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Peachtree Provenance: Beyond the Prices Paid for Elton John’s Collection

Peachtree Provenance: Beyond the Prices Paid for Elton John’s Collection

Peachtree Provenance: Beyond the Prices Paid for Elton John’s Collection

This is the latest edition of a multi-part blog series produced in partnership with Altan Insights on the key events and factors shaping the modern music memorabilia market. Altan Insights provides data and quantitative analysis to help collectors and businesses navigate the emerging collectible asset markets.

In a fusion of fashion, art, music, and memorabilia, the seminal sale of Sir Elton John’s treasure trove of iconic collectibles paid homage to the unique personality displayed by one of music’s most impactful figures. 

 

The event, aptly titled “Goodbye Peachtree Road”, seamlessly interlaced culture and luxury, while a predictable mix of outperformance and record prices also hinted at a glaring weakness in the auction world’s ability or willingness to provide reasonable estimates for music memorabilia. Just as Sotheby’s declined to “value love” in its assessment of items from Freddie Mercury’s estate, it seems Christie’s avoided the inclusion of an “Elton John premium” in its projections.

 

On the opening night, art – in the form of prints, sculptures, and photographs – took center stage, as total sales across the categories reached $6.5 million. Among the evening’s standout moments was a trio of pieces that made their triumphant return to the auction block after decades in private ownership. Each of the three repeat sales tallied a premium over their last appearance at auction as photography remains a lucrative collectible category worthy of attention.

 

 In 1991, Sotheby’s sold an original print of Dovima with Elephants, a photograph taken by Richard Avedon for a 1955 issue of Harper’s Bazaar. The famous shot sold for $19,800 and resurfaced nearly a quarter-century later as part of Elton’s collection. This time, the work hammered for $120,000, up to $151,200 with premium, to demonstrate an overall valuation gain of 663% or a modest 6.4% increase on an annualized basis. Additionally, a photo titled Grapes by Robert Mapplethorpe sold for $81,900 after Elton acquired it from Sotheby’s for $36,800 in 1996, while Four Plants by Gilbert & George flipped for $189,000, up only narrowly from $186,000 in 2005. 

 

The most expensive item sold came by way of an iconic and recognizable Banksy. The poignant painting, Flower Thrower Triptych, sold for $1.9 million, good for the fifth most-expensive Banksy sold at auction over the past year. The sale established a record for any Banksy work related to throwing flowers, besting the previous high of $458,221 for Flower Chucker, 2023, which sold last March. Across more than 300 lots in the day and evening sale, the Banksy was the only to carry a seven-figure estimate and ultimately closed as the only item to hammer for at least $1 million.  

 

Although collectors of works by Keith Haring might long for the late 2010s, when art by the late American pop artist reached their valuation peaks, the pair of Harings owned by Elton John demonstrated the impact of provenance. Both paintings surpassed their pre-sale estimates, while the top sale, which was an untitled work from Haring’s Three Eyes collection, sold for $756,000 and surpassed any comparable work from the early 1980s series. 

 

As the premier sales closed, the remaining results carried less significance but still delivered new highs for more obscure artists. One new record that was established came by way of Pinnin Leaves by Radcliffe Bailey. The unique work is one of the first sold since Bailey’s passing in November of last year, and its inclusion within Elton John’s collection signifies the impact an artist can have despite a lack of prominent prices. Prior to the sale, Bailey’s auction record sat at $62,812, set via Bonham’s in 2021. With an estimate between $10,000 and $15,000, Pinnin Leaves sold for $94,500, representing an 18% increase over the previous high. Another artist, Derek Jarman, had his auction record nearly doubled as Topsey Turvey sold for $52,920 against an estimate of $8,000 – $12,000. The prior top price paid at auction for a Jarman was $26,739, paid for an oil on canvas at Christie’s in 2001. 

 

If the prices realized for Elton’s art weren’t evidence enough, the power of provenance was on full display for his luxury watch collection.

 

Five different watches sold for six-figures, while two, both by Cartier, reached $200K. The star of the evening sale was an 18K gold Cartier “Crash” which nearly tripled its high-end estimate of $100,000 and realized $277,200 after fees. Even setting aside the added provenance, the watch itself is rare with a total quantity of 400 in existence. The limited edition timepiece opened with an estimate between $70,000 – $100,000, a head-scratching range as comparable examples have consistently sold for at least $100,000 and have even surpassed $300,000 in recent years. The final bid plus premium totaled $277,200, below the all-time record for any 1991 Paris “Crash” but noticeably above the median sale 2022-2023 price range of $150,000 – $220,000. 

 

As the clear favorite timepiece of the piano-playing icon, Cartier outpaced all other watch brands with $853,020 in sales. The day sale was led by a Cartier Tank that hammered for more than 7x its pre-sale estimate. Christie’s offered an estimate range between $15,000 – $25,000, a fair premium to the average Cartier Tank but strikingly conservative for the unique ruby and diamond laden watch owned by an icon. 

 

Two watch auction records were established during the evening sale, one by way of a Cartier Normale which sold for $176,400, and the other, for a leopard-print Rolex Daytona. In a continuation of the overarching theme, the $40,000 to $60,000 estimate for the Rolex appeared light. Yes, there have been sales for the unique animal-themed model that settled below $60,000, but those have been few and far between. The retail price across authorized dealers who managed to secure one or two of the rare Daytona’s hovered in the $70,000 – $80,000 range at the time of release. The recent decline in Rolex valuations hasn’t ignored this model, as market values fell below $70,000 in late 2023. With that said, you would be hard-pressed to find an authentic example today for less than $65,000 and the timepiece presented by Christie’s came with more than just the standard papers. With the added benefit of royal provenance due to its place within Sir Elton John’s collection, bidders ignored concerns of a faltering Rolex market. When the hammer fell and premium had been added, the realized price read $176,400, setting a new record for this 21st century classic. 

 

It should go without saying, but could you really have an Elton John auction and not sell a piano? Admittedly, the supply of musical instruments was scarce, but the one Piano that did hit the block on the opening night struck a chord with collectors. 

 

The 1992 C6 model Yamaha grand piano entered with an estimated price between $30,000 and $50,000. Yes, that valuation is actually in line with the replacement value of comparable C6 Yamaha’s without superstar provenance, but for one owned by a musician who is to the piano what Michael Jordan is to a basketball, the estimate was grossly understated. That understatement was underscored by a response from bidders that can’t be overstated. The piano auctioned for $201,600 with fees to close as the most expensive music-related item sold throughout the multi-day event. 

 

Additional stage-worn and stage-used costumes and props included a pair of silver leather platform boots that carried an eyebrow-raising and inviting $5,000 to $10,000 estimate but sold for a reasonable $94,500. Various other costumes and apparel items combined for $212,310 in volume across the Evening and Day sales. 

 

Who needs a writer to pen auction lot descriptions when you have an essay from Elton John himself?

 

That was the case for the 1990 Bentley Continental, purchased by Elton shortly after the British-born classic rolled off the assembly line. The two door convertible, appearing at auction for the first time, was given an estimate between $25,000 and $35,000, which fell well short of the market value provided by collectible car experts. With the added bonus of carrying less than 30,000 miles of wear, the market value for a ‘90 Bentley Continental per the insurance company Hagerty is somewhere in the $50,000 – $70,000 range, double the auction estimate.

 

While Christie’s abstinence from accounting for “the Elton premium” was consistent, even the Hagerty market value was miles away from what bidders were ultimately willing to pay. The auction house reported a flurry of two-dozen bidders, and the heated action drove the price to a new record of $441,000. The hammer plus premium exceeded the pre-sale estimate by more than 12x and surpassed the price paid for any 1990s Bentley at auction by almost double. The prior high watermark was for a 1994 Continental IV, which sold in 2022 for $296,500, an impressive tally, but well below the price paid for one that came alongside a short essay, penned by the superstar owner himself. In the letter, Elton emphasized his astonishment with the beauty and detailing of the car, in addition to its unmistakable smell. 

 

In an active collectibles market where there’s constantly something new and shiny to catch our attention, the power of provenance remains as influential and important as ever. 

 

The Numbers Behind the Elton John Collection

Top 3 Sales

  1. Flower Thrower Triptych by Banksy  – $1,925,000
  2. Untitled (Three Eyes) by Keith Haring  – $756,000
  3. Untitled  by Keith Haring  – $529,000

 

Total Sales by Event

  • Opening Night – $7,960,900
  • The Day Sale – $6.474,132
  • The Jewel Box – $1,735,902
  • Honky Château – $1,336,986
  • Love, Lust, and Devotion – $1,123,416 
  • Elton’s Superstars – $587,916
  • Elton’s Versace – $574,938

 

Roaring Tours, Quiet Markets: Inside the Surprisingly Thin Modern Music Memorabilia Market

Roaring Tours, Quiet Markets: Inside the Surprisingly Thin Modern Music Memorabilia Market

Roaring Tours, Quiet Markets: Inside the Surprisingly Thin Modern Music Memorabilia Market 

This is the latest edition of a multi-part blog series produced in partnership with Altan Insights on the key events and factors shaping the modern music memorabilia market. Altan Insights provides data and quantitative analysis to help collectors and businesses navigate the emerging collectible asset markets.

In our Guide to the Music Memorabilia Market, published last month, a recurring theme was the dominance of vintage artists relative to active acts more popular among Millennial and Gen Z audiences. The market composition skews vintage in nature for myriad reasons:

  • The music memorabilia market is often driven at the high end by estate sales or single-owner sales from late-career artists. These events offer the strongest provenance, rendering their contents highly desirable. As most currently-popular artists with young demographics are still living (and aren’t in the career retrospective phase that often inspires single-owner sales), much of their reputable material has yet to hit the market.
  • Authentication standards in music memorabilia are lacking, so bidders’ confidence in the items that reach market is relatively low. Consequently, these items rarely attain headline-making prices.
  • Channels of distribution for active artist memorabilia are similarly murky. Aside from one-off charity auction events, artists generally do not avail themselves of opportunities to engage directly with their fanbases and raise money for their causes through memorabilia.
  • Fans of “vintage” artists are in their years of peak wealth, rendering them more inclined to spend big on memorabilia. 

The fourth point, however, is partially rebutted by the extreme spend of Taylor Swift and Beyonce fans on concert tickets. Millions of fans spent four-figure ticket prices to see those women live, and yet you’ll be surprised to learn just how non-existent the markets for their memorabilia are. These acts – Taylor, Beyoncé, Harry Styles, Ed Sheeran, and Drake – fill the world’s largest stadiums for multiple nights, but that popularity hasn’t transferred to collecting realms. It seems, though, to be less an issue of demand and more an issue of supply. 

Let’s take a closer look at their markets to understand.

Taylor Swift’s fame needs no introduction. Providing one would only fall on already-fatigued ears. Since you already understand the size and scope of her superstardom, you might expect her memorabilia market to be sizable. But total sales volume of Taylor Swift memorabilia at all the auction houses* featured in our Guide to the Music Memorabilia Market was merely $36k in 2023.

That’s it. A pittance. A rounding error for some iconic vintage artists. 

Many prominent houses registered zero dollars in T-Swift volume. That’s hard to comprehend, as her tour single-handedly boosts local economies. 

The reality is that high-quality material simply isn’t out there. The most expensive Taylor Swift item to sell at those auction houses last year was a signed 1989 album, which sold for $5,500 at Gotta Have Rock and Roll. There were no stage or video-worn or played items to bid on. 

It was at one-off charity auctions where there were some fireworks. A Swift-signed guitar sold for $120,000 at Toby Keith’s OK Kids Korral Auction, while another autographed guitar sold for $50,000 at Hometown Foundation’s Dream Ride. Such items have not typically drawn big dollar figures in the past, but the results show that demand may be significant from the Swift-loving crowd that hasn’t previously dabbled in memorabilia.

Another Swift-autographed guitar (which the listing notes was not played by her) comes to Julien’s this winter for its Musicares Charity Relief Auction, with the donation coming from the artist. Could it clear the 2023 sales volume total? It’s not a particularly high bar, though the $1,000 – $1,500 estimate remains tame.

 

In 2016, Beyoncé embarked on her seventh, and until 2023, most lucrative world tour. The Formation Tour spanned 49 sold-out shows across the United States and Europe, becoming her highest-grossing tour with more than $250 million in total ticket sales. Despite the series of record-breaking shows and an overall surge in popularity, the demand displayed for Beyoncé concert ticket sales did not translate to a notable auction presence. The only piece of stage-worn memorabilia from that famed Formation Tour to sell for more than $10,000 is a signed black felt hat which totaled $27,500 at a 2017 auction hosted by Heritage. 

Those days might have been the peak, as the majority of Beyoncé memorabilia sales took place between 2016-2019, and some music-centric houses such as Iconic Auctions haven’t sold a single Beyoncé-related collectible in nearly four years. While the music industry surrounding Beyoncé is valued ​​in the millions and billions, and resale prices for her concert tickets reach the thousands, prices for Beyoncé memorabilia usually settle in the hundreds. In September 2023, RR Auction struck its most expensive Beyoncé sale ever when a 5×3 index card signed by the pop legend sold for.. drumroll… $650. While that might seem low, it’s no knock on RR, as the price plus premium was more than six times their pre-sale estimate. 

Unlike many in the music industry – no comment on Taylor Swift – Beyoncé’s career has intertwined with professional sports. Beyoncé belongs to a rare unique collective of performers who have taken the stage at multiple Super Bowls, with her inaugural performance coming in 2013 followed by a second showing in 2016. The sports crossover dates back to the early 2000s when Beyoncé appeared in the 2007 Sports Illustrated “Swimsuit Edition.” Scenes from which would later be used for her first trading card. In 2021, Goldin sold a PSA 10 specimen for $3,900, which stands as their most expensive Beyoncé sale to date. As for an update on the market, in 2023, a different gem-mint version hit the block at Goldin and closed for $377. 

Even at Julien’s, it’s not particularly cumbersome to tally the artist’s sales volume, so few are the available lots. The auction house best known for delivering impressive numbers for the biggest names in music has racked up a mere four Beyoncé sales with a total tally that sits below $14,000 all-time. Her 2023 auction house memorabilia total sat at $20k, led by Propstore’s $15,500 sale of her Foxy Cleopatra costume from Austin Powers in Goldmember

If there’s any current market for Beyoncé, it might rest in royalties. The company Royalty Exchange, which acts as an online auction platform and marketplace for music rights, copyrights, and royalty streams, has offered opportunities in multiple offerings related to Beyoncé. Their most lucrative transaction totaled $66,500 for the public performance rights to a music catalog that was headlined by Beyoncé’s “Flawless” in addition to a remix featuring Nicki Minaj. 

There is little doubt that the overall demand for Beyoncé has never been higher, as her 2023 Renaissance World Tour grossed $580 million, which more than doubled the total sales from her previous record, established in 2016. In a year where Swift stole headlines, Beyoncé broke the record for more career Grammy wins while her tour generated an estimated $4.5 billion for the US economy according to an article published by the New York Times. And to think her memorabilia market is as scarce and underappreciated as it is…

 

Harry Styles’s second concert tour, Love On Tour, grossed more than $600 million with north of 5 million tickets sold. While his popularity is perhaps not quite to the Taylor Swift or Beyonce standard, he boasts a remarkable global following with nearly 50 million Instagram followers. And guess what that rabid following spent on Harry Styles memorabilia and collectibles at auction houses of note in 2023? 

$1,341.

We’re not missing any commas, nor are we missing any zeroes. You’d be hard-pressed to find a larger incongruence between a person or entity with a large following and the associated collectibles spend. Make it make sense!  

Of course, fans are buying merchandise in venues other than these auction houses, which are perhaps missing the mark altogether when it comes to younger demographics in the music space. But, still…..we’re talking about 3 lots across eleven notable auction houses grossing only $1,341 for one of entertainment’s biggest superstars. 

 

Maybe Ed Sheeran isn’t the first person that comes to mind when you think “megastar,” but the numbers don’t lie. He was, at least at one point in 2022, the most followed artist on Spotify, and his Divide Tour is the third-highest grossing of all-time. 

His 2023 auction numbers actually compare very favorably to the peers listed here, though there are caveats. His auction sales totaled $68k. However, $57k of that can be attributed to two Tudor watches sold at Sotheby’s which were made for the Divide Tour crew. Though the Tudor Black Bays would have value on their own (think mid-four-figures), the prices were certainly raised by the rarity of their unique backstory. Those two items account for the lion’s share of Sheeran’s volume. 

Otherwise, business isn’t necessarily booming. The Julien’s website basically stopped just short of asking us if we took our pills today when we searched for Ed Sheeran.

Easy Tiger! No such thing as a “ed sheeran” here!

 

Drake generated a whopping $18k in auction house volume in 2023, though there were signs of broadening collectability across handwritten lyrics (some authenticated and slabbed) and graded CDs and vinyl. Still, put it this way: Drake, the buyer of Tupac’s $1 million crown ring, seems to spend way more on memorabilia at auction than is spent on memorabilia of his. 

These are the results of only five artists from a mere selection of auction houses (albeit the ones that do the most music memorabilia business), but the findings are clear: the collectibles market for the megastars of modern music is woefully underdeveloped. If these are the volumes for the megastars, imagine what that says about the market for artists of lesser popularity. 

There is a teeming, but unstructured collecting economy on eBay, where the volume of merchandise transacted is higher. Here’s a sampling of volumes in eBay’s “Entertainment Memorabilia” and “Music” categories in 2023, where the frenzy for the Eras Tour was most prominent.

Taylor Swift: $7.72 million

Beyonce: $225k

Harry Styles: $207k

 

Generally, items sold are manufactured collectibles of larger quantity, rather than artist-used or rare memorabilia. There aren’t big-ticket sales among those volumes, but the sales are significant in magnitude, demonstrating the broad appetite for a more concerted and targeted effort from auction houses and artists alike. 

Given the size of other collecting categories and  the tools available to better engage with fanbases through social media, it seems odd that we would wait for an artist’s estate sale to see more active markets for their desirable memorabilia and collectibles. The channels to bring assets to market have underwhelmed to date, and an opportunity appears sorely missed, even if that opportunity is only for artists to raise money in support of causes dear to them. Supply of desirable assets is limited, and large, global fanbases have been given little reason to take interest. It’s possible that the same means of achieving auction success in other categories won’t work here – those methods haven’t always cultivated engaged, female audiences, and many of these fanbases skew female.

It’s hard, though, to look at the size of following for Harry Styles and his $1,000 sales volume and come to any conclusion other than this: the modern music space is one of the most untapped opportunities in collectibles. 

 

* Included auction houses: Bonham’s, Christie’s, Goldin, Gotta Have Rock and Roll, GWS, Heritage, Iconic, Julien’s, Propstore, RR Auction, Sotheby’s

Megadeth Memorabilia Auction

Megadeth Memorabilia Auction

This is the sixth edition of a multi-part blog series produced in partnership with Altan Insights on the key events and factors shaping the modern music memorabilia market. Altan Insights provides data and quantitative analysis to help collectors and businesses navigate the emerging collectible asset markets.

​​Megadeth: Megastars of the Thrash Metal Universe

Emerging from the Los Angeles metal scene in the early 1980s, Megadeth, spearheaded by Dave Mustaine, has etched its name into the halls of heavy metal history.

Founded after Mustaine’s departure from Metallica, Megadeth has become a cornerstone of the thrash metal genre. With a notable front-man driving the show, Megadeth has managed to not only cement its place within a competitive metal scene, but has also secured the admiration and respect of fans, with the Cyber Army providing one of music’s strongest followings.

The band’s debut album, Killing Is My Business…And Business Is Good!, released in 1985, served as a declaration of intent for the fast rising act. Backed by Mustaine’s blistering guitar riffs, combined with his easily recognizable vocals, it didn’t take long for Megadeth to establish itself as a formidable force within the world of thrash metal. In a later interview, Mustaine would note that the debut album, and the emergence of Megadeth, were borne from a desire to be faster and heavier than Metallica, a theme that would continue throughout the 1980s and 1990s. With an initial album that showcased Mustaine’s songwriting prowess while offering timely and relatable context, the album would go on to become one of Combat Records’ highest selling releases despite failing to chart on the Billboard 200.
Megadeth’s subsequent albums, Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying? (1986) and Rust in Peace (1988), further solidified their position as thrash metal royalty. Peace Sells…, with its anti-war and socially conscious themes, expanded the band’s reach into the realm of extreme metal while also incorporating a unique blend of the more common progressive metal. The album’s title track provided an indictment of the global arms trade and became somewhat of a protest song for a generation that felt a growing sense of disillusion with the world around them.
Throughout the late 1980s, productions like Rust in Peace delivered songs such as “Holy Wars…The Punishment Due,” “Hangar 18,” and “Tornado of Souls” which played a role in laying the foundation for what would become a breakout stretch over the next decade. Known as the “big four” of thrash metal, Anthrax, Megadeth, Metallica, and Slayer each carved their own path up the Billboard charts as various renditions of metal became increasingly popular both in the states and in Europe.

The early 1990s witnessed Megadeth’s commercial breakthrough with albums like Countdown to Extinction (1992) and Youthanasia (1994). Countdown to Extinction propelled the band into mainstream success as it was the band’s first certified platinum record and reached number two on the Billboard 200. Youthanasia followed with a top-four Billboard appearance and yet another RIAA Platinum award while three years later, Cryptic Writing also hit the top-ten.

Much like their big-four counterparts, Megadeth started to weave radio-friendly singles within their albums to broaden their appeal and attract new listeners while retaining their core fanbase.

Despite lineup changes and various personnel struggles, Megadeth continued to release critically acclaimed albums throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. After their 1999 album Risk left much to be desired with its attempt to garner mainstream success, The World Needs a Hero went live in 2001 with a quick climb to #16 on the Billboard chart and a return to metal supremacy for Mustaine and Co.

Megadeth Memorabilia Market

This influence extends beyond their music, as the market for Megadeth memorabilia offers a diverse and dynamic range of collectibles from guitars and stage-worn clothing to handwritten lyrics and original posters.

Stage-used guitars played by Mustaine have realized five-figures at auction in various styles, ranging from Jackson King V double-necks to Dana Bourgeois acoustic guitars.

The Realest has opened its inaugural auction with a significant collection of Megadeth memorabilia on the block. There are multiple setlists, including one from a show in Prior Lake, Minnesota that is signed by members of the band in addition to Tama drum sticks personally autographed by their user, Dirk Verbeuren.

This Summer, Megadeth embarked on a tour across Europe and The Realest will be showcasing collectibles from their performances. We’ve previously highlighted the market for concert posters and three limited edition originals, including a pair from intimate yet equally iconic shows, will be available through the marketplace hosted by The Realest. As with all of the memorabilia sold through the site, collectors can rest assured knowing all posters and autographs have been authenticated as original as opposed to reprints that can be found on other secondary market sites.

The headline item of the event is an iconic Gibson Flying V guitar that was used on stage by Dave Mustaine. In an opaque market where authenticity is often questionable at best, this guitar has been personally presented by Mustaine and Megadeth management with authentication covering both the instrument and Mustaine’s signature. With an impressive 40 bids and counting, the Gibson is nearing $4,000 with more than 5 days remaining in the event.

In total, 36 different Megadeth collectibles are up for auction with each of them having already secured at least one bid. To explore the Megadeth memorabilia market and their latest auction hosted by The Realest, head over to therealest.com/marketplace.

The Art of Collecting Musical Moments

The Art of Collecting Musical Moments

This is the fifth edition of a multi-part blog series produced in partnership with Altan Insights on the key events and factors shaping the modern music memorabilia market. Altan Insights provides data and quantitative analysis to help collectors and businesses navigate the emerging collectible asset markets.

The allure of music memorabilia is a unique blend of nostalgia, art, and cultural significance. The impact and influence of a pivotal moment within the music industry can transform a tangible piece of history into a cherished artifact, offering collectors an opportunity to own part of the legacy of a specific musician or performance. The journey from legendary event to iconic collectible is one deeply intertwined with the emotions and passions of fans and the appreciation of significant moments in music

​​Woodstock: The Festival that Defined a Generation

PHOTO: Heritage Auctions

Woodstock, the legendary 1969 music festival held in upstate New York, stands as an enduring symbol of the counterculture movement and one of the most impressive musical lineups ever assembled. The rain-soaked event featured iconic performances by artists like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and The Who, set against a backdrop of peace, love, music, and mud.
While organizers initially anticipated approximately 5,000 attendees, more than 180,000 tickets were sold as 400,000 people ascended upon Bethel, New York. In August 2021, PSA eclipsed 1,000 graded Woodstock tickets, and by August 2022, that population had ballooned to nearly 3,700 graded tickets and stubs. As of August 2023, the population has finally shown signs of plateauing as the grading agency has recorded 3,916 full Woodstock tickets and 54 stubs. Contributing to nearly 50% of the total population, Three Day $24 tickets to the “music and art fair” are the variation with the highest PSA population and can be acquired for less than $400 today.
While the ticket market might be oversaturated, the market for other Woodstock-related collectibles continues to appreciate. Much like tickets, Woodstock programs and posters are abundant, but if they’re signed, their values multiply. In 2014, RR Auction sold a Jimi Hendrix signed program for $22,050, while signed prints of the easily recognizable red festival posters have sold in excess of $10,000. Even unsigned advertisements can command top dollar if the perfect storm of condition and rarity are met. Earlier this year, Heritage Auctions sold a cardboard bus sign which listed all the headline performers for $15,625. While paper and cardboard can reach five-figures, it takes something stage-used to hammer for six. In 2019, Heritage sold the Martin D-45 Acoustic Guitar used at Woodstock by Graham Nash for $162,500.

The Beatles: Collections Curated from the Invasion

There are few events that can compare to the sheer spectacle and stardom of The Beatles’ 1965 and 1966 performances at Shea Stadium. For the most convincing evidence to support that statement, just look at the liveliness of the market for its original concert posters.

PHOTO: Heritage Auctions

In 2021, Heritage Auctions tied the concert poster record with their $150,000 sale of a 1966 Beatles poster before eclipsing that mark with another Shea Stadium specimen one year later. In April 2022, the auction house presented a rare, unrestored edition of the unmistakable yellow poster featuring the Fab Four with the ad ultimately selling for $275,000.
The 1965 showing drew more than 55,000 fans, but only two photographers received press passes. Marc Weinstein, an amateur photographer who used a fake pass to sneak backstage, snapped a set of 61 black and white photos which were sold through Omega Auctions in 2013 for more than $46,000.

Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”: The King of Pop’s Legacy

PHOTO: Juliens Auctions

Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” music video, released in 1982, is a landmark in the history of music videos. Credited as one of the first albums to use video as a promotional tool, “Thriller” would go on to become a best-selling album with global sales exceeding 70 million copies.
From jackets to zombie costumes, collectibles associated with the “Thriller” video, have commanded significant sums at auction. Most notably, the iconic red jacket, synonymous with the video with its winged shoulders, sold at Julien’s Auction in 2011 for $1.8 million. The jacket established a new standard for music video memorabilia as it hammered for 4.5x above its pre-auction estimate of $400,000. While the jacket has remained in a private collection for more than a decade, zombie costumes from the video appraise between $15,000 – $30,000 today.

Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher” Video: A Rock ‘n’ Roll Classic

PHOTO: Sotheby’s

Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher” video, released in 1984, is a quintessential rock ‘n’ roll masterpiece.
Produced at a rising moment within the MTV era, memorabilia related to the production and performance of the “Hot for Teacher” video has long piqued the interest of collectors. In 2020, the scaled-down version of Eddie Van Halen’s red, black, and white guitar used by Bryan Hitchcock sold for $50,000 at Juliens. The pint-sized strings were shredded by the child actor in his role as a young Van Halen in the video. Consider that Eddie Van Halen never played or even touched that non-playable guitar and it still sold for $50,000 – that’s the power of the MTV generation.
If that sale left anyone wondering what the full-sized Van Halen-used guitar would sell for, Sotheby’s provided an answer in April 2023. The auction house presented the custom made guitar with an estimate of $2 million – $3 million with the lot officially selling for $3.9 million.

Live Aid: A Global Event for a Noble Cause

The Live Aid concert, organized by Boomtown Rats frontman Bob Geldof and Utravox vocalist Midge Ure in 1985, was a historic global music event aimed at raising funds for famine relief in Ethiopia. The televised tribute featured a legendary lineup of artists like Queen, U2, and David Bowie while attracting an audience of more than 1.5 billion viewers.

PHOTO: Heritage Auctions

In turn, Live Aid memorabilia, including original tickets, posters, and even stage-used instruments, have become valuable collector’s items. Signed programs command hundreds of dollars at auction while prices for slabbed ticket stubs have neared five-figures in recent years. As is often the case with music memorabilia though, it’s the instruments and stage-worn clothes that, if made public, command the top prices. Christie’s sold the guitar used by Pete Townshend of The Who for nearly $43,000 in 2011 and in 2021, the grail of the show finally emerged. Played by the legend himself, Elton John’s Steinway Model D Grand Piano, which carried nearly 20 years of use, including an appearance at Live Aid, sold at Heritage Auctions for $915,000. In more recent news, earlier this summer, Sotheby’s sold a plethora of stage-worn Freddie Mercury attire including a sleeveless top worn by Queen’s late lead vocalist during Live Aid rehearsals for more than $50,000.

“We Are the World”: Stars align for Charity

“We Are the World,” a song and music video released in 1985, brought together an all-star ensemble of artists to raise funds for African famine relief. The video featured the likes of Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Billy Joel, Diana Ross, Tina Turner, and other decorated stars.
Memorabilia associated with “We Are the World” often includes autographed items such as sheet music, with various copies tallying more than $10,000 at auction. Add provenance to that equation, and the value increases exponentially: Kenny Rogers’ sheet music, signed with personal inscriptions to him from the other artists, sold for $156,000 at Julien’s in 2022. Other rare grails that have realized top dollar at auction include trophies such as the “We Are The World” MTV Moonman Video Music award which hammered for $72,000, or 9x its pre-auction estimate at Juliens in 2009.

PHOTO: Heritage Auctions

As we’ve explored the iconic moments that shaped music history, from Woodstock to “We Are the World,” we’ve witnessed how these events have become a gateway to the world of music collectibles.
In recent years, the music memorabilia market has seen continued appreciation in the value of specific items associated with noteworthy events and influential videos. In a trend replicated across markets like game-worn sports memorabilia, collectors have demonstrated an ongoing willingness to invest substantial sums in owning a piece of history, a tangible connection to the music, videos, and moments that once defined an industry and today, define a market.

Don’t Stop Me Now: Freddie Mercury’s Record Breaking Memorabilia Auction

Don’t Stop Me Now: Freddie Mercury’s Record Breaking Memorabilia Auction

This is the fourth edition of a multi-part blog series produced in partnership with Altan Insights on the key events and factors shaping the modern music memorabilia market. Altan Insights provides data and quantitative analysis to help collectors and businesses navigate the emerging collectible asset markets.
Back in April of this year Sotheby’s announced a 6-part sale made up of over a thousand objects from the collection of one Freddie Mercury. Spending a lifetime as the frontman of Queen endowed him, and thereby his estate, with countless artifacts connected to one of the most beloved bands of the last century. Instruments, outfits, fine art, knick-knacks, what have you…Sotheby’s sold it all. The sales were a smashing success, netting £39.9 million against a low estimate of £7.6 million initially forecasted by Sotheby’s. Starting on September 6th, the House spent a week in London selling nearly every piece in Mercury’s collection, by way of his ex-fiancee and long time friend Mary Austin. Mercury not only collected priceless objects from his career with Queen but was also an avid auction-goer. His proclivity for bidding was evidenced by lot 665 in the ‘At Home’ sale–a collection of fourteen well-worn Sotheby’s and Christie’s sale catalogs from 1991, the year of his death. That lot, by the way, was only estimated to sell for between £200 and £300 but instead reached £12,700. Over 63 times the low estimate.

PHOTO: Sotheby’s

The initial evening sale that began the week of Freddie-mania, wherein a reported 140,000 people descended on Sotheby’s London to view the collection, yielded an impressive “white glove” showing, meaning each and every lot that went up to the block was successfully sold. More impressively, the estimates of between £4.8 million and £7.2 million were decimated with a sale total of £12,172,290 ($15.2mm) and an aggregate hammer of £9,613,563 ($12mm).

PHOTO: Sotheby’s

Even with certain higher-estimate objects like Mercury’s piano or an Eugen von Blaas canvas selling below estimates, the aggregate hammer-to-low-estimate ratio was still 1.99. Meaning: even before fees, the total sales nearly doubled Sotheby’s projections. Averaging the hammer ratios of all 59 lots in the evening sale would give you a hammer ratio of 9x, pulled up by the numerous lower end lots that severely outkicked their coverage. This phenomenon can be somewhat explained by Sotheby’s head of single client sales, David Macdonald, who said:

“When it comes to the more everyday objects, the brief to the team was to please put these things up at market value because you can’t anticipate someone’s love for it — you can’t value love”

Justification for imprecise estimates or marketing strategy to stir up bidding wars? You decide!

PHOTO: Sotheby’s

The real star of the evening sale was the lyric sheets handwritten by Mercury in crafting some of Queen’s most memorable tracks. Among the 27 Mercury lyric lots that were sold by Sotheby’s 14 of them broke the six-figure barrier; the house’s site only shows nine previous lyric lots to have previously done the same.

In total, the 27 lyric lots found £4.9 million against an aggregated low estimate of just £2 million. This surge in lyric sales underscores the immense value collectors see in pulling back the curtain on his creative process. It is maybe an explanation into why the piano went relatively underappreciated compared to these lots. The handwritten lyrics give collectors a glimpse into the creative process of one of music’s most beloved songwriters; the piano – albeit a very nice one – may have many stories to tell, but collectors can’t see the various trials and tribulations of the songwriting journey. Not to mention it’s far easier to find a spot for a piece of paper than a grand piano. Though if you’ve got the cash for either, you probably have the real estate for it. Sotheby’s has become somewhat of a specialist when it comes to selling the collections of British rock stars. Before Mercury, Elton John and David Bowie both sold their collections at the house, achieving similar success to the Mercury sale. Bowie’s sold for £24.4 million against a low estimate of £8.1 million in 2016 and Elton John’s totaled $8.22 million against a low estimate of $5.1 million in 1988. The context of each sale is as deep as the collections they were selling. Elton John’s is more comparable to this most recent sale, using the sale as a means to clean out his home of decades of early career memorabilia and start fresh. Freddie is sadly not alive to use this sale to “clean house”, but Mary Austin, his longtime friend and steward of his collection did note that selling the collection will allow her to move on. She sold nearly all of Freddie’s possessions, keeping only a few photos and personal items. Mercury and John’s sales were replete with more than a thousand objects each. Anything and everything was on the table: furniture, mementos, clothing, sunglasses, records (platinum and otherwise). These sales gave hundreds of fans the opportunity to own a piece of the artist, however insignificant a stinky Adidas bag would have been to Mercury if he were alive today. Very curious to know what he would think about someone paying £10,795 for his sweat soaked bag though…

PHOTO: Sotheby’s

Bowie’s sale was much more traditional when it came to auction. His 2016 sale was made up of only 350 lots, nearly all of which were works of fine art from established artists. Bowie began collecting art in earnest in early 1993 when he began working with art advisor Kate Chertavian. Bowie’s tastes aligned with the modern art market much more so than Elton John’s or Freddie Mercury’s; the few paintings seen in the latter sales were mostly Old Masters that rarely receive as much attention as Impressionist and Contemporary offerings. Bowie, on the other hand, collected names like Basquiat, Hirst, Duchamp, and Picabia, along with quite a few works from modern British painters like Frank Auerbach and David Bomberg. With big contemporary names, it’s harder to understand the impact of rockstar provenance on the value of a work. Bowie’s name was certainly additive to the price, but 2016 was a good time to sell a Hirst or Basquiat work anyway. The confluence of factors to the upside may have skewed the perception of the importance of Bowie’s name in the provenance. Mercury’s collection, however, featured quite a few artists that rarely see the limelight, composed mainly of 19th and early-20th century portraits. The standout among these artists is John Bagnold Burgess. Mercury owned two of his portraits, “A Spanish Girl” and “The Offering”, both exquisite oil paintings acquired in 1991 during a buying frenzy in the last months of his life. During this time, he acquired several works as gifts for close friends including Mary Austin and Elton John.

The Offering
JOHN BAGNOLD BURGESS

PHOTO: Sotheby’s

Freddie purchased these works for just £3,960 (The Offering) and £4,400 (A Spanish Girl), and they sold for £82,550 and £43,180 respectively, generating CAGRs of 9.95% for the first and 7.39% for the second. It’s unlikely these works would have sold for such sums if they were not owned by Mercury. This becomes especially apparent when you consider the last five recorded Bagnold Burgess sales detailed on LiveArt generated an average hammer ratio of 0.82 and an average price of around $20,000. ‘The Offering’ and ‘A Spanish Girl’ hammered at 20.47 and 8.57 times the low estimate respectively. Other artists like Eugen von Blaas and William Russell Flint found their way above estimates, but more narrowly, though works by these artists in the Mercury sale did notch higher prices than their works in any other sale. Flint works in the ‘At Home’ sale hammered at an average of £26,206 vs. £1,710 when sold normally. As far as name-brand artists go in the Mercury sales, there were at least four depending on who you count. Henri Matisse, Marc Chagall, Pablo Picasso, and Salvador Dali made appearances in the evening sale, but not a single canvas was offered among them. All were either quite small works on paper or editioned works. It would seem that the Freddie provenance did the trick here as each flew past their high estimates.

Jaqueline au chapeau noir

PABLO PICASSO

PHOTO: Sotheby’s

Most impressive was a Picasso print expected to sell for between just £50,000 and £70,000 that ended up finding a final price of £190,500 ($237,909) with fees. One might think it normal for a Picasso work to reach into the six figures, but it’s worth knowing that the man created countless editioned sets, and collectors regularly pick them up for low 4 figure prices. This one, depicting his second wife Jacqueline, is more desirable than most. However, it’s difficult to say whether the premium to estimate was derived more from the Mercury provenance or the scarcity of the set.
Cred: Denis O’Regan
In spite of a subdued art market, the Mercury sale offered a reprieve from the doom and gloom. The Mercury collection reminds us that the value of art and collectibles often transcends standard valuation philosophy. As Sotheby’s showcases the rich tapestry of these rock stars’ lives, it paints a vivid picture of the growing opportunities in merging art, memorabilia, and storytelling.