Presley, Beatles Pianos Fail to Rock Block at Memorabilia Sales

Knabe Grand Piano
A white Knabe grand piano owned by Elvis Presley. The instrument was expected to fetch more than $1 million at auction and failed to sell. The piano, which was in the music room at Graceland from 1957 to 1969, was the centerpiece of the Elvis sale by Heritage Auction Galleries in Memphis on Aug. 14. Source: Heritage Auctions via Bloomberg

Two pianos used by the Beatles, Pink Floyd and Elvis Presley failed to ignite memorabilia sales as buyers remained selective and sellers held back.

Presley’s gleaming white Knabe baby grand, estimated to fetch more than $1 million, found no buyer at Heritage Auction Galleries’ Ultimate Elvis Auction at the Peabody Hotel, Memphis last night. A coffee-stained and cigarette-burned upright model, used from the 1960s at Abbey Road Studios in north London, was then withdrawn hours before Bonhams’s “Pioneers of Popular Culture” auction at the U.K.’s Goodwood Vintage Festival. It had been expected to fetch as much as 150,000 pounds ($233,000).

“Tonight was not the night for this beautiful instrument to go to a new owner,” Doug Norwine, Heritage’s director of Music & Entertainment Auctions, said in an e-mailed statement last night. “With the economy still sluggish, buyers are hesitant when it comes to the really big ticket items.”

The Knabe was the house piano at Ellis Auditorium, Memphis, where Duke Ellington, Count Basie and others performed, before Pressley bought it and refurbished it in white. It was in the music room at his Graceland home from 1957 to 1969.

The auction was instead led by a trio of “the King’s” more affordable possessions. Elvis’s signed Graceland purchase agreement, a mid-1950s owned and used belt and a gold and diamond cameo ring that had belonged to the singer each sold for $38,838, including 19.5 percent fees.

“This morning we received instructions that the Beatles piano should be withdrawn from the sale,” Jon Baddeley, managing director of Bonhams’s Knightsbridge auction room, said in an interview today. The owners did not give a reason why they were withdrawing the lot, said Baddeley.

Tomorrow Never Knows

The Challen cost 250 pounds in 1964, according to the book “Recording the Beatles” by Brian Kehew and Kevin Ryan. It was probably used by the Beatles in 1966 for the track “Tomorrow Never Knows” on the “Revolver” album and by Paul McCartney for the 1969 song “Old Brown Shoe.” It was later used for Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” album.

This particular model of Challen was known as a ‘jangle box’ or ‘tack’ instrument, owing to the optional tone controlled by a third pedal. It was sold in the 1980s to a family for children to learn to play.

“The children have grown up and it’s been sitting in a corner,” Stephen Maycock, consultant in rock memorabilia at Bonhams, said in an interview.

The piano on which Lennon wrote “Imagine” was bought by the singer George Michael at auction for 1.7 million pounds with fees in October 2000.

(Scott Reyburn writes about the art market for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

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