Popular Culture


Since the late 1980s, Sotheby’s has been a dominant force in sales of popular culture, from the hugely successful four-part auction from the collection of Sir Elton John in 1988 to most recently, the record shattering sales of property from the estate of Freddie Mercury, which drew record crowds and realized in excess of £40 million.

Our dedicated international department, with teams based in both New York and London, is led by the most creative and experienced specialists in the business, renowned for their expertise, innovation, and skill at creating new markets and generating world record prices.

The team is dedicated to bringing to the forefront the artifacts of some of the most culturally significant people and moments of the modern day, ranging from legendary music figures, celebrities, and icons of the film industry, to astronauts, titans of the tech world, and beyond. Sotheby’s was the first auction house to introduce auctions celebrating the history and cultural impact of Hip Hop, Space Exploration sales, and the first to hold sales dedicated to the birth of the internet and the metaverse, with landmark moments such as the sale of the Source Code of the World Wide Web for $5.4 million, and the groundbreaking sale of 6 items relating to the cult classic Cyberpunk novel Snow Crash, selling together for $1.5 million. In addition to forging the way with new categories, Sotheby’s Popular Culture department has deep expertise in the sale of artifacts ranging from film and screen-worn costumes and props, vintage film posters and original artwork, manuscript lyrics sheets, to personal fashion and iconic instruments including drum machines, guitars, pianos, studio equipment, and more.

Notable sales include:

• The landmark sale of the collection of Freddie Mercury, which drew record crowds to the exhibition, and totaled £40 million over 6 sales, with highlights including; the piano Mercury used to compose “Bohemian Rhapsody” for £1.7 million, his handwritten lyrics for “Bohemian Rhapsody” for £1.4 million, Mercury’s iconic silver snake bangle worn in the video for “Bohemian Rhapsody” £698,500, and his signature cloak and crown ensemble for £635,000.

• The record-shattering “Buzz Aldrin: American Icon” sale, which totaled $8.2 million for just 68 lots, including the record for any space-flown artifact at $2.8 million for the jacket Aldrin wore to the moon and back

• The first auctions to focus on Hip Hop as a cultural movement, setting records with items such as Tupac Shakur’s crown ring for just over $1 million, and Biggie’s iconic crown for $600,000

• Eddie Van Halen’s “Hot For Teacher” stage-used and filmed guitar which sold for $3,932,000 – one of the highest auction results achieved for a guitar

“From the Vault: Property from the Grateful Dead and Friends”, which totaled over $4 million

• John Lennon’s handwritten lyrics for The Beatles’ hit “A Day In The Life” which realized $1,202,500

• Sid Vicious’ personally owned God Save The Queen poster £44,100

•Sales such as: The Collection of Gianni Versace; Bowie / Collector; The Vivien Leigh Collection; Creating a Stage: The Collection of Marsha and Robin Williams; KARL: Karl Lagerfeld’s Estate; and the Joanne Woodard and Paul Newman auction of fine watches.

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