Freddie Mercury Auction Smashes Estimates, Netting $50.4 Million

At the Sotheby’s in London sale, items like moustache combs blew past estimates.

(Bloomberg) — An auction of items once owned by Queen frontman Freddie Mercury has netted £39.9 million ($50.4 million), greatly exceeding the £7.6 million to £11.3 million estimate that auction house Sotheby’s in London originally forecast.

Over a one-week period, Sotheby’s auctioned off more than 30,000 objects that had belonged to the pop icon and subsequently bequeathed to his longtime friend Mary Austin. Estimates for the proceeds of the combined six auctions had already  been blown out of the water by the end of a raucous opening auction night, replete with moneyed super fans sporting homemade costumes in homage to the singer. A spokesperson for Sotheby’s said it was the highest ever total for any celebrity sale.

The overwhelming success of the sale confirms that interest in Mercury’s life and music — and a willingness to spend large amounts to buy his memorabilia — remains strong despite a slowing global economy. A record 140,000 people lined up to visit Sotheby’s London headquarters in advance of the auction, to see an exhibit of many of the items, from sequined jumpsuits to annotated sheets of music.

“I don’t think people are looking at these things the way they might an exquisite wristwatch — they’re looking at it because of who owned it,” said David Macdonald, Sotheby’s senior specialist and head of single client sales, who has overseen the auction since its inception. 

“Even when times are tough there’s this almost pleasure in the connectivity with someone like Freddie Mercury, who was all about performance and celebration,” he continued. “That resonance transcends whatever might be happening in the market.”

Items on offer ran the gamut from the deeply intimate to the pedestrian.

One of the collection’s smallest items – a Tiffany & Co. comb used by Mercury to tame his trademark moustache and measuring less than 3 inches long — sold for £152,400, which is more than 250 times its original estimate. A badly-stained Adidas shoulder bag that was cream colored when the made-in-Taiwan piece was brand new “circa 1980s” blew past its £150 estimate to go for £10,800.

“When it comes to the more everyday objects, the brief to the team was to please put these things up at market value because you can’t anticipate someone’s love for it — you can’t value love,” said Macdonald, about the modest estimate prices.

At one point the auction went metaphysical — Mercury’s collection of Sotheby’s and Christie’s auction catalogues from 1991 (the year of his death) sold for over 42 times its estimate to hit £12,700. Other items ran closer to expectations; an autographed and annotated manuscript draft for Queen’s hit Bohemian Rhapsody from 1974 — a timeless staple of countless pubs and road trips even today — sold for £1.4 million, not far from the £1.2 million top end of its original estimate.

But a few items fell short of their projected auction price tag, despite their indisputable meaning to Mercury. The piano on which he composed Bohemian Rhapsody— and multiple other hits — eventually sold for £1.74 million, below the £2 million to £3 million it had been expected to reap. So too did a Eugen von Blaas painting, which sold slightly below the low end of its estimates at £69,850.

A portion of the tens of millions of pounds raised by the auction will go to the Mercury Phoenix Trust and the Elton John AIDS Foundation, while the rest will go to Austin.

“It’s mad and these moments in the auction world are so rare — it’s almost generational when sales like this happen and I can’t think when the next one will be either,” said Macdonald.

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