Private collection of celebrity piano-tuner sells for more than double its auction estimate

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Private collection of celebrity piano-tuner sells for more than double its auction estimate
A black and white signed photo card of Paul McCartney sold for £1,425 against an estimate of £80-120. © Excalibur Auctions.

LONDON.- A private collection of autographs, personal notes and photographs featuring celebrities past and present, smashed its pre-sale estimate today, selling for £26,875 more than double its’ pre-sale estimate of £12,000.

Alex Brown, piano tuner to the stars, amassed his collection over 40 years. It was an exceptional collection in that the majority of the autographs, photos and notes were written personally to him, having built a genuine rapport with them while working at the BBC. He became well-known and highly respected for working on TV programmes such as Parkinson, or music shows, such as Later with Jools Holland. They were offered in a sale of Autographs at Excalibur auctions in Hertfordshire, but competitive bidding was seen not just in the UK but from many collectors in the US and even further afield.

The most poignant memory of his career was tuning the piano for Elton John to sing Candle in the Wind at the Princess of Wales’ funeral in 1997. He was brought in the day before to make sure it was ready for the singer to play in front of the two billion people world-wide who tuned in. The sale included a signed card from Elton John, which was offered alongside a signed card from the singer Kiki Dee, which sold for £120 against an estimate of £40-£60.

When asked about the result of his collection at auction today, he said: “I am thrilled with the result! The memories all live on in my head, so I’m happy that I can share the mementos of what I feel was a blessed career, which enabled me to meet some amazing people. I wanted to sell the collection to build a nest egg for my wife, as a sort of legacy and how brilliant that these wonderful items have achieved that”.

Sarah Torode, specialist at Excalibur auctions commented post-sale: “We are thrilled with such a fantastic result. We did anticipate great interest with so many big names in there and it lived up to expectations! Interestingly many of the buyers were US collectors, others were from around the world, on the internet and a few on the phone, which shows the enduring demand for items with a personal connection to the stars.”

On his various assignments Alex would carry record cards on the off chance that he could obtain a signature from those he worked with. On many occasions he struck up a rapport, or friendship which led to further correspondence. As an aspiring writer himself, he would often send drafts to artists for their truthful opinion – many of which were included in the sale, with their responses. Among the top lots in the sale was a group of three signed cards by the Beatles, which sold for £2,500 against an estimate of £200-400. A black and white signed photo card of Paul McCartney sold for £1,425 against an estimate of £80-120.

A mixed group of signed cards with the signatures of Fred Astaire, Deborah Kerr, James Cagney, Jack Lemmon, Joseph Cotton, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Cyd Charisse, Carroll Baker, George Burns, Kathryn Grayson, Ethel Merman, Pat O'Brien, Betsy Blair and Joel Grey sold for £450 against an estimate of £50-70.

One of several lots of original photographs and autographs from the cast of the Harry Potter films were included in the sale, including the above framed display photograph of the late Alan Rickman as Hagrid and signed with a dedication to Alex. It sold for £137.50 against an estimate of £30-50.

A framed and signed black and white signed photograph of characters of the TV series Steptoe and Son drew interest and sold for £400 against an estimate of £70-90.

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