Freddie Mercury pre-Queen 1969 letter to bandmate topped $52K at Doyle

NEW YORK — Freddie Mercury mania in 2023 was not confined to Sotheby’s in London. The December 15 Stage and Screen sale at Doyle included a group of ephemera relating to Mercury’s role as short-lived frontman with the heavy blues band Ibex. Estimated at $12,000-$18,000, it hammered for $40,000 ($52,400 with buyer’s premium).

It was after graduating from Ealing Art College that Mercury (1946-1991) bought a guitar, taught himself to play, and began writing songs in the spring of 1969. By the summer he had been introduced to a Liverpool trio of Mike Bersin (guitar), John Taylor (bass) and Mick ‘Miffer’ Smith (drums), who were looking for a singer.

Included in this lot was an original ticket to the debut performance of Ibex at Honiton Hall in Warrington, England, dated May 23, 1969, together with photographs of Mercury and this early group of friends and bandmates. However, its principal attraction was a letter sent by Mercury to Miffer Smith on October 16, 1969. Across two pages, Mercury covers seeing Led Zeppelin at the Lyceum (he describes Robert Plant’s performance as “orgasmic”), his sexuality (“I hear from several sources that you’ve informed them that I’ve turned into a fully-fledged queer”) and upcoming gigs with the bands Wreckage and Smile. The latter, on December 6, 1969, was one of Mercury’s earliest performances with Brian May and Roger Taylor, and the rest, as they say, is rock and roll history.

The auction house said it could find very few letters from Freddie Mercury in the auction record and none from this early period before the success of Queen.

The sale also included a group of 21 pencil and gouache costume sketches by Edith Head (1897-1981) from the collection of E.J. Gonzalez. These produced mixed results, but five designs created for Grace Kelly sailed well above their estimates. Hammered for $20,000 ($26,200 with buyer’s premium) was a circa-1955 sketch for a wedding dress intended for the future Princess Grace on her marriage to Prince Rainier of Monaco.

Given her close friendship with Kelly, Edith Head had been first choice to design the dress. However, as Head was contracted to Paramount at the time and Kelly to MGM, the Hollywood star chose Helen Rose to create what became one of the most famous dresses of the 20th century. Clearly frustrated by the outcome, Head drew a large X through this design.

Head won a record eight Academy Awards between 1949 and 1973 from a remarkable total of 35 nominations. Among them was the Hitchcock classic To Catch A Thief, in which Kelly played the role of Frances Stevens. Head’s drawing for a ball gown with a strapless bodice and a full white skirt hammered for $13,000 ($17,030 with buyer’s premium).

And a 1936 poster for the Universal film My Man Godfrey, estimated at $3,000-$5,000, hammered for $10,000 ($13,100 with buyer’s premium). A classic Depression-era screwball comedy, it starred real-life former husband and wife William Powell and Carole Lombard. This is the rarer of two issues of the film’s one-sheets and a design praised for its realistic depiction of the actors. Two copies recently sold at Heritage Auctions, for $70,000 in April 2022 and $20,000 in October 2023. Doyle’s poster came from the collection of composer and producer Robert A. Israel.

Princess Grace’s partnership with Dior explored at Hillwood

Grace of Monaco photographed by Gaby in 1970. © GABY Photo and Archives du Palace de Monaco
Grace of Monaco photographed by Gaby in 1970. © GABY Photo and Archives du Palace de Monaco

WASHINGTON — The special exhibition Grace of Monaco: Princess in Dior, on view at Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens to January 8, 2023, explores the longstanding collaboration between Grace Kelly, Princess of Monaco, and Marc Bohan, artistic director at Christian Dior, through clothing, accessories, photos, and more material on special loan from the Palace of Monaco.

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Jan. 16 is last day to see V&A exhibition ‘Bags: Inside Out’

Moynat Mini Pyramide Gravity Bag, 2019. France (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London
 Moynat Mini Pyramide Gravity Bag, 2019. France (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Moynat Mini Pyramide Gravity Bag, 2019. France (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London

LONDON – Bags: Inside Out is the UK’s most comprehensive exhibition dedicated to the ultimate accessory. From designer handbags to despatch boxes, vanity cases to military rucksacks, the exhibition explores our longstanding fascination with the bag. The show opened at the V&A in fall of 202o and has been extended multiple times, but it looks set to end on January 16, 2022.

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Penn Museum dresses to impress with ‘The Stories We Wear’

Worn by Grace Kelly, a Hubert de Givenchy sheath, circa 1964 reigns in the Dressing to Rule section of The Stories We Wear at the Penn Museum. Accession 69.11.1. on loan from the Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection at Drexel University. Photo credit: Eric Sucar, University Communications
Worn by Grace Kelly, a Hubert de Givenchy sheath, circa 1964 reigns in the Dressing to Rule section of The Stories We Wear at the Penn Museum. Accession 69.11.1. on loan from the Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection at Drexel University. Photo credit: Eric Sucar, University Communications
Worn by Grace Kelly, a circa-1964 Hubert de Givenchy gown highlights the Dressing to Rule section of The Stories We Wear at the Penn Museum. Accession 69.11.1. on loan from the Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection at Drexel University. Photo credit: Eric Sucar, University Communications

PHILADELPHIA — The Penn Museum unveils fashion and apparel across time with The Stories We Wear. Showcasing 2,500 years of style through approximately 250 remarkable objects, The Stories We Wear invites guests to identify common threads woven into stories that transcend language, culture, and time to connect people through shared experiences. The exhibition opened September 25 and continues through June 12, 2022.Continue reading