On Wednesday the 6th of September after 13 minutes and 54 seconds the hammer fell as the number 325,000 was called in the auction room at Sotheby's. This was the first night of 6 sales of Freddie Mercury’s personal belongings. The auction room burst into applause and whispered chatter erupted as we began to realize that this was only the start of a history-breaking night.
According to Freddie Mercury, the only thing he would miss about leaving Britain is Sotheby's. It's fitting that the belongings of one of the most extravagant personalities in history are now showcased in glass cabinets and handled with the utmost care by the white-gloved staff within the walls of the building.
Sotheby's, founded in 1744, is renowned as the preeminent luxury and art destination worldwide. Their mission is to offer unparalleled access to exceptional history and extravagance via auctions and private online sales. Boasting experts from more than 40 countries, Sotheby's specializes in nearly 70 categories, such as contemporary and modern art, old masters, jewellery, and watches.
Between August and September, for 4 weeks Sotheby’s became the house for one of the most visited daily exhibitions since 1999 (Monet at the Royal Academy). Seeing numbers above 7000 on one day alone and totalling around 140,000 by the last. People traveled worldwide to stand amongst vases and chairs, to picture frames and Freddie's prized grand piano. Myself included. After an hour of waiting in a line that snaked around Bond Street, I had the chance to get as close as would ever be possible to one of the biggest people in music history, and the voice of which was the soundtrack of so many memories of mine. I stood in awe amongst the rails of clothing, from images I'd only seen in books and magazines. Whilst people in uniforms and white gloves came to beckon the calls of buyers and tourists asking for that closer look. One of the main moments of awe came from a room at the end. And a pair of Adidas boxing boots placed in a glass cabinet. Much like the association of the red and blue Cortez and Forrest Gump, these were one of the things that always reminded me of Freddie. For so many iconic and incredible performances these were worn, battered, and scuffed with history, they almost brought tears to my eyes.
Every inch of Sotheby's 16,000-foot gallery space on London New Bond Street was given way to the array of furniture, costumes, and handwritten lyrics from the home where Freddie spent much of his London life, Garden Lodge. Each of the 15 galleries was set and devoted to a specific part of Mercury's time, so carefully curated as to tell a story. Whilst some items were so easily recognizable (the crown and cape worn during Queen's last performance at Knebworth in 1986) others were small details of Mercury's home, many of which have never been seen other than by close friends and family.
Access to the Exhibition finished on the evening of the 5th of September, the day which would have marked Freddie's birthday, the next day the sales began.
The live auction had 2000 registered bidders, exceeding the country record of 765, previously set by David Bowies private collection auction in 2016. The night in hand was electric in atmosphere and dripped in the highest of emotion. People from all over the world waited in anticipation for 2 of the main sales of the night. Freddie's treasured Yamaha baby grand piano and the trove of handwritten working drafts to arguably one of the most historic songs of all time, Bohemian Rhapsody.
The lyrics, which were purchased by an online buyer, were scribbled across 15 pages of British Midland stationery, and revealed the scrapped title of the iconic 1975 song originally housed the name ‘Mongolian Rhapsody’ – as the bidding took place and the number rose on the screen above our heads, the gasps of disbelief echoed in the hall. The final number was called out as the final warning. Selling for the sum of 1.3 Million, someone now held one of the most incredible creative journeys in their possession.
From the creation of some of Queen's most treasured songs, Bohemian Rhapsody to Barcelona, this cherished baby black Yamaha was at the centre of an extraordinary musical and personal development, that has no parallels in the history of music. As recalled by Mary Austin talking on Freddie ‘he considered it as more than an instrument, it was an extension of himself, his vehicle of creativity.’ Seeing this piano in person gave a great sense of awe to what could have gone on around it, such a core element of Mercury’s time alive. With a valuation of 2-3 million, it almost seems silly that only a few people could put out an estimate on someone's life-valued items. Items that are quite literally invaluable and irreplaceable parts of the past. The hammer finally fell on the total of 1.8 million, a record price for a composer's piano.
The night closed with cheers and clapping in celebration as totals of around 12 million rang in. The people in the auction room joined in the hand-beaten sound of the ever-iconic start of We Will Rock You. As the auction house emptied and spilled out into the remains of the gallery I asked one person the question – why does Freddie mean so much to you? His answers stated that Freddie had remained a constant fixture throughout his whole life, his music was now not only his career but was the music of his childhood. (Phillip Copping)
Sotheby's believes in the transformative power of art and culture and is committed to making the industry more inclusive. We can truly express that nothing other than Freddie himself could have created the space that they managed to offer so many people over those few weeks. By making this experience a free and inclusive opportunity to observe history, Sotheby’s gave people the opportunity to see Freddie once again.
The history of Sotheby's in London is marked by numerous watershed moments in auction history such as the 1958 sale of the Goldschmidt Collection.
Sotheby's is the oldest and largest internationally recognized firm of fine art auctioneers in the world.
In recognition of the strong friendship between Freddie and Elton John, proceeds of 6 items, some of which were gifts from Elton to Freddie – 100% went to the Elton John Aids Foundation. A charity that is committed to overcoming the stigma, discrimination, and inequality that prevents us from ending AIDS.
These sales included one item within the lot on the first night of the auction – a Cartier onyx and diamond ring dated 1975 of which sold for nearly 300,000.
19,000 Bids were placed online prior to the first auction.
20,000 collection books were sold during the exhibition. Making the collection book number 7 on the ‘Hardback Non-Fiction’ category of the Time Bestseller list.
The lyrics for We Are The Champions (circa 1977): £317,500
The autograph draft lyrics for Killer Queen, c.1974: £279,400 (estimated at £50,000-70,000).
Mercury’s lyrics for Somebody to Love (c. 1976): £241,300
Mercury’s signature crown and cloak ensemble:£635,000