John, Paul, George, Ringo and Vivienne

Beatles Game Croton Collector Vivienne Courtney

When Neal Courtney proposed to his future wife, Vivienne, instead of asking “Will you marry me?” he said, “How would you like to merge our stamp albums?” She “knew what he meant, but didn’t realize that we were such nerds.”   

They also collected coins, but over the years he settled into life as a lawyer and purged the urge. She remains “a born collector.”  

In February 1964, the year the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show and unleashed a mania so gripping that it sent girls and young women into fits of frenzied adulation, eight-year-old Vivienne and her then-teenage sister Nadine began snapping up the band’s merchandise. 

Then she stopped, confining her collection to the short window before the mop-tops grew their hair, ditched their suits and shed their innocence. 

Courtney remained low-key during Beatlemania in part because her parents, classical musicians who emigrated from Europe after World War II, barely tolerated what they called “American nonsense,” she said.  

That meant no Barbie dolls, no dollhouses, no metal lunchboxes, no piles of Mickey or Minnie mouse knickknacks. So, she started collecting those very items as an adult to recapture a lost part of childhood.  

“I love collecting things I wished I had,” she said. “And now I have them.”  

Vivienne Courtney’s Beatles display runs through the end of February at the Hendrick Hudson Free Library, and from May 1 to June 30 at the Warner Library, where her Barbie exhibition opens February 1.

Some items are in near-pristine condition, but sentimental value is what’s most important. Three rooms and other nooks in her modest Croton house serve as tasteful, tactful galleries and repositories devoid of clutter.  

In addition to collecting and displaying Asian ceramics and paintings in her tidy living room, including works created by her grandfather and by local artist Sharon Kullberg, she also zeroes in on early Barbie fashions from 1959 to 1964, which coincides with her early childhood years. 

Several years ago, Courtney began sharing highlights of her collections with patrons of the Hendrick Hudson Free Library, the Croton Free Library and the Warner Library in Tarrytown. 

To commemorate the 60th anniversary of the band’s appearance on Ed Sullivan, the bulk of her Beatles collection now sits in a lobby display just inside the front door of the Hen Hud Library.   

Many visitors, like regular Bob Gardner, stop to check out the lunch box, figurines and 45-rpm disc of their breakthrough hit “I Want to Hold Your Hand” (known as a “single” back then). 

“I thought, just wow,” said Gardner. “I grew up in the ‘60s and love these records.” 

Beginning February 1, highlights of Courtney’s vintage Barbie collection will fill a display case at the Warner Library for a month. “People who saw the [Barbie] movie think most of the outfits are hot pink or neon, but these early fashions resemble what women wore at the time,” she said.  

Explaining the collecting bug, she said, “I was an art history major in college, so I’m like a curator with my own museum. I enjoy going into a room and seeing that things are carefully chosen and educational at the same time. I would be so happy to live in an art gallery and now, I think I do.”

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About the Author: Marc Ferris