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Clapton Guitars Fetch $5 Million at Auction

Clapton Guitars Fetch $5 Million at Auction

June 25, 1999 12:00 AM ET

In a day of staggering bidding, an anonymous bidder dropped a half million dollars for one of Eric Clapton's favorite guitars yesterday in an auction to benefit the guitarist's Crossroads Centre drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility in Antigua.| "Brownie," the 1956 sunburst Fender Stratocaster Clapton used on his hit "Layla," was among 100 acoustic and electric guitars that went on the block at Christie's in Rockefeller Center.

Onlookers were lined up for hours prior to the auction of the guitar god's tools, and a capacity crowd of potential buyers filled the salesroom as they sought to pick up a piece of rock & roll history. "I had no idea the auction would do so well," Clapton said afterwards in a statement. Neither did Christie's, who estimated that one hundred of Clapton's instruments would pull in close to $1 million. The sale actually netted just over $5 million, all of which Clapton will donate to Crossroads.

The previous record tag for a single guitar was $320,000 for an ax once owned by Jimi Hendrix. "Brownie" drew an initial bid of $200,000 and eventually quintupled estimates that it would sell for between $80,000 and $100,000 when an anonymous phone buyer placed the winning bid. "It's outrageous, but worth it" said Matt Brewster, owner of 30th Street Guitars, one of New York's largest vintage guitar stores. Brewster estimated that a 1954 Fender Stratocaster like the one that sold for $211,500 at the Clapton auction would fetch about $20,000 in "dead mint" condition. He attributed the inflated price to Clapton's longtime association with the Stratocaster. Amidst the flurry of overpriced guitars, Brewster said a 1958 Gibson Explorer that sold for $134,500 was the steal of the auction. "They made under twenty of those," Brewster said. "I personally thought it would go for a half million."

Actor Michael J. Fox was among the winners, spending $36,800 for a 1949 Gibson-125 and $42,500 for a 1930s National Duolian. In a statement, Fox said Clapton "has meant a lot to me...this combined with my admiration for his gesture towards this great cause made this auction something I could not pass up."

Clapton was unable to attend the auction, but said afterwards, "I can't believe it. I'm totally overwhelmed. I want to say thank you to everyone who showed up and made this such a memorable occasion. I also want to say thank you on behalf of all the patients who will get free treatment as a result of this sale." Clapton founded the Crossroads Centre in 1998 as an affordable clinic for clients with alcohol or drug dependency. Clapton's benefit concert for the clinic will take place June 30 at Madison Square Garden.

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