The piano that Freddie Mercury used to compose Bohemian Rhapsody and other hits by Queen has sold for more than $2m at a record-breaking auction of the late singer’s possessions.
The Sotheby’s auction room echoed to the sound of the band’s We Will Rock You before bidding got under way at the black-tie event in London on Wednesday.
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More than 1,400 lots are up for sale over the week-long auction, with Sotheby’s facade decorated with a huge Mercury-style moustache to mark the event.
The 59 lots sold on Wednesday brought in 12.2 million British pounds ($15.4m), Sotheby’s said, adding that each one went for more than double the estimated price. A record 2,000 bidders from 61 countries took part in person, online and by phone.
Mercury’s Yamaha baby grand piano, which he bought following a six-month search for “the ideal instrument to bring to life” his compositions, went for 1.74 million pounds ($2.2m), including buyer’s premium and fees, while the manuscript for the chart-topping Bohemian Rhapsody fetched 1.38 million ($1.7m).
Auctioneer Oliver Barker called the lyrics – some 15 pages written in pencil and ballpoint – a “modern cultural icon”.
The manuscript also reveals that Mercury, who died in 1991 from AIDS-related pneumonia, originally intended to call the song Mongolian Rhapsody.
Other items that went under the hammer on Wednesday included a Victorian-style silver snake bangle Mercury wore with an ivory satin catsuit in the Bohemian Rhapsody video that 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 sold for 698,500 pounds ($881,000) – 100 times its estimated low price.
One man raised his hands over his head in victory and hugged the woman next to him after buying the rhinestone-studded crown and red fake fur cloak that Mercury wore on stage at the end of every show during Queen’s final tour in 1986. The price? 635,000 pounds ($801,500).
Art sold included prints by Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali and Marc Chagall, as well as antique furniture and numerous cat figurines.
‘He loved auctions’
Mercury amassed his collection 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”.
His close friend, Mary Austin, to whom he left his house and his possessions when he died, is selling it all.
“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 the AFP news agency.
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, added Heaton.
Austin believes the artist would have “loved” this sale, he said.
A portion of the proceeds will go to various charities including the Mercury Phoenix Trust and the Elton John AIDS Foundation.
“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.