A major piece of musical history is being auctioned Sept. 30. The Lennon-Ono-Green-Warhol Piano — named for its ties to John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Sam Green and Andy Warhol — will be available for purchase at Alex Cooper Auctioneers in Towson.
Selden Morgan, the auctioneers’ director of sales and fine jewelry, told The Baltimore Banner that bidding will open at $1 million. It is estimated to go for $2 million to $3 million.
In a provenance report written by Piano Finders senior appraiser, researcher and historian Karen E. Lile, she wrote that the satin ebony piano “has one of the most unique and interesting provenances on pub[l]ic record, because of its ‘celebrity-on-celebrity-value spanning both music, art and celebrity social circles at a pivotal time in cultural history.’”
The piano was manufactured by Baldwin in 1929 and purchased by famed Beatles member Lennon in 1978. The instrument was then gifted to Sam Green, an art curator and close friend of Lennon and his wife Ono, with a plaque embedded that reads: “For Sam, Love from Yoko and John, 1979.” Lennon was fatally shot a year later.
The piano has been on quite a journey since then. According to the report, while Green was in possession of the piano, he lent it to another close friend: visual artist Andy Warhol. The New York Academy of Art, which was co-founded by Warhol, was also loaned the piano in 1986 or 1987. In 1999, Green found out the piano had been wrongfully sold by someone at the academy and sued them.
The “lost Lennon piano” scandal reached the media, where it was discovered it had been sold to a man named Buddy Bain in Alabama who did not know its history. Green’s suit against the Academy of Art was dismissed the following year. How and who sold the piano to Bain, who was allowed to keep the instrument, remained a mystery until last year, when it was revealed that Harold Katz was not just the transporter of the piano to Bain but the seller. Katz helped buy “deaccessioned pianos” that were in the academy’s basement and remove them “with no cost to the university and a bulk fee for the lot,” according to the provenance report.
The report also detailed that Bain then sold the piano to Mansoor Emral Shaool in 2003. It became part of the family’s trust, and was moved to Mercersburg Academy in Pennsylvania after a scholarship fund for the family was established there. Alex Hernan of Alex Cooper Auctioneers worked with the academy and the donor to assess the piano, and Lile was hired to appraise it in 2022.
Because Lennon’s life was tragically cut short, “this item’s direct ties to his musical creation makes it even more collectible and valuable,” Morgan wrote in an email. “This is a rare opportunity for a collector to own a piece of history along with a beautiful Baldwin concert grand piano.”
The condition of the piano shows its use over the years. Lile wrote in her assessment that a circle “melted into the finish of the lid when folded back” could be from an ashtray, due to Lennon being a smoker, or the heat from the base of a Fresnel oil lamp; there is an unusual wear on its hammers; and there are many “dings in the finish.” Although the instrument is playable, it will be professionally tuned as soon as it arrives at Alex Cooper.
The family-owned Alex Cooper Auctioneers has been in business for almost 100 years and specializes in selling antiques, fine art, jewelry and real estate. Though it has an office in Washington, D.C., it is used only for real estate auctions, while the main office and auction floor are in Towson.
Online bidding for the piano will kick off Sept. 15 before the live auction in Baltimore County about two weeks later.
Proceeds from the sale will benefit Mercersburg Academy.