The piano Queen frontman Freddie Mercury used to compose almost all of his greatest songs and the original manuscript for “Bohemian Rhapsody” were snapped up for over £3 million Wednesday when they went under the hammer in London.
The Sotheby’s auction room echoed to the sound of the track “We Will Rock You” before bidding began at the black-tie evening auction.
The items were among over 1,400 lots of Mercury memorabilia up for grabs over the next week, with the famous auction house’s facade decorated with a huge moustache for the occasion.
The 59 lots sold on Wednesday brought in £12,172,290, Sotheby’s said, adding that each one went for more than double the estimated price.
Mercury’s Yamaha quarter-tail piano went for £1,742,000 ($2,198,927), including buyer’s premium and fees, while the manuscript for the epic hit song “Bohemian Rhapsody” fetched £1,379,000.
Auctioneer Oliver Barker called the “Bohemian Rhapsody” lyrics — contained in 15-pages of pencil and ballpoint pen remarks — a “modern cultural icon”.
The manuscript also reveals that Mercury, who died from AIDS in 1991, originally intended to call the song “Mongolian Rhapsody”.
Mercury’s cherished baby grand was purchased by the charismatic star in 1975 after an exhaustive six-month search for “the ideal instrument to bring to life” his compositions.
A record 2,000 bidders from 61 countries registered to take part in the sale.
Part of the proceeds will be donated to the Mercury Phoenix Trust and the Elton John Aids Foundation, two organisations involved in the fight against AIDS.
“I miss Freddie to this day. He was a wonderful friend more full of love and life than anyone I’ve ever met, as well as a brilliant performer whose music has inspired and thrilled millions,” John said in a message read out at the start of the sale.
“He was kind, generous and funny and it is a tragedy that AIDS took him from the world much too soon,” he added.
– Graffiti tributes –
The auction kicked off with 20 minutes of bidding for the green door to Mercury’s garden on which fans scrawled tributes.
The door to his Garden Lodge home in west London sold for £412,750, far in excess of the £15,000-25,000 estimate.
Other items being sold off at the auction include furniture, clothing, art works and knick-knacks.
Wednesday’s sale will be followed by two other live auctions and three online sales over coming days.
Works by Chagall, Dali and Picasso that adorned Mercury’s home were among the lots sold.
The entire collection is being offered for sale by Mary Austin, a close friend and one-time fiancee of Mercury, to whom the singer bequeathed his estate.
“Mary Austin has lived with the collection and has cared for the collection for more than three decades,” Gabriel Heaton, a books and manuscripts specialist at Sotheby’s, told AFP.
Mercury “was not interested in having a museum of his life but he loved auctions”, to the point of being a regular at Sotheby’s sales, said Heaton.
Austin believes the artist — who was 45 when he died — would have “loved” this sale, he added.
– Moustache comb –
Mercury’s most flamboyant stage costumes, Hawaiian shirt and Superman tank top are also finding new homes along with shots by legendary snapper Mick Rock.
Brazilian entrepreneur Rafael Reisman, who bought a crown and cloak stage costume ensemble for £635,000 said Mercury “belongs to the world”.
A collection of mostly unseen personal polaroids shows Mercury as he “celebrates birthdays and Christmases, snuggles with his cats and relishes being surrounded by special objects at home”, Barker said.
The archive of 265 photographs mostly dating from the mid-1980s fetched over £88,000.
Also being sold off are the finest bottles from his cellar, such as Dom Perignon champagne, alongside more intimate items, such as a book of personally annotated poetry and a moustache comb.
Before the sale, the auction house hosted the collection at a month-long exhibition, open to the public free of charge.
Sotheby’s says it is the lagest collection, by volume, of a cultural icon to go to auction since the Elton John sale in 1988, when 2,000 lots sold for a total of £4.8 million. (AFP)