AMHERST, N.H.-The winds of musical taste can be fickle, as any faithful viewer of American Idol knows only too well. But when it comes to classic rock memorabilia, savvy collectors know that it's always smart to bet on a sure thing. Such was the case at R&R Enterprises' August auction, where the lads from Liverpool topped the charts once again. Attaining the top result among some 1,500 items was the early Beatles EP The Beatles' Hits, signed on the pictorial jacket by all four, which sold for a princely $15,654.

Close on the Beatles' heels was Led Zeppelin, who emerged on the musical scene on the verge of the Beatles' momentous breakup. A rare copy of Zeppelin's historic and influential second album, Led Zeppelin II, signed on the jacket by all four members, reached $10,973. Other musical standouts included a Höfner ³violin² bass guitar signed by Paul McCartney, $6,933; an early Parlophone promotional postcard signed by all four Beatles, $6,545; and a set of Beatles signatures obtained in 1963, $4,874.

Flashing back two centuries to the era of the ³first² British invasion, the Americana and history categories were led by Benjamin Franklin, with a 1787 Pennsylvania land grant, $9,718. Other notable results included a Lincoln appointment for a territorial judge in New Mexico, $8,833; a stirring letter from Ernest Shackleton related to his final Antarctic expedition, $6,933; a Lincoln appointment for a quartermaster, $6,032; a shipping document from the rare Signer Francis Lightfoot Lee, $5,040; a John Adams land grant, $4,484; a photo signed by Trotsky during his Mexican exile, $4,410; and a land grant signed by Adams and John Marshall less than a month before the latter assumed duties as Chief Justice, $4,303.

The aviation and space categories boasted an unusual selection of blue-chip treasures, including a small remnant from the Wright Brothers' original 1903 flyer, $7,545 (or more than $5,000 per square inch). Other exceptional items included a signed photo of Amelia Earhart with documentation from her publisher/husband, $6,545; a photo signed by Orville Wright and Henry Ford, $5,950; a trio of signed photos from the Apollo 11 crew, $5,836; a signed limited-edition copy of Earhart's account of her historic journey as the first woman to cross the Atlantic by air, complete with flown American flag, $5,729; and a signed NASA photo of Neil Armstrong, $4,602.

Art and literature honors went to J. R. R. Tolkien, with an impressive letter on the origins of The Lord of the Rings, $8,030. Also notable were an Emerson AQS from a memorial poem for his brother, $5,207, and an important and early letter from Grandma Moses, $3,176.

A rare signed photo of actress Sharon Tate, whose promising career came to a tragic, brutal end at the hands of the Manson Family, reached $6,562. Other entertainment results included a 1941 RKO contract signed by Orson Welles, $4,236; a production contract signed by Marilyn Monroe, $4,027; and an album page signed by Monroe and three of her male costars from Some Like It Hot, $3,327.

Babe Ruth once again proved himself to be the perennial favorite in the sports category. A signed photo of Ruth in his Yankees uniform brought $9,502, while a photo of the older slugger with an Army chaplain fetched $4,027. A 1929 Honus Wagner letter brought $3,721, and a lucky young fan's report card bearing Lou Gehrig's red ink signature brought $2,938.

All prices above include the buyer's premium. R&R's next auction begins on September 3 and ends on September 19. Bids are accepted online or via telephone, fax, or e-mail. For information or to consign to future auctions, visit the R&R web site at www.rrauction.com or contact Elizebeth Otto at [email protected].