From John Lennon's piano to Michael Jackson's 'Thriller' jacket: 6 of the most expensive music memorabilia sold at auction

Music memorabilia is big business, with no item too big, small or weird

Kurt Cobain of Nirvana during the taping of MTV Unplugged at Sony Studios in New York City, 11/18/93. Photo by Frank Micelotta / Getty Images
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More pieces of rock ’n’ roll history are going under the hammer next month.

After the scruffy green sweater Kurt Cobain wore as part of Nirvana's 1994 MTV Unplugged in New York concert was sold for a record $334,000 last year (which at Dh1.2 million, made it the most expensive sweater sold in an auction), the guitar from the same concert is now up for grabs in a Beverly Hills auction on Saturday, June 20.

Valued at $1 million by Julien's Auctions, the 1959 Martin D-18E was played by Cobain throughout the show, which took place five months before he committed suicide at the age of 27.

This handout photo obtained May 11, 2020 courtesy of Julien's Auctions, shows the guitar played by Kurt Cobain during Nirvana’acclaimed MTV Unplugged in New York performance.
 Decades after grunge's reluctant poster boy took his own life, Kurt Cobain's guitar played during his legendary MTV Unplugged performance is hitting the auction block at a starting estimate of $1 million. The retro acoustic-electric 1959 Martin D-18E Cobain strummed for Nirvana's career-defining performance in New York -- just five months before his shock death at age 27 -- will be open to the highest bidder the weekend of June 19th in Beverly Hills and online via Julien's Auction's. Considering the starting estimate of $1 for Cobain's guitar, it will likely go for more than double that of a guitar that played a key role in Bob Dylan's artistic evolution from folk to rock, which in 2018 fetched just under half a million.

The concert and resulting album went on to be hailed as modern rock classic and features plenty of stripped down takes of Nirvana favourites (Come as You Are, Polly and All Apologies) and the David Bowie cover The Man Who Sold the World.

Also getting in on the action are Led Zeppelin, who are selling the original artwork for their landmark 1969 debut album of the same name. Created by George Hardie (also responsible for Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here), the work is a startling image of the Hindenburg airship exploding over the Naval Air Station Lakehurst in 1937.

The item is reportedly valued between $20,000 and $30,000 with the Christie's auction running from Tuesday, June 9 to Thursday June 18.

So for those who are interested in owning a piece of musical history, let’s take a look at eight other pieces of that have gone for auction.

1. John Lennon’s 1965 Rolls-Royce Phantom ($2.29 million)

Canadian businessman Jim Pattison wanted a ticket to ride, and he shelled out a hefty amount for it in 1985 in a Sotheby's auction.

His purchase of John Lennon's psychedelic coloured Rolls-Royce Phantom limousine, which appeared prominently in The Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour film, remains one of the most expensive pieces of music memorabilia sold. It can now be viewed at Royal British Columbia Museum in Canada.

2. Bob Dylan's lyrics for 'Like a Rolling Stone' ($2.04 million)

A draft copy, complete with scratched out thoughts, rhymes and doodles, of one of rock 'n' roll greatest compositions was sold to a bidder in 2014. Some of Dylan's lyrics dropped from the finished recording include variations of the plaintive chorus line "How does it feel", including "it feels real" and "get down and kneel".

3. Michael Jackson’s red leather 'Thriller' jacket ($1.8 million)

Michael Jackson's influential video for Thriller is known for his chilling transformation into a werewolf and that red leather jacket. It was the same piece of clothing that US gold trader Milton Verret picked up in a 2011 auction. Another version of the jacket, which Jackson also wore on the set, remains in the hands of his estate.

4. John Lennon’s piano for $2.05m

It was the battle of the stars. When the piano John Lennon used to write his 1971 anthem Imagine was put on auction in 2000, celebrities and Beatle-maniacs scrambled to get their hands on it. It was George Michael who won out in the end after outbidding fellow popstar Robbie Williams and rocker Noel Gallagher with his £1.67m bid.

5. Eric Clapton's Fender Stratocaster ($959,000)

The Fender Stratocaster was Eric Clapton's instrument of choice both in the studio and on stage from 1970 to 1985. When Christie's sold it in 2004, the auction house underestimated Clapton's fan base and the guitar went for five times the original valued price.

6. Jimi Hendrix’s burnt guitar ($380,000)

Ever since Jimi Hendrix torched his Stratocaster guitar as part of his Monterey International Pop Festival in 1967, the instrument has been unplayable. That didn't stop a US collector from purchasing a charred piece of rock history in 2008.

As an added bonus, here's a look at two other quirky items that have sold for auction:

Justin Bieber’s hair ($40,668)

It was a cut for a good cause. In 2011, Justin Bieber donated a lock of his hair (during the time it looked scruffy) to Ellen DeGeneres on her talk show, which she sold off in a charity auction for just a little over $40,000.

Justin Timberlake’s half-eaten breakfast ($1,025)

Forget One Directioners, Nsync fans were the real deal. In 2000, during the peak of their fame, a 19-year-old forked out $1,025 for Justin Timberlake's half-eaten breakfast. As a guest on a morning radio show, the singer was in a rush and only managed a few bites of his French toast. Before long that piece of crust was on eBay, and US super-fan Kathy Summers was the winning bidder. It i not known if the bread was consumed.


Read more:

Beyond Nirvana: 8 'MTV Unplugged' moments that changed music forever