Freddie Mercury’s prized piano that he used to compose Bohemian Rhapsody and other hits by Queen sold for nearly $3 million on Wednesday as some of the late singer’s massive collection of flamboyant stage costumes, fine art and original lyrics were auctioned in a sale that broke records.
Items connected to the operatic Bohemian Rhapsody, the band’s most enduring hit, brought in a premium with hand-written lyrics to the song selling for about 1.4 million pounds ($2.4 million Cdn) and a gold Cartier brooch of the words “Queen number 1” given to each band member by their manager after the song topped the charts selling for 165,000 pounds ($282,000 Cdn).
A Victorian-style silver snake bangle Mercury wore with an ivory satin catsuit in a video for the song — long before the days of MTV — set a record for the highest price ever paid at auction for a piece of jewellery owned by a rock star, Sotheby’s said.
The bracelet went for 698,500 pounds ($1.2 million Cdn) — 100 times its estimated low price. The item broke a record set when John Lennon’s leather and bead talisman sold for 295,000 pounds ($505,000 Cdn) in 2008, Sotheby’s said.
The eclectic collection of objects was amassed by Mercury after Queen’s glam-rock produced an avalanche of hits that allowed the singer to achieve his dream of living a Victorian life “surrounded by exquisite clutter.”
Clothes, awards, original lyrics on the block
Mercury’s close friend, Mary Austin, to whom he left his house and his possessions when he died of AIDS-related pneumonia in 1991 at 45, is selling it all — more than 1,400 items.
A mere 59 items of that “clutter” sold for 12.2 million pounds ($20.9 million Cdn), including a buyer’s premium, that blew away estimates in the four-and-a-half-hour auction. Bidders from 61 countries took part in person, online and by phone.
Mercury wrote, “Easy come, easy go, will you let me go?” in Rhapsody, and the answer to the question from well-heeled fans seemed to be “No,” as they bid fortunes — large and larger — to get a piece of the late singer’s clothing, awards and original hand-written drafts to classics such as Killer Queen and We Are the Champions.
Depending how you looked at it, the champions of the night may have been Sotheby’s or Austin or a few charities she’s promised to donate an undisclosed portion of the proceeds to.
Or it could have been the buyers of one-of-a-kind memorabilia who won.
One man raised his hands over his head in victory and hugged the woman seated next to him after bidding 635,000 pounds ($1 million Cdn) for the rhinestone-studded crown and red, fake-fur cloak Mercury wore on stage at the end of every show during Queen’s last tour in 1986.
Some proceeds to charity
The auction opened with the sale of the graffiti-tagged door to the garden of Mercury’s home that quickly blew past the high estimate of 25,000 pounds ($43,000 Cdn) projected before the sale and led to a bidding war that lasted nearly 20 minutes.
The green door covered in hand-painted love notes from fans who made a pilgrimage to the house in the Kensington area of London sold for an eye-popping 412,750 pounds ($706,000 Cdn).
All of the proceeds of the sale of a Cartier onyx and diamond ring given to Mercury by his friend, Elton John, that sold for 273,000 pounds ($467,000 Cdn) were to go to the Rocket Man singer’s AIDS charity.
Art sold at the auction included prints by Pablo Picasso (190,500 pounds; $326,000 Cdn), Salvador Dali (48,260 pounds; $82,500 Cdn); and Marc Chagall (63,500; $108,500 Cdn), antique furniture and numerous cat figurines.
140,000 fans lined up to see the items
For the past month, fans of Mercury who couldn’t afford those kind of prices — or just wanted to see his high-top Adidas, diamond brooches or a sequined jacket — could view them for free in Sotheby’s galleries. More than 140,000 visitors from around the world queued up outside the elegant auction house to take a tour.
Publicity from “Freddie Mercury: A World of his Own” drove up bidding for online auctions that began last month and closes next week.
Even items being sold online that had seemed like they might be in reach for some average buyers eclipsed pre-sale estimates.
One of the quirkier items, a silver moustache comb from Tiffany & Co., that had been expected to set a buyer back 400 to 600 pounds ($685-$1,000 Cdn) had a bid at 35,000 pounds ($59,000 Cdn).
The Yamaha baby grand piano that Mercury wrote some of Queen’s greatest hits on was one of the few items that sold for less than its estimated price tag, though it still sold for the most amount of money.
It had been expected to sell for as much as 3 million pounds ($5 million Cdn) but sold for 1.7 million pounds ($2.9 million Cdn). Sotheby’s said it was the highest price ever paid for a composer’s piano, but they didn’t provide information on the previous record.
Other items that were treasured by fans were Mercury’s draft lyrics to Somebody to Love (241,000 pounds; $412,000 Cdn), and Don’t Stop Me Now and We Are the Champions, which both fetched the same final prices: 317,500 pounds; $543,000 Cdn.
The drafts showed songs at their inception, with Bohemian Rhapsody scratched on stationery from the defunct British Midland Airways. The song was originally named Mongolian Rhapsody before that was crossed out.
The song ends with the words “Nothing really matters to me,” a line that certainly didn’t apply to Mercury’s myriad possessions.