Every last lot in the much-ballyhooed Freddie Mercury auction at Sotheby’s London, “A World of His Own”—from his worn-in Adidas high-tops to his antique Italian pietra dure table—found a buyer on September 6, for a total of £12.2 million ($15.4 million) with fees. The live evening sale, held at Sotheby’s New Bond Street, was greeted by a room that Oliver Barker, chairman of Sotheby’s Europe, described as “electric.”
With 59 lots on offer, the sale was the first of six devoted to the Queen frontman’s never-before-seen personal collection of over 1,400 items, perfectly preserved in the beloved icon’s London home since his death more than 30 years ago. Mercury’s lifelong friend Mary Austin decided the time was right to part with the objects, which, prior to the auction, were displayed in a monthlong public exhibition seen by over 140,000 visitors, an all-time record for Sotheby’s.
Tuesday’s auction, a black-tie affair, “did not commence until the room broke into a chant of ‘We Will Rock You,’” according to a Sotheby’s London spokesperson, “followed by almost 20 minutes of dogged bidding.” And that was just for the first item on the block: a graffiti-covered door from the exterior wall of Mercury’s home—a testament to the intense fandom enjoyed by the British band and its charismatic leader. A telephone bidder paid just over $521,000 for the doodled door.
Over the next four and half hours, bidders hailing from 61 countriesvied for the musician’s coveted personal collection of artworks, objects, costumes, handwritten lyrics, and assorted ephemera. A record 2,000 people registered to bid, nearly 60 percent of whom were first-time Sotheby’s clients.
Well into the eight digits, the final tally nearly doubled the presale high estimate of £7.2 million ($9 million), already clearing the high estimate for the entire six-sale series—with over 1,000 lots yet to be offered.
The predictable top lot, however, was Mercury’s trusty Yamaha baby grand piano from 1973, sold to an anonymous bidder for £1.7 million ($2.2 million). The instrument was used to compose “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Don’t Stop Me Now,” and “Somebody to Love”—some of the 20th century’s highest-charting hits.
Mercury’s autographed handwritten lyrics for “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Queen’s biggest hit, yielded £1.4 million ($1.8 million). This is the second time these pages have made headlines recently; the first was when they were released earlier in the year, revealing an alternate former title, “Mongolian Rhapsody,” that had been scratched out. The lyrics of another of the band’s great anthems, “We Are the Champions,” scored £317,500 ($401,000).
Mercury’s collection of fine artworks also attracted attention. Picasso’s print Jaqueline au chapeau noir (1962) went for £190,500 ($240,500) against a high estimate of £50,000 to £70,000, while Joan Miró’s Le Matador (1969) saw a winning bid of £88,900 ($112,000). Prints bearing Mercury’s provenance—including those by Henri Matisse, Marc Chagall, and Salvador Dalí—far exceeded expectations. The last work of art that he purchased, a James-Jacques Tissot painting called Types of Beauty: Portrait of Mrs Kathleen Newton, (1880), sold for £482,600 ($609,000).
The musician’s elaborate stage costumes—a signature—did not disappoint. His fabled crown and cloak ensemble, which he wore at the end of every concert on the “Magic” tour, pulled in £635,000 ($801,500), while his rainbow-colored satin appliqué jacket—made in the U.S. for the “Hot Space” tour of 1982—sold for £203,200 ($256,500), 16 times its estimate.
A silver bangle in the shape of a serpent, worn by Mercury in the video for “Bohemian Rhapsody,” was the subject of “rapid-fire bidding,” said Sotheby’s, blowing past its high estimate within the first few seconds. Ultimately, at £698,500 ($882,000), the lot clinched nearly 100 times its estimate, the most for any piece of jewelry belonging to a rock star (the record was previously held by a beaded talisman owned by John Lennon, which sold in 2018 for £295,000). A diamond-and-onyx ring by Cartier, given to Mercury by Sir Elton John, also smashed expectations with a price of £273,050 ($344,671), the proceeds of which will be donated to the Elton John AIDS Foundation, minus the buyer’s premium.
The final lot, a Wurlitzer jukebox—an iconic model dating to 1941—sold to the tune of £406,400 ($513,000), or roughly 20 times its high estimate. According to Sotheby’s, the machine still operates on its original coinage and lights up when played. Some of Mercury’s favorite songs can be found on it—in vinyl disc form—including “Hallelujah I Love Her So” by Ray Charles, “Rip It Up” by Little Richard, and “Shake, Rattle and Roll” by Bill Haley and His Comets.
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