Last month, Sotheby’s London issued a royal decree of sorts. The auction house announced it would sell the never-before-seen personal collection of Queen frontman Freddie Mercury—1,500 items spanning art to furniture to jewelry (such as a “tiny Tiffany & Co. silver mustache comb”) that have been perfectly preserved in the beloved icon’s London home since his death more than 30 years ago.
Reflecting his eclectic tastes, treasured lots range from his red-velvet crown with matching cloak and his 1975 Martin D-35 acoustic guitar to artworks that include prints by Matisse and Picasso and a painting by James Jacques Tissot (the last work he purchased), as well as Japanese woodblock prints and kimonos, Art Nouveau lamps, a Fabergé clock, and an Erté watercolor gifted to him by Sir Elton John.
Some of those contents of his Kensington home—a Georgian-style brick villa that he called Garden Lodge—have begun a traveling exhibition, starting at Sotheby’s New York before heading to Los Angeles, Hong Kong and, finally, London. At its final stop, the items will rejoin the rest of the collection on the auction block in the six-part sale, Freddie Mercury: A World of His Own, from September 6 to 11.
Highlights from the touring trove include the winged costume Mercury wore in the music video for “Bohemian Rhapsody,” estimated to fetch £50,000–£70,000 ($62,200–$87,000) at Sotheby’s in September. Thought to be the first of its kind, the video saw Mercury commission his friend and costume designer Wendy de Smet to create an ivory satin bodysuit and bolero jacket with winged wrists and ankles inspired by Mercury—the Roman god, that is. Elsewhere in the video, he wears a black velvet jacket embellished with vertical sequined strips. That contraption is expected to bring £30,000–£50,000 ($37,300–$62,200).
A week after its 1975 debut on Top of the Pops, “Bohemian Rhapsody” shot to No. 1 on the British charts, where it remained for nine weeks. The track was the lead single from Queen’s fourth album, A Night at the Opera, and is the third best-selling U.K. track of all time. The 2018 feature film of the same name won four Academy Awards.
Also headed for the hammer are Mercury’s handwritten lyrics for “Bohemian Rhapsody” (estimate: £800,000–£1.2 million, or $995,400–$1.5 million), which he scrawled across 15 pages of stationery from now-defunct British Midland Airways. One of those pages reveals that he intended to call the song “Mongolian Rhapsody,” before crossing out “Mongolian” and replacing it with “Bohemian.”
Other handwritten lyrics in the collection include “Don’t Stop Me Now,” “Somebody to Love,” and “We Are the Champions”—all of which were created during a burst of creativity in the mid-1970s. One stained and torn red notebook is believed to be Mercury’s earliest notebook of lyrics, dating back to the period Queen was signed, and even before then. In addition to Mercury’s own lyrics, the notebook reveals songs by other artists that Queen was performing at the time—e.g. Elvis Presley’s “Jailhouse Rockand The Rolling Stones’s “Stupid Girl.The notebook also bears snippets of Queen’s future logo design.
“Thanks to the emergence of this extraordinary group of early handwritten lyrics, we can now fully appreciate his absolute skill as a lyricist,” said Dr. Gabriel Heaton, Sotheby’s Books & Manuscripts Specialist. “Early drafts such as these are easily lost or discarded, so the rare survival of these manuscripts provides us with fascinating insights into how his songs were developed and put together, reminding us of their musical complexity and sophistication…Quite unlike anything that had been released before, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ was the band’s greatest risk, which swiftly became their greatest hit.”
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