An instrument that once belonged to a Beatle is the kind of thing you’d expect to see at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland or Abbey Road Studios in London. On Saturday, however, a piano that had once been owned by John Lennon was on York Road in Towson, where Alex Cooper Auctioneers hoped to bring in a seven-figure sum for the instrument.

The auction of the piano was announced in July, with the auction house telling The Baltimore Banner that bidding would open at $1 million and that it was estimated to go for as much as two or three times that amount.

When auctioneer Paul Cooper arrived at the item he called “the star of our show” on Saturday afternoon, however, he asked for an opening bid of $310,000. As staffers and attendees looked around expectantly, a surprising silence descended upon the room. None of the individuals who had bid on other items held up their paddle. A staffer at a computer, monitoring online bids, reported none was incoming.

Alex Cooper Auctioneers announced it would continue accepting post-auction offers on the Lennon piano, Lot No. 1099, through Oct. 4 at noon. And, with that anticlimactic moment over, they opened bidding on a series of Persian rugs less than five minutes after the storied Lennon piano’s auction had begun.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

The Baldwin concert grand piano was built in 1929, and Lennon bought it in Baldwin’s Manhattan showroom in 1978. A year later, the former Beatle and his wife, Yoko Ono, gave the piano to their friend Samuel Adams Green, an art dealer closely associated with Andy Warhol and the pop art movement. The brass plaque on the piano still bears their dedication, “For Sam, Love From Yoko and John, 1979.”

John Lennon and Yoko Ono, pictured in 1980, gave the piano to friend Samuel Adams Green in 1979. (Vinnie Zuffante/Getty Images)

Lennon, on an extended hiatus from music to focus on raising his son Sean, had not released an album since 1975. During frequent visits to Green’s Fire Island home, though, Lennon would use the piano to compose some of the songs that would appear on his final album, “Double Fantasy.” The album, which has sold more than 3 million copies, was released three weeks before Lennon was fatally shot by Mark David Chapman in December 1980.

In 1983, Green loaned the piano to Warhol’s Interview magazine offices. Green was on the board of directors of the New York Academy of Art, which was founded by Warhol, and loaned the piano to the institution in 1987. The piano did not become famous until 2000, when Green discovered that the New York Academy of Art had sold it without his consent and filed a $1.6 million lawsuit. In 2001, the New York Supreme Court ruled the piano was a gift and the lawsuit was dropped by Green, who died in 2011.

The Lennon-Ono-Warhol-Green Piano, as it came to be known, changed hands several times, winding up in Maryland for the first time when a Hagerstown family owned it from 2003 to 2018. Mercersburg Academy in Franklin County, Pennsylvania, which has owned the piano since 2018, decided last year to research and authenticate the piano’s history and use proceeds from its sale to create a scholarship fund for the school. The San Francisco firm Piano Finders valued the piano at over $5 million. So the piano’s failure to find a buyer for even a fraction of that price Saturday was a surprise, to say the least.

The auction began in earnest at 10 a.m. on Saturday, with over 100 items, mostly furniture, being sold. A metal cocktail table went for $200, while a carved wooden Buddha from 19th century Japan sold for $40,000. When the auction finally moved toward musical instruments around 12:30 p.m., a pair of guitars signed by Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson sold for $2,750. A bass guitar owned by Baltimore musician Russell Bullock, who died in April, sold for $5,000.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Lennon’s piano was displayed on the showroom floor, just a few feet from where the auction was held, surrounded by stanchion and rope with a note not to touch the instrument. The auction room contained 70 chairs, although there were seldom more than a dozen seats filled. As a few people started to leave the building following the unsuccessful auction, one man in the parking lot expressed surprise that the piano didn’t even get one bid.

“Too much hype,” another man flatly replied.

Al Shipley is a Maryland-based music and culture writer.