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Freddie Mercury's private collection goes on show in UK

By Agence France-Presse Published Aug 04, 2023 9:54 am

From fanciful costumes and working drafts of Bohemian Rhapsody to ashtrays and art, hundreds of items Freddie Mercury owned go on show in Britain on Friday before being sold next month.

Sotheby's has transformed its central London gallery to resemble the Queen frontman's former home in the UK capital for the month-long exhibition, ahead of its six-stage sale of more than 1,400 lots. 

The singer-songwriter, who died in 1991, had assembled an array of "treasures" which had been left largely untouched at his one-time West London house in the three decades since, according to the auctioneers.

They include a treasured Yamaha baby grand piano, revealed to be among the lots by Sotheby's Thursday, on which Mercury composed numerous hits on. It is estimated to fetch up to £3 million (3.8 million). 

The replica of Britain's St Edward's Crown and an accompanying cloak—in fake fur, red velvet, and rhinestones—worn by the star on stage in the 1980s is also on display.

Freddie Mercury's signature crown and cloak ensemble

He performed in both the world-famous Live Aid concert in 1985 and the finale renditions of God Save The Queen during his last tour with the band in 1986. 

The 16,000 square feet (1,500 sq m) multi-room showcase, which runs until September 5—the late singer's birthday—also features numerous elements from his so-called Japanese collection.

Mercury collected Japanese decorative arts, glass, graphic arts, ceramics, and other objects originating from the country during his life.

"It constitutes an ensemble which is completely unique," Sotheby's Cecile Bernard told AFP during an exhibition preview.

Freddie Mercury's Tiffany & Co. silver moustache comb

Surviving school book

Furniture once used at Mercury's Garden Lodge home also forms part of the Sotheby's showcase.

A worn kitchen table, ornate cutlery, and distinctive crockery hint at the entertainment, and attention to detail, the Queen frontman lavished on his guests.

A gilt-tooled leather-bound "dinner party guest and menu book," detailing seating plans, menus, and refreshments—and annotated with doodles— helps complete the picture.

A multicolored illuminated 1941 Wurlitzer jukebox, which Mercury kept in his kitchen and still operates on its original coinage, is another rare item.

Loaded with records such as Ray Charles' Hallelujah I Love Her So, Little Richard's Rit It Up and Bill Haley's Shake, Rattle and Roll, it is estimated to net £25,000 at auction.

The musical manuscripts set for display and sale include 15 pages of working drafts for Bohemian Rhapsody, and reveal Mercury initially planned to call the hit Mongolian Rhapsody.

Freddie Mercury's hand-written lyrics for Queen's Somebody to Love.

Meanwhile, the contents of his elaborate dressing room also feature, from jackets and sequinned stage suits to shoes to glasses. 

A yellow "Champion" vest worn for the first half of his final Queen performance at Knebworth Park on August 9, 1986, is among them. Auction valuation: £6,000-£8,000.

A surviving school book with Fred Bulsara—Mercury's real name—inscribed at the front is among the rarer items.

Dating back to the mid-1960s, it features the then 18-year-old's commentary and judgment on certain poetry, as well as a poem he composed entitled "Bird ('Feather flutter in the sky...')".

'Best tribute'

The vast array of items—being auctioned by Mary Austin, one of the icon's closest friends who cared for them at his former home —is expected to fetch at least £6 million ($7.6 million) in total.

Austin will be donating a portion of the proceeds to the Mercury Phoenix Trust—founded by fellow Queen members Brian May, Roger Taylor, and their manager Jim Beach to support HIV/Aids initiatives—and to the Elton John Aids Foundation.

Freddie Mercury's Yamaha G-2 baby grand piano

For Bernard, helping to curate the exhibition has been a treasured experience itself, as the team tried to place pieces within Mercury's creative process and journey.

"When we went to Garden Lodge... we have been like archaeologists doing that, with so much fun," she recounted. 

Bernard added the sales -- live events in the British capital on September 6-8 and online from Friday to September 11—are "the best homage" to Mercury, given he "loved to collect" and buy at auctions. 

"He was himself very familiar with the process of collections going from one owner to another so it makes sense," she said.

Some 30,000 to 40,000 items are available within the more than 1,400 lots, according to Sotheby's cataloguer Fenella Theis. 

"Every piece is so autobiographical," she told AFP. "So every piece resembles one of Freddie's many, many, many facets of his personality." (AFP)