Hammer To Fall: Freddie Mercury Rocks Sotheby's
The artist's collection makes history at auction

An image of the crowd and staff at Freddie Mercury: A World of His Own's auction.Image © Instagram @ob1london / The crowd and staff at Freddie Mercury: A World of His Own's auction at Sotheby's London.
Rebecca Marsham

Rebecca Marsham, Sales Director[email protected]

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Over the course of a week this September, Sotheby's Freddie Mercury: A World of His Own auction attracted bidders from all over the world. Bidders had the opportunity to make offers on historical memorabilia such as the star’s draft lyrics for Bohemian Rhapsody and objects from his personal art collection. While some people including Brian May expressed reservations about the ethics of selling an icon's entire collection as opposed to placing it in a museum, the resounding success of the sale shows that many buyers disagree.

"This is certainly a sale which will go down in history and a fitting ode to Mercury's penchant for opulence and spectacle."
Erin Argun, Editor

The Evening Sale

It was a historic night at Sotheby’s on September 6th 2023. Most in the art and musical worlds have been holding their breath to see the performance of Mercury’s personal collection at auction, and it is safe to say they were not disappointed. The monumental auction of over 1,500 objects has been split into 6 thematically devised sales, exploring Mercury's universe from his time on stage to his time at home.

While the auction continued for several days, the first night offered some of the most impressive items and the results already hit the high estimate for the entire series. With over 1,000 lots to be sold over the course of the next days, the first auction already raked up £12.2 million pounds, and every single lot reached its reserve price -- with the 93% of sales far-exceeding their estimates. Over 2,000 bidders from 61 countries took their chances, with a diversity of nationalities that has been unprecedented at Sotheby’s. 59 out of 59 lots were sold, making it a white glove sale.

Some highlights from the opening night included:

Sotheby's Europe chairman Oliver Barker, declaring the Yamaha G2 Baby Grand Piano to be the "crown jewel of the collection."

Yamaha G2 Baby Grand Piano

The only lot without a reserve, Mercury’s piano was where he composed some of the greatest music of the 20th century over the course of a decade. Purchased in 1975, hits such as Bohemian Rhapsody and Barcelona were written with this instrument. About this piano, Mercury’s close friend and life partner Mary Austin stated: “Freddie treated the Yamaha with absolute respect. He considered it to be more than an instrument, it was an extension of himself, his vehicle of creativity.” It is no surprise, therefore, that the piano had the highest price of the night, coming in at £1.742 million.

Sotheby's showing the moment when Bohemian Rhapsody's draft lyrics are sold.

Handwritten lyrics

Bidders had the chance to own once-in-a-lifetime items such as the handwritten lyrics for Somebody To Love, which sold for £241,300, Killer Queen, sold for £279,400, and We Are the Champions, sold for £317,500.

One of the most iconic songs ever written, Bohemian Rhapsody was released in 1975 on Queen's "A Night at the Opera" album. The song defies traditional genre categorisation, blending rock, ballad, and opera. Its intriguing lyrical content, coupled with its groundbreaking music video, made it an iconic piece in the annals of rock music. Celebrated for its innovative structure and Mercury's potent vocals, Bohemian Rhapsody remains one of the most beloved and enduring songs in music history.

Originally estimated between £800,000 and £1.2 million, it sold last night for £1.379 million.

The moment the silver bangle worn by Mercury in the music video for Bohemian Rhapsody is sold.

Silver snake bangle worn by Freddie Mercury in the music video for Bohemian Rhapsody

Bohemian Rhapsody's video was also groundbreaking, often credited as one of the first true music videos. The video is particularly noted for its innovative use of visual effects, especially the multi-layered images of the band members singing in harmony. The stark contrast between the close-ups of Mercury's expressive face during the ballad sections and the dramatic, operatic visuals in the middle segment made it a groundbreaking and memorable visual experience.

In the video, Mercury wears a silver snake bangle, which was up for sale last night. It smashed its estimate of £7,000-£9,000 to sell for a staggering £698,500.

Youtube / Bohemian Rhapsody © Queen 1975
An image of a gold Cartier brooch that reads Queen number 1Image © Sotheby's / Gold Cartier brooch reading Queen Number 1 1975

Cartier 'Queen Number 1' gold brooch

This Cartier brooch was given by the band manager John Reid to each Queen member when Bohemian Rhapsody reached No.1 in the UK in 1975. It also smashed its estimates of £4,000 to £6,000 and reached £165,100 before being sold last night.

An image of a mannequin wearing Freddie Mercury's gold crown and red velvet cloak, against a white background.Image © Sotheby's / Freddie Mercury's crown and cloak 1986

Freddie Mercury's signature crown and cloak ensemble, worn during Queen's 1986 Magic Tour

Ever the performer, Mercury famously utilised costumes to project a larger-than-life image of himself on stage. One of the most famous examples of this, which has become iconic, was the crown and cloak example that Mercury wore during the band's Magic Tour in 1986.

Designed by Diana Moseley, features an imitation gold and jewelled crown and a red velvet cloak that mimics those used by monarchs at coronations. It flew past the estimates of £60,000-£80,000 and eventually sold for £635,000.

An image of the prints Jacqueline au Chapeau Noir by Picasso on the left and Le Matador by Miró on the right.Image © Sotheby's / Jacqueline au Chapeau Noir by Pablo Picasso and Le Matador by Joan Miró, from the collection of Freddie Mercury.

Mercury as a Print Collector

Mercury also owned many prints, including by Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí and Joan Miró. Some of these sold on the Evening Sale, including Picasso's Jaqueline au Chapeau Noir for £190,500, Dalí's Mythologie series for £48,000 and Miró's Le Matador for £88,900.

His passion for prints continued over the course of the next days, and his personal collection further included Dalí's Divine Comedy series. His ten plates, originally estimated at £4,000-£6,000, sold for £33,020.

”The one thing I would really miss if I left Britain would be Sotheby’s. I love going to auctions.”
Freddie Mercury
An image of the singer Freddie Mercury on stage. He is wearing a black and white Harlequin-style catsuit and a leather jacket.Image © Wikimedia Commons / Freddie Mercury on stage

Freddie Mercury: On Stage

The second day of sales focused on Freddie Mercury's persona on stage, especially with costumes and other type of Queen memorabilia as varied as travelling trunks and Roger Taylor's drumsticks. Following the success of the opening night, objects in this sale also smashed expectations. Draft lyrics continued to be successful, with those of the song Love Of My Life, selling for over £260,000 after being estimated at £40,000-£60,000. A rare vinyl for the same song sold for over 20 times its low estimate. Bohemian Rhapsody continued to show its impact, as objects that relate to it continued to sell for several times their estimate. Its RIAA sales award, for example, was estimated at £4,000-£6,000 before being sold for £114,300. Its BPI sales award sold for slightly less, at £107,950, still over 35 times its low estimate.

The second day was also a resounding success for Sotheby's, with a sales total of £9,453,880. As fans bid for clothes, shoes, instruments and rare vinyls, items included:

A lavish ceremonial military-style jacket created for Freddie Mercury's 39th birthday party. It is done in black, with silver epaulettes and ceremonial ropes around the waist.Image © Sotheby's / A lavish ceremonial military-style jacket created for Freddie Mercury's 39th birthday party 1985

Ceremonial military-style jacket

This lavish ceremonial military-style jacket was created for Mercury's 39th birthday party, held in Munich on 5 September 1985. The theme of the party was “a black and white drag ball”. He then wore it again for the finale of Fashion Aid at the Royal Albert Hall on 5 November 1985.

After being estimated at £12,000 to £16,000, it eventually sold for £457,200.

An image of an acoustic guitar owned by Freddie Mercury. Image © Sotheby's / A 1975 Martin D-35 Acoustic Guitar kept by Freddie Mercury at home

Mercury's 1975 Martin D-35 Acoustic Guitar

This 1975 Martin D-35 Acoustic Guitar was kept by Mercury at his home from 1977 onwards, although it has an interior pickup system which suggests it may have been used on stage at an unidentified point.

Originally estimated at £20,000-£30,000, it sold for £139,700.

An image of a silk vest, highly patterned and illustrated with six cats.Image © Sotheby's / Silk waistcoat featuring portraits of Freddie Mercury's six cats

Silk waistcoat featuring portraits of Freddie Mercury's six cats

Few items illustrate Mercury's eccentric appeal and poignance like this one. Painted by Nerissa Ratcliffe, this vest features portraits of his six cats: Delilah, Goliath, Oscar, Lily, Romeo and Miko. Originally commissioned by Donald Mackenzie as a Christmas gift in 1990, it was then worn in Mercury’s poignant final video appearance with Queen for the single These Are The Days Of Our Lives, filmed in May 1991. Mercury was wearing this for what turned out to be his final official portrait, shot by trusted photographer Richard Gray.

Estimated at £5,000 to £7,000, it sold for almost 28 times the lower estimate, at £139,700.

An image of a black leather jacket owned by Freddie MercuryImage © Sotheby's / Freddie Mercury's 'Crazy Little Thing Called Love' black leather jacket

'Crazy Little Thing Called Love' black leather jacket

Mercury wore this jacket extensively for several Queen appearances between 1978 and the early 1980s, notably for the 'Crazy Little Thing Called Love' music video and on tour. It was sold alongside a white sleeveless t-shirt and matching black leather trousers.

It shattered the £23000-£26,000 estimate and sold for £120,650.

An image of Freddie Mercury's black personalised U.S. Tour Jacket for The Game tourImage © Sotheby's / Freddie Mercury's personalised U.S. Tour Jacket for The Game tour 1980

Personalised U.S. Tour Jacket for The Game tour

Bidders loved Mercury's personalised U.S. Tour Jacket for Queen's The Game tour in 1980. It smashed initial estimates of £1,500-£2,500 and sold for £53,340.

An image of a yellow Champion tank top, worn by Freddie Mercury for his final performance with Queen.Image © Sotheby's / Freddie Mercury's stage-worn vest for his final performance with Queen at Knebworth Park 1986

Stage-worn vest for Mercury's final performance with Queen at Knebworth Park, 9 August 1986

Unsurprisingly, this poignant piece of costume was popular with bidders. This vest was worn by Mercury for his final performance with Queen, which was attended by over 120,000 people, making it the group’s largest UK concert. After this concert, Mercury decided to no longer perform live due to his illness.

It had been estimated at £6,000-£8,000, and sold for £107,950.

An image of Garden Lodge, Freddie Mercury's home. It shows a gilt mirror to the left and a painting to the right. In the centre, a passage leads to the garden and the front door.Image © Sotheby's / Freddie Mercury's house, Garden Lodge

Freddie Mercury: At Home

oksFriday was the day to highlight Mercury's personal collection of objets d'art, collected for his home. Although some decorative objects had been sold at the first Evening Sale, such as a Lalique vase that sold for almost 12 times its low estimate, this was bidders' chance to own more decorative objects including barstools and drinking glasses.

Mercury had refined decorative preferences, owning objects by Cartier, Tiffany and Lalique. In his beloved Garden Lodge, Mercury created a house that was filled with decorative art, much of which was antique. It some lots, it is possible to see his pursuit of these items: the day counted with no less than three sets of auction catalogues originally owned by Mercury, one of which sold for over 63 times its low estimate. His personal collection of books on fine and decorative arts was also for sale, including volumes on Art Nouveau architecture, 19th century European furniture, Salvador Dalí and Ballet. He also was a talented artist himself, and one of his sketchbooks sold for £50,800, over 25 times its low estimate.

The sales total was £5,314,823, a testament to not only Mercury's impact but also to his great personal taste. Some highlights of the day included:

"I want to lead the Victorian life, surrounded by exquisite clutter."
FM
A grand piano in a black lacquered and chinoiserie case by John Broadwood & Sons, owned by Freddie Mercury.Image © Sotheby's / Freddie's Chinoiserie Grand Piano c. 1934

Chinoiserie Grand Piano by John Broadwood & Sons

Mercury supposedly acquired this Grand Piano in New York in the Spring of 1977. The piano itself is exquisitely made by one of the most traditional producers of piano, and Mercury was photographed sitting on it.
Originally estimated at £40,000-£60,000, it sold for 11 times the low estimate at £444,500.

An image of an intricately carved wooden chair, with dragon motifs, owned by Freddie Mercury.Image © Sotheby's / Freddie's Dragon Throne

Freddie's Dragon Throne

This 20th century Chinese carved wood armchair was one of the first pieces of furniture Mercury acquired. It smashed estimates of £300-£500 to sell for £44,450, over 148 times the low estimate.

An image of the painting The Offering by John Bagnold Burgess. It shows a woman carrying a basket of flowers, about to give one to a prisoner who appears in the top right corner.Image © Sotheby's / The Offering © John Bagnold Burgess

The Offering by John Bagnold Burgess

Only one of many of Mercury's beloved paintings to go on sale, this one was purchased at Sotheby's in 1991, the very year of his death. Estimated at £4,000-£6,000, it sold for £82,550.

Gilt and black japanned satinwood mirror, with Japanese motifs, once owned by Freddie Mercury.Image © Sotheby's / An English gilt and black japanned satinwood overmantel mirror c. 1920

An English gilt and black japanned satinwood overmantel mirror, attributed to S. Hille & Co

This mirror, bought by Freddie around 1977, was one of the surprise lots that shattered expectations. Estimated at £400-£600, it sold for a staggering £50,800 – 127 times the low estimate.

An image of an ornate wooden cake stand, decorated in the Japanese style.Image © Sotheby's / An English gilt and black japanned satinwood folding cake stand c.1920-30

An English gilt and black japanned satinwood folding cake stand, attributed to S. Hille & Co

This cake stand was the subject of a fierce battle between bidders. Acquired by Mercury in 1977, it was estimated at £200-£300 before selling for £13,970. Those present at auction clapped, as the auctioneer declared its sale price "must surely be a new record for a cake stand."

An image of Mercury's dressing room, showing a mirrored table covered in small lacquer boxes in the Japanese style.Image © Sotheby's / Mercury's collection of lacquer boxes in his dressing room

Freddie Mercury: In Love With Japan

Mercury had a fierce passion for Japan and Japanese decorative objects, much of which has been possible to see in the items he purchased for his home. The items up for sale mostly dated from the 19th and 20th centuries, and included fine ukiyo-e woodblock prints, various ceramics and lacquer from the Edo period. In his beloved home Garden Lodge, Mercury had an entire room furnished with Japanese objects and art, which he prized as his inner sanctuary. Some stage costumes, deeply inspired by his love for Japan, also appeared on sale.

His personal collection of books about Japanese art -- both in English and in Japanese -- were also sold on that day, as was his collection of 17 auction catalogues.

The sales total was £2,624,836, illustrating how Mercury's love for Japanese art and culture has been matched by bidders worldwide. Highlights included:

An image of a white kimono-style jacket, with blue detailing, owned by Freddie Mercury.Image © Sotheby's / Freddie Mercury's earliest worn jacket in the collection, worn for first Queen rehearsals and photoshoots 1970-1972

Mercury's earliest worn jacket in the collection, worn for first Queen rehearsals and photoshoots from 1970-1972

This hand-made ivory silk jacket was made in Japan for the Western market, and features maple leaves around the lower half of the body. It was worn by Mercury in the early days of Queen, including for photoshoots, and was the earliest worn jacket for sale at Sotheby's.

Estimated between £5,000-£7,000, it sold for £101,600.

Round-shaped vase, decorated in various shades of blue and purple, showing mountains in mist. The shoulder is applied with gold depicting a sunrise.Image © Sotheby's / A Kutani vase from the Taisho period

A Kutani vase from the Taisho period, early 20th century

This beautiful vase, depicting mountains in the mist, was originally estimated at £500-£700 and sold for £57,150.

A rounded rectangular box with close-fitting cover, decorated in gold, silver, red and green. Inlays of gold foil on a black lacquer ground with hirame, with a pheasant in the branches of an oak tree.Image © Sotheby's / A lacquer bunko (document box) from the Taisho period, early 20th century

A lacquer bunko (document box), signed Wajima Keizuka

Purchased by Freddie on one of his extensive trips throughout Japan, this box was estimated to sell at £4,000-£6,000, yet sold for £76,200.

An ewer decorated in various coloured cloisonné enamels and various thicknesses of gold wire, with a snowy scene of stalactites and gnarled plum.Image © Sotheby's / A cloisonné enamel ewer from the Meiji period, late 19th century

A cloisonné enamel ewer from the Meiji period, late 19th century

This stunning ewer depicts a winter snowy scene, intricately decorated with a various coloured cloisonné enamels and various thicknesses of gold wire. Estimated at £600-£800, it sold for £24,130.

A Japanese lady, dressed in purple, appears to giggle behind her sleeve.Image © Sotheby's / Looking Amused: The Appearance of a High-Ranking Lady-in-Waiting of the Bunsei Era © Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, 19th century

Looking Amused: The Appearance of a High-Ranking Lady-in-Waiting of the Bunsei Era by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, 19th century

This first-edition woodcut print from the series Thirty-two Aspects of Customs and Manners (Fuzoku sanjuniso), is signed Yoshitoshi ga. Estimated at £600-£800, it sold for over 25 times its low estimate.

A tall oviform vase with everted foot and neck, decorated in various coloured enamels and gilt on a royal blue ground, with a peacock among peonies and plum blossoms beside a stream.Image © Sotheby's / A large Satsuma vase from the Meiji - Taisho period

A large Satsuma vase, signed Genzan beneath Shimazu crest, late 19th/early 20th century

This intricately decorated vase is notable for having sold for over 100 times its low estimate of £500, with bids reaching £50,800.

A two-tone black and mulberry satin bomber jacket embellished with a vivid appliquéd design of a Kabuki Actor’s head in densely embroidered yellow, scarlet and ivory silk thread.Image © Sotheby's / Freddie Mercury's Japan Tour bomber jacket 1979

Freddie Mercury's Japan Tour bomber jacket

This bomber jacket, emblazoned with a Kabuki actor's head, was worn by Mercury during Queen's Japan tour in 1979. Estimated between £800-£1,200, it sold for £21,590.

One of Mercury's necklaces, silver with the letter F, against a brown leather background.Image © Sotheby's

Freddie Mercury: Crazy Little Things

This section of the auction sold "oddments, curios and beloved objects from Freddie’s home." It was broken down into two: the first, which closed on September 12th, had 351 lots and a sales total of £3,358,547; The second part closed on September 13th, had 343 lots and a sales total of £7,011,670.

Twenty-nine figures of cats in a whimsical variety of decorative styles.Image © Sotheby's / A motley group of feline ornaments, 20th century

A motley group of feline ornaments, 20th century

This lot consisted of 29 decorative figures of cats in a variety of styles and sizes. Mercury was renowned for his love of felines, and many of the objects in this sale reflected this.

Estimated at £300-£500, this lot sold for £30,480.

An image of Mercury's personal vinyl collection, arranged in a circle.Image © Sotheby's / Freddie Mercury's personal record collection

Freddie Mercury's personal record collection

This lot included circa 275 records personally owned by Mercury, including records by David Bowie, Motown, Pet Shop Boys, Prince, Stevie Wonder, A-Ha, Phil Collins, Madonna, Donna Summers, Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin and many others.

Estimated at £1,000-£1,500, it sold for £88,900.

An image of the book Poems of Spirit and Action by W.M. Smyth, 1964 edition. The cover shows a man riding a horse on the top left corner, and a large sail boat on the bottom right corner.Image © Sotheby's / Freddie Mercury's copy of Poems of Spirit and Action, with extensive notes 1964

Freddie Mercury's copy of Poems of Spirit and Action by W. M. Smyth with extensive notes

Mercury had this book since 1964, a memento from his childhood that shows the star's engagement with poetry from a young age. He annotated 43 pages in pencil, providing commentary and judgement on the text.

Estimated at £800-£1,200, it sold for £69,850 -- a clear sign of the bidder's admiration for Mercury's engagement with literature.

A framed award, with a golden CD and a plaque against a red background, given to Freddie Mercury.Image © Sotheby's / Freddie Mercury's BPI Sales Award For 'Bohemian Rhapsody'

Freddie Mercury's BPI Sales Award For 'Bohemian Rhapsody'

Bohemian Rhapsody reigned supreme at this sale, and it was no different with this BPI Sales Award. Estimated at £3,000-£5,000, it sold for £152,400.

A walnut metronome, owned by Freddie Mercury.Image © Sotheby's / A French walnut cased metronome by Maelzel Paquet c. 1930

A French walnut cased metronome by Maelzel Paquet

This metronome sat on Mercury's beloved Yamaha piano sold on the Evening Sale, and as such was likely used to compose many of Queen's hits. This association was enough to ensure it smashed the estimates of £300-£500, selling for £33,020.

An image of a silver moustache comb by Tiffany & Co against a black background.Image © Sotheby's / A silver moustache comb by Tiffany & Co., late 20th century

A silver moustache comb by Tiffany & Co.

Mercury's moustache was one of the most iconic parts of his look, so it is unsurprising that bidders were thrilled at the chance of owning one of his moustache combs. This one was in sterling silver by Tiffany & Co., adding a touch of luxury to this everyday item.

Estimated at £400-£600, it sold for 381 times the low estimate, at £152,400.

Mercury at auction was undoubtedly a triumph for Sotheby's, seeing a total sales value of £39,936,046. This is further testament to the impact that Mercury had and continues to have on our cultural landscape. Widely beloved by audiences, bidders were eager to seise the once in a lifetime opportunity to own a piece of rock history.