica of the 1962 Ed Sullivan Show stage, complete with wee Beatles and TV cameras, retailing for $80. Better hurry, though, because sellers are already getting $180 for them on eBay.

Mike Lafavore is a New York–based writer who served as the founding editor of Men’s Health magazine and