agic, music, glamour, and history coalesced on Wednesday 6 September in London during a thrilling Evening sale that rocked Sotheby’s New Bond Street, thoroughly befitting the exuberant spirit of the late Queen frontman.
Freddie Mercury: A World of His Own marked the climax to months of anticipation which came to a head during August, as nearly 140,000 fans visited Sotheby’s to experience the exhibitions. Some even came dressed in Freddie-inspired costumes to the auctions themselves, lending a carnival-esque air of celebration to the proceedings.
Taking place on the UK’s hottest day of 2023, The Evening Sale romped home with a stunning total of £12.2 million/$15.4 million. It was declared a 'white glove' auction, with every lot sold, suitably echoing the late star’s love of majesty and occasion. With nearly 60 lots ranging from precious objects, jewels, art and clothing to instruments, lyrics, and stage-wear coming under the hammer, the sale represented the span of Freddie’s life and passions. 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.
The sale burst into life with a piece of veritable rock history that immediately set the standard for the evening - the famous green door to Garden Lodge, the portal to Freddie’s sanctuary and a palimpsest of fandom. Aged over the years with scribbled messages from devoted fans, it marked the boundary between Freddie’s public and private life and inspired a fifteen-minute bidding battle, eventually selling for £412,750 - over twenty five times its pre-sale estimate.
At the heart of auction was, of course, the life and work of Britain’s greatest rock showman of the 20th century. A selection of lots drawn from across Freddie’s musical career detonated waves of excitement in the room, as collectors competed for once-in-a-lifetime items, such as the handwritten lyrics for Somebody To Love, (£241,300), Killer Queen (£279,400) and We Are the Champions (£317,500). Meanwhile all eyes were on the draft manuscripts of the ‘greatest British pop single of the past 50 years’; the operatic Bohemian Rhapsody. This was clearly one of the evening’s highlights, selling for £1,379,000.
See the moment lyrics for Bohemian Rhapsody hammers down at £1,379,000
L23510, Lot 42 | Autograph manuscript draft lyrics for 'Bohemian Rhapsody', c.1974
The Evening Sale also presented the cherished piano upon which Freddie composed this and many other magnificent pieces of music, his prized 1973 Yamaha G2 baby grand. Purchased by the star when he was on the cusp of global fame and remaining his faithful companion for the rest of his life, the piano attracted significant global interest in the run-up to the sale, resulting in a nail-biting bidding battle, eventually hammering down for £1,742,000.
Garden Lodge was a repository of beautiful art and objects which Freddie acquired over the years, each meticulously selected and sited within the house. He was a dedicated connoisseur of art glass, and his Tiffany Seven-Light Lily Table Lamp reached £60,960.
A Guilloche enamel Nephrite desk clock provided another dramatic moment, as five bidders competed to acquire the piece, which eventually sold at £69,850. Further pieces of exceptional art glass and sculpture included a striking, electric blue Lalique Alicante vase from 1927, that had taken pride of place on the drawing room windowsill in Garden Lodge, which found a new owner at £82,550 - twelve times the low estimate.
Watch as Sudden Shower over Shin-Ohashi Bridge and Atake sells for £292,100.
L23510, Lot 13 | Utagawa Hiroshige, Sudden Shower over Shin-Ohashi Bridge and Atake
A key theme across the sales was Freddie’s deep enthusiasm for Japan, pre-eminent throughout the 1970s and 1980s. While the scope of his Japanese collecting necessitated a sale of its own, The Evening Sale saw strong bidding for several exquisite Japanese objects. Sudden Shower over Shin-Ohashi Bridge and Atake (Ohashi Atake no yudachi), the Edo-era woodblock print from 1857, which Freddie acquired at Sotheby’s in 1977, sold to a client on the phone for £292,100, while a stage-worn kimono from 1976 prompted spirited bids, eventually selling for £57,150.
As the auction progressed, auctioneer Oliver Barker’s rapport with competing bidders frequently spilled over into humorous exchanges between podium and room, as in the case of the Urade Katsuhiko Swimming Carp screen. The bidding sailed past its pre-sale estimate of £8,000–12,000 to finally splash down at an astonishing £190,500.
Freddie’s art collection was shaped by his discerning fondness for dramatic, colourful compositions and a ceaseless search for inspiration. His especial penchant for Spanish artists, their characteristic light, action and imagination, saw a Picasso print, Jaqueline au Chapeau Noir, which had lived in the kitchen of Garden Lodge sell at £190,500, the Mythology series of Dalí prints come in at £48,000 and a punchy 1969 Miró print, Le Matador hammer for £88,900.
Freddie’s love of jewellery, and particularly the giving of jewels as gifts, was reflected in several lots from Cartier, all reaching far above their estimates. Highlights included an elegant sapphire and diamond brooch, that achieved £114,300, and an Onyx and diamond ring gifted to Freddie from Elton John, that soared to £273,050, a sum which will be donated to the Elton John Aids Foundation. A star lot of the jewellery section was the silver snake bangle worn by Freddie in the Bohemian Rhapsody video in 1975. It set the saleroom alight with bids, eventually landing on £698,500.
Other notable pieces on the night included the 1941 Wurlitzer jukebox, which occupied pride of place in Garden Lodge’s kitchen and caused gasps of awe around the room as a battle erupted between an online and in-person bidder. A tense tussle resulted in a sale price of £406,400.
The auctions also included some of Freddie’s famous costumes worn on stage and screen which excited strong interest in the room and on the phones. The iconic black and white catsuit and ballet shoes worn in the We Are The Champions video (1977) sold for ten times its estimate, at £190,000, while the rainbow-coloured satin arrow appliqué jacket worn on-stage in 1982 went for £203,200. Meanwhile, a pair of stage-worn Adidas hi-top trainers - a much-photographed piece of music and fashion history - sold for an astonishing £127,000.
The equally famous crown and cloak, designed for the 1986 Magic tour by long-time friend and collaborator, Diana Moseley, sold for £635,000 to a bidder in the room who, upon securing the lot, literally jumped for joy. A fitting finale to a memorable night.
"It’s hard to put into words just how special working on Freddie Mercury’s collection has been. To be able to see first hand, via all the beautiful things he loved and lived with, Freddie in the round... there’s nothing that comes close."
I n the days following the triumphant evening sale, the Freddie Mercury: a World of His Own series continued with two more live auctions, On Stage and At Home, offering collectors and fans further opportunities to secure their unique piece of Freddie’s legacy.
The On Stage auction focused on Freddie’s years as a songwriter, musician and Queen's frontman. Numerous stage-worn costumes and accessories accompanied drafts of lyrics as well as doodles and drawings, in Freddie’s own hand. Particularly poignant was the vest he wore during his final performance with Queen at Knebworth, on 9 August 1986. Alongside the yellow Champion sports vest, other recognisable items included a black leather biker jacket, worn on tour and featuring in the 1979 video for Crazy Little Thing Called Love, slung over a white t-shirt, in classic Freddie style. The jacket found a new owner for £120,650, taking the sale’s total to £9,476,740.
The off-stage Freddie was celebrated in the At Home auction, lots from his well-appointed home Garden Lodge. These items ranged from the quirky - Freddie’s beloved neon telephone (dramatically demonstrated in the sale room by Sotheby’s David Macdonald) to the elegant – the lacquered chinoiserie grand piano that once stood in the Japanese drawing room at Garden Lodge, and now sold for a remarkable £444,500.
The sale gave a glimpse into Freddie’s life behind closed doors, away from the the spotlight, with particular emphasis on his love for entertaining guests. Every lot was hotly contested, each selling above estimate, and achieving a total of £5,314,823.
It was perhaps through the In Love with Japan sale that we saw Freddie’s personal passions fully represented in the round. From his deep love of Japanese woodblock prints and ceramics, to his impressive collection of kimonos, this auction documented the evolution of a serious collector, one who sought to deepen his knowledge over many years of visiting the country.
Highlights from this sale, featuring prints, furniture and lacquer, included a Taisho period Kutani vase, which sold for £57,150 (against an estimate of £500-700), and Freddie's earliest-worn jacket in the collection – estimated at £5,000-7,000 – that sold for £101,600, helping In Love With Japan make an overall total of £2,624,836. Two further online sales Crazy Little Things I and II , further showed the eclectic nature of his acquisitions over the decades, not least in his enduring love for all things feline. The domestic objects he surrounded himself with paint a picture of someone who took huge pleasure in the beautiful, as well as the humorous.
As a tribute to a man whose sense of scale and majesty defined everything he did, the Freddie Mercury: A World of His Own sale series has redefined the scope of the auction market, with a museum-scale exhibition drawing crowds from around the world, and bringing together more than twenty art and object categories across Sotheby’s into a single remarkable collection. The final total, when the series marked its final auction on 13 September, following a week of excitement, drama, astonishing results and memorable moments across all six sales, reached £39,936,046. It was really, a kind of magic.