What Price Music? | The Open College of the Arts
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What Price Music?

The 10 most expensive pieces of music memorabilia sold at auction

Recently a full hand written copy of Rachmaninov’s famous “Symphony No.2” with Rachmaninov’s signature was sold at auction and as usual the bidders were mainly American, Russian, Chinese and Arabs. Who bought it and for what price I did not really care to know. Those of us who create never think of the monetary worth of what we create or what their intrinsic monetary value may be in the future. It is all about what people are willing to pay, and if silly prices attract silly money from silly people who are incapable of creating their own art of any worth then that is their problem. A fool and his money are easily parted so goes the adage.
This set me thinking though what are the most silly and stupid prices paid for music memorabilia. They don’t fetch the prices that a Van Gogh or a Reuben’s fetch but they in their own way do bring a hefty price tag with some of the memorabilia, particularly in the pop music side.
So the great legends of music pass on, but they leave their musical memorabilia behind them. As any fan will tell you, a musical manuscript or instrument becomes an extension of the musician who created it or performed upon it and in a rather perverse way we hope that some of their genius will rub off on us through ownership.
Whether it is a guitar owned by Elvis Presley, or a piece of sheet music scribbled on by Beethoven, fans will pay just about anything for a piece of musical history owned by a cultural icon of any musical genre. Here are some of the most expensive pieces of musical memorabilia ever sold (prices are in US Dollars or UK Sterling as that is what most are paid in):
In reverse order.
10. Paul McCartney’s “Getting Better”

Hendrix’s Woodstock Fender Stratocaster

The handwritten lyrics to the 1967 song, “Getting Better” sold at London’s Sotheby’s for £161,000 in 1995.
9. The Jimi Hendrix Woodstock Fender Stratocaster
The Fender Stratocaster played at Woodstock by Jimi Hendrix sold at Sotheby’s in London for £198,000 in 1990. I hate to think of what it would now fetch with the renewed interest in this great player.
8. “Candle in the Wind”
The handwritten lyrics to Elton John’s and Bernie Taupin’s song, “Candle in the Wind” were sold at Christies auction house in 1998 for a whopping £278,512. This was partly due to the Princess Diana effect.
7. Clapton’s “Brownie” Guitar
Eric Clapton used his favorite guitar, which he called “Brownie,” to record his song, “Layla.” “Brownie” was auctioned off at Christies for £313,425 in 1999.
6. Mother Maybelle’s Gibson
One of the founders of country music, Mother Maybelle Carter, paid only $275 for her Gibson guitar in 1928, a guitar that she played until her death in 1978. A few years ago, the famous Mother Maybelle guitar sold for more than $500,000 and was donated by philanthropist, Bob McLean to the Country Music Hall of Fame Museum in Nashville, USA.
Jerry Garcias Famous “Wolf” instrument.
Jerry Garcias Famous “Wolf” instrument.

5. Jerry Garcia’s “Wolf” Guitar
Considered a Holy Grail item by hoard’s of Grateful Dead fans, Jerry Garcia’s custom-made guitar, named “Wolf”, sold for $789,500 at Guernsey’s auction house in 2002.
4. Jerry Garcia’s “Tiger” Guitar
Another of Jerry Garcia’s guitars, this one named “Tiger”, also makes its appearance on this list, selling for $957,500 at Guernsey’s auction house in 2002. This was a superior instrument in sound and construction.
3. A Beethoven Quartet
In 2003, a signed music manuscript of one of the lesser known quartets written by Ludwig Von Beethoven in 1825 sold for more than £1 million at Sotheby’s in London.
2. Lennon’s Steinway
Lennon’s famous Steinway.
Lennon’s famous Steinway.

In 2000, pop star, George Michael purchased John Lennon’s upright Steinway Model “Z” piano, on which he wrote “Imagine”, at Fleetwood-Owen’s online auction for £1,450,000. After his purchase, Michael returned the piano to the Beatles Museum in Liverpool so that generations of fans could enjoy it as well.
1. Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony
In 2003, a working manuscript of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony sold for £2.1 million at Sotheby’s in London. Beethoven’s original payment for the entire composition was a mere £100.
Beethoven’s Full score of the 9th
Beethoven’s Full score of the 9th

After reading figures like this, you have probably realised by now that bidding on musical memorabilia requires some big wodge of serious cash. With a little financial planning, you may become the next owner of a Mozart manuscript or a coffee mug owned by Mick Jagger or even a pocket handkerchief once owned by a friend of a friend of a friend of Lou Reed. It all depends on how much spare dosh you happen to have lying around and what is of interest to you.
To me just writing a work of art is enough. How about you?

Posted by author: Ash Ahmed
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2 thoughts on “What Price Music?

  • A couple of days ago, there was news of an unpublished Mendelssohn song, in manuscript, which has just come to light after being privately owned. It was expected to fetch approx £25,000 at auction. It was beautifully written, and Mendelssohn’s own signature was a work of art! It will be interesting to know what it actually fetches.
    But all creative work is unique and therefore priceless. It is just a matter of time before somebody puts a huge monetary value on it, and creativity turns into an investment. To own an original manuscript would be so exciting, to contemplate the writing and think of the famous fingers upon the page so inspiring, and that would bring more than enough satisfaction. But since all things to do with the famous have now become commodities and investments, that’s never going to happen to me!

  • I think it is too easy to be dismissive of the value of objects and judgemental of their owners. Sherry Turkle’s Evocative Objects explores the importance of objects in helping us think and in grounding our experiences through the experience of bricolage – an idea devloped by Levi-Strauss.
    Beethoven’s piano may be forever out of my reach but the objects used by great minds have the power to move us in ways we do not fully understand and consequently the ability to inspire new and interesting.

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