13 pieces of music memorabilia that sold big at auction

From Kurt Cobain’s Fender Mustang guitar to Niall Horan’s half eaten toast, plenty of memorabilia from musicians has hit the auction block over the years

An angry piece of correspondence between John Lennon and Paul McCartney is set to go up for auction soon. Displeased with an interview McCartney gave in 1971 suggesting (among other things) that ‘Imagine’ wasn’t political, that the Beatles’ business troubles were not his fault, and that Lennon and Yoko were a little uncool, Lennon struck back with a strongly worded letter. “If we’re not cool, WHAT DOES THAT MAKE YOU,” Lennon yell-writes in one of many fascinating passages.

The letter is expected to fetch $30k at auction. However, if that’s a little steep for you, this particular piece of music and pop culture history is also available to read for free online, as per Lennon’s request.

$30k may seem a steep price for a few sheets of paper, but that’s chump change compared to some of the items on this list. Here are some of the most expensive, noteworthy and downright strange pieces of music memorabilia ever to go up for auction.

Nirvana - Smells Like Teen Spirit (Official Music Video)

Kurt Cobain’s guitar

Cobain’s 1969 Fender Mustang guitar is most famous for its appearance in Nirvana’s music video for ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’. A favourite of the musician’s, the instrument was used in many live performances and can be heard on recordings for Nevermind and In Utero. It was sold at auction to Jim Irsay, owner and chief executive of the Indianapolis Colts, who acquired it for a whopping £4.6 million.

Pink Floyd’s recording desk

Back in 2017, a EMI TG12345 MK IV recording console previously housed in Abbey Road sold at auction for $1.8 million. The high price point wasn’t just to do with the console’s home in one of the most famous recording studios of all time, but also with the kind of work it had done during its time there. The desk had been used in the recording of albums for artists such as Kate Bush, Paul McCartney and The Cure, but was most famously associated with being the primary console used in the recording of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon.

Blowing In The Wind (Live On TV, March 1963)

A recording of Bob Dylan’s ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’

Earlier this year it was announced at Dylan had rerecorded his classic 1963 track ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’ for the first time in sixty years. The recording was especially unique as it was done on an Ionic Original format disc, the new medium for recording created by T Bone Burnett. The disc was etched with both Dylan and Burnett’s signatures and was housed in a custom walnut and white oak cabinet. It sold for £1.5 million at auction to an anonymous bidder.

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Ringo Starr’s drum kit

The Beatles drummer used the same Ludwig Oyster Black Pearl three-piece drum kit in more than 200 live performances, as well as the recording of popular Beatles track ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’. The drum kit was not seen in public for more than 50 years, until in 2015 it went up for auction and was bought by Jim Irsay – if you’re paying attention, the same man who snapped up Kurt Cobain’s guitar. Irsay handed over $2.2 million for the kit.

David Gilmour’s guitar

In 2019, Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour sold 129 of his guitars at auction in order to raise money for a climate change charity. Among the instruments up for sale was a 1969 Fender Stratocaster, otherwise known as ‘the Black Strat’. This was the guitar used by Gilmour to record some of Pink Floyd’s most famous records, such as Dark Side Of The Moon, Wish You Were Here and The Wall. Gilmour made several changes to the instrument over the years in order to get the perfect sound, but stated that he was ready to “let go of it” for a good cause. The guitar was purchased for nearly $4 million by – say it with us – Jim Irsay.

Elvis’ first record

A test pressing of Elvis’ first single, ‘My Happiness’, went up for auction in 2015, going on to fetch $300,000. Its purchaser was Jack White, one half of American rock duo The White Stripes and avid collector of unique vinyl records. White later went on to release the recording under his label, Third Man.

The last record signed by John Lennon

A vinyl copy of Lennon’s album Double Fantasy become an expensive item at auction due to its dark history. The album was signed by Lennon for Mark David Chapman, the man who hours later would shoot and kill Lennon as he was walking into his home. The record remains the last signed by Lennon. The cover shows a picture of Lennon and Yoko Ono kissing, with Lennon’s signature scrawled in blue ink on Yoko’s neck.

A one-of-a-king Wu-Tang Clan album

Once Upon A Time In Shaolin by the Wu-Tang Clan remains the most expensive work of music ever sold – because the group only made one copy of the record. Auctioned off in 2015, the unique record was bought by Turing Pharmaceuticals CEO Martin Shrekli, who paid an unspecified but presumably immense amount for the recording, under the proviso that the album could not be commercially exploited until 2103. When Shrekli’s assets were ceased by the federal court in 2021, the record was sold to NFT collectors PleasrDAO for $4 million. PleasrDAO said at the time of the sale that they hoped to make the album more widely accessible.

A guitar signed by 19 famous musicians

When Asia was rocked by a series of devastating tsunamis, the music industry came forward in support of Reach Out To Asia, a charitable effort to provide relief to affected communities. One fundraising effort, organised by Bryan Adams, was the auctioning of a white Mexican Standard Fender Stratocaster. The guitar was signed by Adams along with Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Brian May, Jimmy Page, David Gilmour, Jeff Beck, Pete Townsend, Mark Knopfler, Ray Davies, Liam Gallagher, Ronnie Wood, Tony Iommi, Angus and Malcolm Young, Paul McCartney, Sting, Ritchie Blackmore, and Def Leppard. It was auctioned in Qatar to Sheikha Mayassa Al Thani for $2.8 million.

Michael Jackson - Smooth Criminal (Official Video - Shortened Version)

Michael Jackson’s velvet jacket and hat

We’re now approaching the slightly stranger auctions on this list. The sale of one of Jackson’s chain-adorned velvet jackets and his white ‘Smooth Criminal’ hat isn’t inherently strange, but the buyer is certainly interesting. Reality star Kim Kardashian handed over $65,625 for Jackson’s jacket and $56,250 for his hat, with the intention of gifting both to her six-year-old daughter, North, who was “a really big Michael Jackson fan”. The jacket was even altered to fit Kardashian’s young daughter.

A lock of Elvis’ hair

Elvis’ hair was a big part of his image, and in 2009 the opportunity was presented to fans to own a piece of it. Collected by his barber, Homer Gilleland, the strands were presumed to have been cut from the singer’s head in 1958 and sold at auction for $15,000.

Lady Gaga’s nail

After Lady Gaga lost a nail backstage on her Born This Way Ball tour, an enterprising crew member found it and set about making a little money – $12,000, to be precise. Among items included in the auction bundle were two photographs of Gaga: one with the nail, and one without.

Niall Horan’s toast

On American morning programme Sunrise, former One Direction member Niall Horan was offered some Vegetime-covered toast, and left half of it uneaten. In a slightly disgusting but not altogether surprising turn of events, the half-eaten toast went up on eBay, where it was sold for an unbelievable $100,000.