Music Memorabilia Greatest Hits… and Hidden Gems

 Music icon Freddie Mercury hit the headlines again last year when Sotheby’s brought to auction his collection of fine art and music memorabilia. While Mercury’s prized piano and other items went under the hammer for extraordinary sums, there are hidden gems for keen-eyed music fans in regular collectables auctions… including exciting signed music memorabilia from Queen and The Beatles.

Freddie Mercury's Yamaha Grand Piano, sold at auction by Sotheby's in September 2023The Freddie Mercury Sale Hits a High

In September 2023, Sotheby’s presented a series of auctions for Freddie Mercury: A World of His Own. A pre-sale exhibition drew over 140,000 visitors to the company’s London showroom in New Bond Street, while the auctions achieved sales of £40 million – against an estimated £7.6 million.

Sotheby’s reports that 41,800 bids were placed on 1406 lots across six auctions, with enthusiastic buyers from close to 60 countries, including the UK, North America, Germany, Italy, Japan, Australia, Mexico and Brazil.

Highlights included the piano that Freddie Mercury used to compose many of Queen’s tracks (sold £1,742,000), autographed manuscript draft lyrics for Bohemian Rhapsody (£1,379,000), and the black silk velvet jacket the star wore in the 1975 Bohemian Rhapsody promotional video, and on Top of the Pops in 1974 (£139,700). A Tiffany & Co., late 20th century silver moustache comb soared past the estimate of £400-600 to sell for £152,400.

While buyers may have found incentive in the news that some auction proceeds would benefit charities – including Elton John’s AIDS charity – many no doubt were also attracted by the chance to own something belonging to one of music’s most celebrated figures.

Music Memorabilia Greatest Hits…

Freddie Mercury’s possessions have joined an elite club of music memorabilia – showing the lengths some passionate fans will go to possess something of their idols. While personal items are popular – think Michael Jackson’s “Bad” Tour Jacket (sold US$298,000 in 2012), Bob Dylan’s handwritten lyrics for Like a Rolling Stone (US$2,725,000 in 2014) or the dress Madonna wore in her music video for Like A Virgin (US$81,250 in 2014) – it’s often musical instruments that achieve unparalleled sums.

Examples include the Fender Stratocaster that Jimi Hendrix played at Woodstock in 1969 (sold US$334,000 in 1990), the drum kit that Ringo Starr played during The Beatles’ appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964 (US$2.2 million in 2015) and the Black Strat’ Guitar belonging to Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour’s (US$5,298,000 in 2019).

And one of the most expensive pieces of rock n roll memorabilia ever? In 2020, the Martin D-18E Acoustic Guitar that Kurt Cobain played on MTV Unplugged in 1993, went under the hammer for US$6 million.

It’s not just rock n roll memorabilia that goes for princely sums. Classical music fans might be interested to note that the complete 232 manuscript of Gustav Mahler’s Second Symphony Score, dating to 1817, sold at an English auction in 2016 for AUD $7,878,000.

Queen, The Complete Works, 1985 UK, 14 Disc Vinyl LP Boxed Set, Autographed by the Band in Silver Ink… and Hidden Gems

While blockbuster auctions may be beyond the reach of many, keen-eyed music fans can often find fun and fabulous items at a fraction of the price.

Holly Furness, Collectables Specialist at Theodore Bruce, says: “Obviously the rarest items will always draw most focus, and collectors seek out signed music memorabilia in particular. There’s a huge range for music fans however, and both signed & unsigned photos, albums and objects can often be picked up for bargain prices.”

We’ve offered an eclectic mix of music memorabilia in past auctions, with items including a signed Elvis Presley, “You’ll Never Walk Alone” LP (Sold $687 IBP), a copy of Nirvana’s “Nevermind” on vinyl, signed by the band (sold $525 IBP), a Black Fedora worn by Michael Jackson ($5,000 IBP) and a David Bowie 1983 Australian Tour Concert Program and Photographs ($56 IBP).

We have some very interesting music memorabilia in our upcoming Collectables auction too – including a Notecard autographed by George Harrison, Paul McCartney & John Lennon during the 1964 Beatles Australian Tour, and a Boxed Set of Queen, The Complete Works, 1985 autographed by Freddie Mercury and the band.

Theodore Bruce Auctioneers regularly features music memorabilia in our Collectables auctions.

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