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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