Kurt Cobain’s 1969 Fender Mustang electric guitar featured in Nirvana’s groundbreaking “Smells Like Teen Spirit” music video was auctioned for more than $4 million at Julien’s Auctions on Sunday.
The fabled blue guitar was snagged by billionaire Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay, who runs The Jim Irsay Collection, showcasing “museum-quality artifacts and rare memorabilia from American history, rock ‘n roll, and pop culture,” according to its website.
Irsay acquired the iconic ax in a bidding war among collectors from around the globe who participated in the online and over-the-phone auction, Julien’s Auctions said Sunday.
The guitar sold for $4.5 million, smashing its original estimate of $600,000.
Cobain, who died by suicide in 1994, considered the Fender Mustang to be his go-to guitar, which he also used during recording sessions for 1991’s Nevermind and 1993’s In Utero, as well as numerous prominent live performances.
In his final interview with Guitar World, Cobain said, “I’m left-handed, and it’s not very easy to find reasonably priced, high-quality left-handed guitars. But out of all the guitars in the whole world, the Fender Mustang is my favorite. I’ve only owned two of them.”
Before the auction, the guitar was displayed at Seattle’s Experience Music Project, now named MoPOP Museum of Pop Culture, and photographed and selected for the prestigious “Guitar Collection,” the auction house said.
In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, the Cobain family is donating a portion of the proceeds from the guitar and other select Cobain items to Kicking The Stigma, the Irsay family initiative to raise awareness about mental health disorders and remove the stigma associated with these illnesses.
“I am thrilled to preserve and protect another piece of American culture that changed the way we looked at world,” Irsay said in a statement. He added that the donation to the initiative “makes this acquisition even more special to me.”
Julien’s Auctions president Darren Julien said, “To have this legendary guitar, one of the most culturally significant and historically important guitars of Kurt Cobain and in all of rock music history return to my home state of Indiana to be part of Jim Irsay’s renowned memorabilia collection is a great honor and personal highlight of my life.”
He continued, “This once-in-a-lifetime auction has been one of the greatest privileges in my professional career and I’m duly pleased that the proceeds will also bring much needed attention to mental health awareness.”
Other Cobain items sold at the auction included the late musician’s 1965 “Baby Blue” Dodge Dart 170 four-door sedan, which came from his sister, Kim, who has owned the car for the last 28 years. The Dodge, which was the only known surviving car that was owned and driven by Cobain, sold for $375,000, according to Julien’s.
Cobain’s personally drawn 1985 Iron Maiden “Killers” skateboard deck artwork featuring the band’s mascot “Eddie” plus NFT accompanying the physical item sold for $35,200. Also, Cobain’s original artwork of Michael Jackson plus NFT accompanying the physical item sold for $87,500.
In 2020, Julien’s sold Cobain’s MTV Unplugged 1959 Martin D-18E acoustic-electric guitar for $6 million, making it the most expensive guitar ever sold at auction.
The auction house has broken several records by selling other Cobain memorabilia over the years, including the cardigan he wore on Unplugged in New York ($340,000), his In Utero tour Fender Mustang guitar ($340,000), a self-portrait caricature drawing by Cobain of himself playing guitar signed “Kurdt Kobain Rock Star” ($281,000), and the cardigan he wore on his last photoshoot, which sold for $75,000.
More than 1,300 items were sold at Julien’s Auctions’ Music Icons event this weekend at Hard Rock Cafe New York, which collected nearly $15 million. The auction offered more than 100 lots featuring signature guitars, instruments, wardrobe, gear and memorabilia owned and used by rock and roll legends.
Other highlights included Madonna’s pink Marilyn Monroe-inspired gown and accessories worn in the music video for her 1984 single “Material Girl,” which sold for $287,500. Also, Johnny Cash’s 1956 Martin brand, model D-21 acoustic guitar sold for $437,500, and a custom Fender Telecaster belonging to Waylon Jennings sold for $179,200.
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