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Queen’s lyrics and Freddie Mercury’s grand piano go up for auction

It started at 40,000 pounds, or around $50,000. Then competition exploded, with half a dozen auction pallets raised in the London auction room, followed by a flurry of online and telephone bidding.

“The very piano on which ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ was composed. THE instrument,” intoned auctioneer Oliver Barker as bidding stalled after soaring to seven figures. When Barker’s hammer finally fell to $2.2 million following an online offer, the piano had taken six minutes to sell, the length of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

Wednesday’s sale of Freddie Mercury’s 1973 Yamaha G2 grand piano was always going to be the highlight of Sotheby’s auction of around 1,400 items from the charismatic frontman of British rock band Queen’s personal collection.

Mercury composed many Queen hits at Yamaha. It was initially estimated to sell for at least $2.5 million at Sotheby’s evening auction, which features 59 lots of the most sought-after pieces from the collection offered by the singer’s lifelong friend. , Mary Austin.

Lower-profile items will be sold in two more evening sales this week and in three online auctions that will run until September 13.

Mercury’s cluttered collection of artwork and furniture, along with handwritten lyrics, clothing, stage costumes and other personal effects, had remained at the Garden Lodge, his western Georgian Revival home. of London, since his death in 1991. The singer bequeathed half of his royalties. , as well as Garden Lodge and its contents, in Austin, who has lived in the house ever since.

“It was important to me to do this in a way that Freddie would have liked,” Austin, 72, said in a press release about his decision to sell the collection. “There was nothing he loved more than an auction.”

After a highlights tour of New York, Los Angeles and Hong Kong, the entire collection was exhibited in London for a month. More than 140,000 visitors attended the exhibition, with the line sometimes stretching almost a quarter of a mile.

“It’s a unique opportunity to see Freddie’s passions. It’s almost like meeting him. And it’s free,” Neil Leonard, 48, a Queen fan since his early teens, said last week as he gazed admiringly at early handwritten versions of “Bohemian Rhapsody.” The draft, which is believed to date from 1974 , shows that Mercury played with the title of Queen’s most famous song “Mongolian Rhapsody”.

At Wednesday’s sale, this draft was the most valuable of six lyric manuscripts of Queen’s classics. Estimated at at least $1 million, it sold for $1.7 million to an online bidder to rapturous applause.

Instead of the stone-faced art professionals who usually attend Sotheby’s sales, the audience of more than 400 was enthusiastic and unfamiliar with auction protocols. Every lot won applause, even when a 19th-century painting by Eugen von Blaas failed to attract initial bids.

The auction lots reflected Mercury’s life as a musician, performer and collector. He once said that he wanted to “lead the Victorian life, surrounded by exquisite jumble.”

Garden Lodge was duly filled with a decorative mishmash of photos of beautiful women from the 19th and early 20th centuries; Art Nouveau, Art Deco and Orientalist furniture; luxury trinkets from designers like Cartier; and many ornaments related to felines. (Mercury owned at least 10 cats in his lifetime.)

His taste for Western art could have bordered on kitsch at times. But after six tours of Japan with Queen, Mercury became an avid collector of Japanese woodblock prints, lacquerware and kimonos. About 20% of the lots in Sotheby’s sales are linked to Japan, with one of the three online auctions being entirely devoted to this subject.

One of the few museum-worthy works in Mercury’s collection was a beautiful 19th-century colored woodblock print, “Sudden Rain on the Shin-Ohashi and Atake Bridge,” by Utagawa Hiroshige. The image influenced many Western artists, including Van Gogh, who painted a version now housed in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. It sold for $368,718 against a low estimate of $35,000.

More often than not, the magic of Mercury’s provenance pushed prices far beyond the levels of similar objects, on which Sotheby’s estimates were based.

The first lot set the tone: the graffiti-covered door on the exterior wall of the Garden Lodge fetched $521,014 from a telephone bidder against a low estimate of just $19,000. An agate Vesta case mounted on Fabergé gold, made in Moscow circa 1890, later sold to an online bidder for $120,234, more than 10 times the estimate. Mercury’s opulent Art Nouveau-style Wurlitzer jukebox, from the Garden Lodge kitchen, was bought for $512,999 by a bidder in the room.

When the distinctive silver snake bracelet Mercury wore in the “Bohemian Rhapsody” music video soared to $881,717, there were gasps and screams. The lot, purchased by an online bidder, had an official minimum value of $9,000.

Of the dozen concert costumes on offer, the bejeweled crown and scarlet ermine-lined cape Mercury wore on Queen’s 1986 “Magic” tour was a predictable favorite. It was sold for $801,560 to Rafael Reisman, a Brazilian exhibition organizer, who raised his arms in triumph when he got the lot.​​

“We were looking to put together a collection of iconic lots to use for a special immersive exhibit,” said Reisman, 53, who purchased four other Mercury lots at the sale. The low estimate was $9,000.

In total, the sale brought in $15.4 million, against a low estimate of $6 million. The marathon event lasted more than four and a half hours.

Becca Robbins, a Queen fan from Bedfordshire, had never been to an auction before but bid $57,000 on a rainbow-coloured satin jacket that Mercury wore on the tour “Hot Space” by Queen in 1982. It then sold for $256,499.

“I owned it for a nanosecond,” said Robbins, 61, who wore a replica of the same multicolored jacket. “But I took something from the exhibit that you can’t put a price on.”