Freddie Mercury's piano sets record at US$2.2m amidst frenzied biddings for all other collectibles

Queen fans and collectors went enthusiastic and thrilled as Sotheby's London unveiled the first sale of the Freddie Mercury: A World of His Own series on Wednesday (6 September). Every single piece of the Queen frontman's personal treasures was snapped up for prices far beyond estimates, from jewels, art and antiques to lyrics, instruments and stage-wear. 

Leading the sale was the Yamaha G2 baby grand piano upon which the rock legend composed Bohemian Rhapsody, which sold for £1.74 million (US$2.2 million) with fees to an anonymous online bidder. The result is an auction record high for a composer's piano, eclipsing US$2.1 million paid for the Steinway & Sons which John Lennon used to write Imagine

The 59-lot auction's final tally came to £12.2 million (US$15.4 million), more than doubling its pre-sale low estimate of £4.8 million and already sweeping past the high estimate for the entire sale series – with over 1,000 lots still up for grabs across five day and online sales.

Auctioneer Oliver Barker

The auction was a full-house event, with many dressing in tribute to Freddie Mercury

Lot 44 | Freddie Mercury's Yamaha G2 Grand Piano
Yamaha No E1683689, 1973
147.3 x 167.6 x 100.3 cm

  • Acquired by Freddie Mercury in 1975

Estimate: £2,000,000 - 3,000,000
Hammer Price: £1,400,000
Sold: £1,742,000 (US$2.2 million)

Freddie Mercury's first instrument, the piano was always at the heart of his music. He played on stage, of course, but more importantly, it remained his principal composition instrument: it was at the piano that he improvised melodies, tested lyrics, and first played his new songs to his closest collaborators.

In 1975, with the financial backing of English music manager Don Arden, Mercury set out to find his perfect piano, one that resonated with him and would fit into the living room of the apartment he shared with Mary Austin. After searching intensely for weeks in numerous stores, he finally returned home with the Yamaha G2, a baby grand which cost around £1,000. 

Mary Austin describes, “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. He would never smoke at the piano or rest a glass on top of it and would ensure nobody else did either. The piano was always pristine.” 

And it was with this very piano that he composed some of the Queen's biggest hits, from Bohemian Rhapsody to Barcelona

Freddie Mercury would always sing and play on the piano in each concert

Mike Moran photographed with Freddie Mercury in the Garden Lodge

Later on, whether it was Austin moving to a new home or both of them relocating to the Garden Lodge, the piano remained a constant companion by Mercury's side. 

When friends and collaborators visited, the piano became a hub of activity, around which everything from party singsongs to more formal performances took place. A frequent player of the piano would be Mike Moran, the key collaborator in Mercury's final years. 

Lot 42 | Freddie Mercury | Autograph manuscript draft lyrics for 'Bohemian Rhapsody'
Created circa 1974
Each page: 290 x 204 mm (altogether 15 pages)
Estimate: £800,000 - 1,200,000
Hammer Price: £1,100,000
Sold: £1,379,000 (US$1.8 million)

Bohemian Rhapsody is the song that transformed Queen into global superstars, despite it being nearly six minutes long, lacking a catchy chorus, and having an experimental structure that disregards so many pop music conventions. 

But perhaps it was this genre-defying structure that allowed the song to dominate the UK charts for nine consecutive weeks after its release, becoming one of Queen's most iconic works. The song was later inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, topped countless critics and fans polls, and Mercury’s vocal performance was elected by readers of Rolling Stone magazine as the best in rock history.

Adored by generations of listeners, it was revealed as the song from the 20th century that had been played most often on streaming platforms in 2018 – and its deep association with Queen and Freddie Mercury made it a natural title to the 2018 Mercury biopic.

Bohemian Rhapsody has won numerous awards

The draft lyrics of the song were written in 1974 and only revealed to the public this time. The 15-page autograph manuscript is rich in detail that sheds light on the song's development, from an abandoned title – the rejected 'Mongolian Rhapsody' – to Mercury’s careful preparation for the complex vocal harmonies at the heart of the song’s famous operatic middle section. 

In the drafts relating to the operatic section, Mercury throws a whole range of unusual and interesting-sounding Italianate words onto the page, many of which were used – “Galileo”, “Scaramouche”, “Fandango”, and others – but others, from “Belladonna” to “Presto”, that were not. 

Lot 28 | Freddie Mercury's silver snake bangle 
Worn in the Bohemian Rhapsody video, 1975
Length: 4.5 cm
Estimate: £7,000 - 9,000
Hammer Price: £550,000
Sold: £698,500 (US$882,000)

In fact, anything related to Bohemian Rhapsody had set the saleroom alight with bids, all reaching way beyond their estimates. The most notable piece was a Victorian-style silver snake bangle which Mercury wore in the music video for the operatic rock anthem. 

Within the first few seconds, the lot had already cleared past its high estimate. Eventually, at £698,500 (US$882,000), the lot fetched nearly 100 times its estimate, setting the auction record for a piece of jewellery owned by a rock star, Sotheby's said. 

The previous high was set by John Lennon's leather and bead talisman, which sold for £295,000 in 2008.

Lot 57 | Freddie Mercury's signature crown and cloak ensemble
Worn throughout the 'Magic' Tour, 7 June - 9 August 1986
Estimate: £60,000 - 80,000
Hammer Price: £500,000
Sold: £635,000 (US$801,500)

In 1986, Queen released their twelfth studio album, A Kind of Magic, and embarked on a European concert tour spanning 26 stops across Western Europe. 

For this tour, Freddie Mercury felt there was something lacking in his stage wardrobe and the idea of having a crown and cape came up. His friend and costume designer Diana Moseley therefore went on to design the rock star's campest costume ever, the crown modelled on the coronation crown of St. Edward, and the cloak inspired by Emperor Napoleon’s coronation robes.

This regal attire was worn at the end of every concert for the finale rendition by Brian May of God Save The Queen. For the final show at Knebworth House, Mercury's hometown, he bid his farewell in the same manner, though little did anyone know that it would be their last opportunity to see him perform with Queen on stage.

Lot 1 | The Garden Lodge Door
197.5 x 99.5 cm
Estimate: £15,000 - 25,000
Hammer Price: £325,000
Sold: £412,750 (US$521,000)

Mercury had kept his diagnosis private for several years, first announcing it in a public statement on 23 November 1991. He died the following day of AIDS-related bronchial pneumonia, aged just 45 at his cherished home, the Garden Lodge. 

Following his death, fans expressed their love, condolences and admiration in graffiti on the walls and evocatively this green painted door. This practice of adornment continued for decades, with fans often travelling internationally to leave graffiti messages or to post letters and photos on the walls around this entrance to Freddie's beloved home.

Garden Lodge has become a place of pilgrimage for Queen fans; all the graffiti was cleaned up in 2017

Freddie Mercury and Mary Austin

The Garden Lodge, Freddie Mercury's private home

A Georgian-style brick villa, Garden Lodge was built in the early 20th century for an artist couple. Mercury acquired it in 1980 and set on turning it into a home that was once grand and intimate, full of theatre and richly furnished with works of art.  

For some 30 years, Garden Lodge has remained almost entirely as Mercury left, treasured and cared for by Mary Austin, one of the frontman's closest friends and his former lover. But as the years passed, Austin decided it was the right time to release his collection.

A portion of the proceeds from the sale will go to charity, specifically for the fight against AIDS. One of the beneficiary organizations is the Mercury Phoenix Trust, which was founded by Queen's members and their manager to support HIV/AIDS initiatives throughout the world. The other is the Elton John AIDS Foundation.

Other Highlight Lots:

Lot 10 | James-Jacques-Joseph Tissot | Type of Beauty: Portrait of Mrs. Kathleen Newton, Oil on canvas
Unframed: 59.5 x 45.7 cm; Framed: 97 x 84 cm

  • Commissioned by the proprietors of the Graphic magazine 1879, for £150; their sale, Christie's, London, 12 March 1881, lot 306, unsold
  • Christie's, London, 25 February 1882, lot 142, unsold
  • Private collection, Huddersfield, by whom purchased from the Yorkshire Fine Art Society exhibition, June 1882
  • Private collection, USA
  • Sotheby's, New York, 22 February 1989, lot 166
  • Private collection, UK
  • Christie’s, London, 25 October 1991, lot 48

Estimate: £400,000 - 600,000
Hammer Price: £380,000
Sold: £482,600

Lot 49 | Freddie Mercury | Autograph draft working lyrics for 'We Are The Champions'
Created circa 1977
Total: 9 pages (one leaf torn, some minor creasing)
Estimate: £200,000 - 300,000
Hammer Price: £250,000
Sold: £317,500

Lot 13 | Utagawa Hiroshige | Sudden Shower over Shin-Ohashi Bridge and Atake, Woodblock print
Created in Edo period, 19th century
Framed: 49.5 x 34.5 cm; Unframed: 33 x 23 cm
Estimate: £30,000 - 60,000
Hammer Price: £230,000
Sold: £292,100

Lot 32 | Cartier, London | An onyx and diamond ring
Crafted circa 1975 

  • By repute a gift from Elton John

Estimate: £4,000 - 6,000
Hammer Price: £215,000
Sold: £273,050

Lot 41 | Freddie Mercury's black silk velvet jacket, worn in the 'Bohemian Rhapsody' promotional video
Manufactured in 1975
Estimate: £30,000 - 50,000
Hammer Price: £110,000
Sold: £139,700

Lot 58 | Freddie Mercury's worn Adidas high-top sneakers
Manufactured in the 1980s
Size: 8 ½
Estimate: £3,000 - 5,000
Hammer Price: £100,000
Sold: £127,000

Lot 12 | René Lalique | Alicante vase, blown-moulded blue glass
Designed in 1927
26 x 24.2 x 24.2 cm
Estimate: £6,000 - 10,000
Hammer Price: £65,000
Sold: £82,550

Auction Details:

Auction House: Sotheby's London
Sale: Freddie Mercury: A World of His Own | The Evening Sale
Date: 6 September
Number of Lots: 59
Sold: 59
Sale Rate: 100%
Sale Total: £12,172,290 (US$15.4 million)