LONDON - The baby grand piano Queen frontman Freddie Mercury used to compose almost all of his greatest songs and the original manuscript for "Bohemian Rhapsody" were snapped up Wednesday when they went under the hammer in London.
The Yamaha quarter-tail piano went for £1,742,000 (US$2,198,927), including buyer's premium and fees, while the manuscript for the epic hit song "Bohemian Rhapsody" fetched £1,379,000 ($1,740,712).
The items were among over 1,400 lots of Mercury memorabilia up for grabs at Sotheby's, with the famous auction house's facade decorated with a huge moustache for the occasion.
Auctioneer Oliver Barker called the "Bohemian Rhapsody" lyrics -- contained in 15-pages of pencil and ballpoint pen remarks -- a "modern cultural icon".
The manuscript also reveals that the title was originally going to be "Mongolian Rhapsody".
Mercury's cherished baby grand was purchased by the charismatic star in 1975 after an exhaustive six-month search for "the ideal instrument to bring to life" his compositions.
A record 2,000 bidders from 61 countries registered to take part in the sale.
Part of the proceeds will be donated to the Mercury Phoenix Trust and the Elton John Aids Foundation, two organisations involved in the fight against AIDS.
"I miss Freddie to this day. He was a wonderful friend more full of love and life than anyone I've ever met, as well as a brilliant performer whose music has inspired and thrilled millions," John said in a message read out at the start of the sale.
"He was kind, generous and funny and it is a tragedy that AIDS took him from the world much too soon," he added.
The auction kicked off with the green door to Mercury's garden on which fans scrawled tributes.
The door to his Garden Lodge home in west London sold for £412,750, far in excess of the £15,000-25,000 estimate.
Other items being sold off at the auction include furniture, clothing, art works and knick-knacks.
Wednesday's "evening sale" will be followed by two other live auctions and three online sales over the next week.
Works by Chagall, Dali and Picasso that adorned Mercury's home, as well as the last painting he bought a month before his death from AIDS in 1991 -- an oil on canvas by James Jacques Joseph Tissot -- are among the lots.
The entire collection is being offered for sale by Mary Austin, a close friend and one-time fiancee of Mercury, to whom the singer bequeathed his estate.
"Mary Austin has lived with the collection and has cared for the collection for more than three decades," Gabriel Heaton, a books and manuscripts specialist at Sotheby's, told AFP.
Mercury "was not interested in having a museum of his life but he loved auctions", to the point of being a regular at Sotheby's sales, said Heaton.
Austin believes the artist -- who was 45 when he died -- would have "loved" this sale, he added.
Mercury's most flamboyant stage costumes, Hawaiian shirt and Superman tank top are also finding new homes along with shots by legendary snapper Mick Rock.
A collection of mostly unseen personal polaroids showed Mercury as he "celebrates birthdays and Christmases, snuggles with his cats and relishes being surrounded by special objects at home", Barker said.
Freddie Mercury's Tiffany & Co silver moustache comb is pictured during a press preview ahead of the "Freddie Mercury: A World of His Own" auctions, at Sotheby's auctioneers in London on Aug 3, 2023. (Photo: AFP)
The archive of 265 photographs mostly dating from the mid-1980s fetched over £88,000.
Also being sold off are the finest bottles from his cellar, such as Dom Perignon champagne, alongside more intimate items, such as a book of personally annotated poetry and a moustache comb.
Before the sale, the auction house hosted the collection at a month-long exhibition, open to the public free of charge.
Sotheby's estimated when the auction was announced in April that the lots would fetch at least £6 million.
The auction house says it is the largest collection, by volume, of a cultural icon to go to auction since the Elton John sale in 1988, when 2,000 lots sold for a total of £4.8 million.