Freddie Mercury – A World of His Own

Freddie Mercury – A World of His Own

A once-in-a-lifetime event, featuring a month-long exhibit of Freddie Mercury’s most-valued possessions, followed by a series of six auctions at Sotheby’s New Bond Street, London, UK, August to September, 2023.

Freddie Mercury Exhibition at Sotheby’s London

Freddie Mercury was an ardent collector of rare and valuable objects, spanning a 30-year-long love affair with art and fashion. When on tour, Freddie would seek out favourite objets d’art to bring back home to his beloved Garden Lodge in London.

Freddie Mercury was an ardent collector of rare and valuable objects, spanning a 30-year-long love affair with art and fashion. When on tour, Freddie would seek out favourite objets d’art to bring back home to his beloved Garden Lodge in London.

David MacDonald, head of single-owner sales at Sotheby's, told The Mainichi, Japan’s daily newspaper, that

"Everything was cared for so beautifully -- it was lived with and loved," MacDonald said. "It wasn't under sheets or put away in a warehouse, which is really special. Freddie saw a room as a complete artwork in a way."

Freddie was no stranger to the auction houses of London and MacDonald and the Sotheby’s team consider him to be a longtime friend. They wanted to honour Queen’s frontman by holding an exhibition – "an extravaganza worthy of Freddie" – showcasing his ethos and exuberant style. They knew how important this would be for fans of the vocal genius and they were right.

A month before the September auction, a total of 140,000 fans lined up outside Sotheby’s London, anxious to get a glimpse of Freddie’s extraordinary lifetime collection of art, fashion, musical instruments, personal papers and possessions, handwritten lyrics, candid photographs, furniture and jewels, a collection amounting to 1,500 pieces, including 60 beautiful, silk Furisode (long-sleeved) kimonos.

"It's been a global effort for a global icon really," Macdonald said, "He was amazing as a curator -- it's maximalism at its most glorious." (The Mainichi, Japan)

The exhibition of Freddie's Archive: A Legacy in Objects ended on September 5, 2023, to commemorate Freddie’s 77th birthday.

Six Auctions, $50.4M in Sales

But the global extravaganza didn’t end there. The exhibition was just the prequel to a weeklong series of six auctions featuring Freddie most beloved objects:

Sept. 6 - Freddie Mercury: A World of His Own | The Evening Sale
Sept. 7 - Freddie Mercury: A World of His Own | On Stage
Sept. 8 - Freddie Mercury: A World of His Own | At Home
Sept. 11 - Freddie Mercury: A World of His Own | In Love with Japan
Sept. 12 - Freddie Mercury: A World of His Own | Crazy Little Things 1
Sept. 13 - Freddie Mercury: A World of His Own | Crazy Little Things 2

Freddie Mercury was a lifelong collector of rare objets d-art and amassed a collection that far exceeded "anything anyone could have anticipated" – Queen’s official archivist, Greg Brooks told Sotheby’s. Brooks was in charge of curating the two Crazy Little Things auction items and was stunned by the sheer scale of so many amazing treasures that he never imagined he would see in his lifetime. The Sotheby’s Team agreed that Freddie "was amazing as a curator."

With a total of 41,800 bids placed on the 1406 lots across six auctions, Sotheby’s achieved sensational full ‘white-glove’ sales – with all lots sold, and almost 99% selling above their high estimate – totalling £40 million/$50.4 million, against an estimated £7.6 – 11.3 million.

Freddie Mercury: A World of His Own | Evening Sale

To kick off the white glove auction, Sotheby’s hosted an evening sale on September 6, showcasing some of the most prized possessions in Freddie’s collection.

The auction was a black tie affair and the air was buzzing with excitement, as collectors settled down to the much-anticipated event, with their own heartfelt and percussive rendition of "We Will Rock You’ – a first for Sotheby’s.

Described as a ‘thrilling’ evening with fierce paddle battles and intense waiting times from online bidders in 61 different countries, collectors and fans joined in from all across the world for a chance to own a piece of this much-loved, iconic rock legend, Freddie Mercury.

"Whether it was the music so close to his heart, his unique sense of showmanship and style, his connoisseurship and expertise for objets and antiques, or his love for Japanese art and culture, this sale represented a richly-textured unprecedented portrait of an extraordinary man." (Sotheby’s)

Featuring 59 lots of never-before-seen objects from Freddie’s personal collection, the Evening Sale amassed a grand total of $15.4M, far exceeding the valued estimate by $8M, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Mercury’s lifelong friend, Mary Austin, whom he left in charge of his estate, said it was the right time to part with the beloved objects that had been meticulously selected and scattered throughout Freddie’s London home for the past 30 years.

The Garden Lodge Door

First up on the auction block was the famous green door to Garden Lodge, described by Sotheby’s as "the portal to Freddie’s sanctuary and a palimpsest of fandom." With a wonderfully aged patina from years of love and covered in scribbled messages from devotees all over the world, the famous green door represents the boundary between Freddie’s public and private lives. A must-have for any budding fan.

Bidders battled it out for a full 15 to 20 minutes, before a telephone bidder secured the sale with a final price of £412,750 (just over $521,000) – more than 25X the pre-sale estimate.

Freddie Mercury’s 1973 Yamaha G2 Baby Grand Piano

All eyes were on Lot No. 44, Freddie’s prized Yamaha baby grand – the instrument used to compose some of the greatest songs of the 20th century, including "Bohemian Rhapsody," "Don’t Stop Me Now," and "Somebody to Love."

The baby grand was something Freddie purchased at the peak of his global fame. He considered the instrument his lifelong, faithful companion.

There was a frenzy of bidders from all over the world interested in Freddie’s piano. Sotheby’s describes the ensuing bidding battle, a nail-biter. The piano went to an anonymous buyer for £1,742,000 ($2.2M).

Bohemian Rhapsody Handwritten Lyrics

Next up, Lot No. 42: Bohemian Rhapsody – a modern, cultural icon and one of the most globally loved and streamed songs, the third best-selling UK single of all time. This lot featured a sequence of drafts, written by Freddie, showing all sections and edits of the most ambitious of Queen’s hits. The opening bid started at £500,000 (more than $606,000), eliciting a wave of shock and amazement from the audience of bidding potentials.

The handwritten lyrics of Bohemian Rhapsody sold for £1,379,000 ($1.8M) to a telephone bidder, amongst applause from the attending auctionees.

Freddie Mercury On Stage

With a whole auction dedicated to Freddie’s on-stage performances, this sale promised bidders an extravaganza of fashion and musical memorabilia. One of the most popular items to go on sale was Freddie Mercury’s incredible stage-worn crown, commissioned by his friend and costume designer, Diana Moseley.

The regalia of the item says it all and captures the majestic spirit of Queen’s frontman. Freddie wore the crown and gown on The Magic Tour in 1986 – his final tour with Queen.

The regalia of a global icon, Freddie Mercury’s crown and gown sold for £635,000 ($801,500).

Freddie Mercury’s Tiffany Moustache Comb

If there is one defining feature of Freddie Mercury, it has to be his moustache. He started a trend with this stash in 1980, when he decided to cut his long locks and grow a big, bushy moustache.

It became Freddie’s trademark look and was such a defining moment that Sotheby’s couldn’t resist hanging an oversized moustache above the door to their New Bond Street auction house.

Despite its diminutive size (7cm., 2 3⁄4 in.), the Tiffany moustache comb drew big crowds during the exhibition.

Sotheby’s believes the comb is such a personal item, it captures his essence. You can imagine Freddie carrying it around in his pocket or placing it on top of his dresser at night.

"This piece of memorabilia bridges the gap between music, fashion, and jewellery."

Sotheby’s couldn’t believe the momentum of pre-bidding and it was only mid-August:

"The modest item…has seized the imagination of collectors, sending bids soaring 50-times higher than its conservative £400-600 estimate to… £24,000 – and rising."

The moustache was a top seller, bringing in £152,400 (almost $185,000).

Freddie Mercury: Art & Jewellery

Other highlights of the show include:

  • Freddie’s silver snake bracelet that he wore in the "Bohemian Rhapsody" video. It sold for £698,500 (almost $850,000)
  • A connoisseur of art glass, his Tiffany Seven-Light Lily Table Lamp sold for £60,960 (almost $102,000)
  • From the kitchen of Garden Lodge, A Picasso print, Jaqueline au Chapeau Noir, which sold for £190,500 (almost $320,000)
  • The Mythology series of Dalí prints sold for £48,000 ($80,200)
  • Le Matador, a 1969 Miró sold for £88,900 ($148,500)
  • Types of Beauty: Portrait of Mrs Kathleen Newton (1880) by James-Jacques Tissot, the last painting Freddie ever bought, sold for £482,600 ($609,000)

Other works of art include Henri Matisse, Marc Chagall and Erte, and jewellery by Cartier, Tiffany and Faberge, all of which far exceeded original estimates.

Freddie Mercury: A World of His Own | In Love With Japan

Allured by the enchantment of Japanese art and culture, Freddie couldn’t resist picking up items every time he travelled to his favourite country. His collection is so illustrious that it needed its own special auction day — Freddie Mercury In Love With Japan.

Freddie’s fascination for Japanese art spanned across his entire life, collecting valuable items every time he travelled East. Sotheby's associate Japanese art specialist Jon Adjetey told The Japan Times:

"Every time he went to Japan, (Mercury) always bought on his trips," Adjetey says. "On his last visit in 1986, he even went to places like Wajima in Ishikawa Prefecture and Kyushu on an exclusively private trip — so that shows more than just a cursory interest."

It was well known in the Japanese art world that Freddie had a passion for ukiyo-e woodblock prints and Japanese objets d’art. But Adjetey and her department were not "prepared for the sheer number of prints he had accumulated" over the years, "or the breadth of his lacquerware and ceramics collections."

Many of the lacquered items and ceramics feature a koi motif to mirror Freddie’s love for his own koi pond at Garden Lodge in London. One Ando Cloisonne vase sold for four times its £6,000-10,000 ($7,500-12,500) estimate. A Japanese lacquered screen by artist Katsuhiko Urade went for £190,500 ($237,000) — 19 times its original estimate.

The most impressive ukiyo-e piece is the print of Utagawa Hiroshige's masterpiece — Sudden Shower over Shin-Ohashi Bridge and Atake. This artwork inspired Vincent Van Gogh to create his own famous copy by this Japanese master.

"The print has such a central role in both Japanese and Western art history…. Personally, I really love its design and its history through Van Gogh. So it's definitely a favourite," said Adjetey (The Japan Times).

The ukiyo-e print sold for £292,100 ($364,200), seven times the estimated value.

The weeklong series of auctions came to a close on September 13th with the last sale of Freddie Mercury: A World of His Own. Macdonald and the Sotheby’s team remained true to their word and staged "an extravaganza worthy of Freddie."

"I've been at Sotheby's for 23-24 years, and I've never worked on anything as magical as this." – David MacDonald, head of single-owner sales at Sotheby's

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