Syd Barrett's last remnants sold in frenzy of bidding
They are the enigmatic fragments from the life of a shy recluse and DIY handyman who, years ago, had briefly been an international rock star. But last night, these odd-ball items left behind by the late Syd Barrett, once of Pink Floyd, achieved a worth far beyond the mundane reality of their appearance.
At an auction of Barrett's possessions in Cambridge, attended by fans and memorabilia dealers from all over the world, hundreds of pounds were paid for items that might have been ignored in a charity shop or car boot sale: £400 for a kitchen chair, painted a light pink by Barrett himself, £340 for a plywood chest of drawers, each drawer with different handles, £600 for a pair of curtains, in a nursery fabric with brightly coloured dancing animals and £800 for Barrett's artificial Christmas tree.
The tone of the bidding was set from the beginning, with dealers and individual buyers competing over the internet and by telephone for a simple home-made table, with red painted legs and pink top, typical of the individual touches Barrett added to his furniture. It went for £420. All these and many more curiosities left when Barrett died on 7 July were sold by Cheffins auction house in his home town of Cambridge, in a sale that raised more than £121,000 which will help fund a bursary for local arts students.
According to his sister, Rosemary Breen, a former nurse who cared for him until his death, Barrett, who preferred to be known by his original first name of Roger, considered himself a painter first and foremost, rather than a musician.
Although he destroyed most of his work, several of his surviving paintings were on sale; the most significant was a watercolour of lemons and bottles, signed RB and dated January 2006. Mrs Breen believes it could have been the last work he painted to have survived. It was bought by George Peat, a local antique dealer and "huge" fan, for £9,500.
As well as the odd bits of furniture, the sale included more personal items such as his notebooks, which contained jottings on subjects ranging from cathedrals to the weather, interspersed with cut-out pictures and postcards. One lot, consisting of two A5 spiral-bound notebooks, were bought by Theresa Northrop, a technical writer, who had travelled from Ohio for the event. She paid £1,300 for the two books, one of which entitled "Garden" contained just one page of notes, and the second, labelled "Art" contained nine pages of notes. "The notebooks are something different these are the original words of Syd, all hand written," she said. A collection of reference books, some signed by Barrett, went for £4,000 while a dictionary with his own abstract collage cover went for £900.
Another bidder was Dave Fowell, a dealer in memorabilia and a "massive Pink Floyd fan". He ended the evening empty-handed, outbid by fans and other dealers. "There are lots of fans pushing up prices," he observed. He had been particularly hopeful of securing a psychedelic cushion, for about £400; it went for £1,600.
Edward Maggs, a Mayfair dealer, snapped up two of the choicest items one of Barrett's sets of home-made speakers and his red bicycle for a private buyer. Mr Maggs confessed that he had bought the other set of home-made and hand-painted speakers as well: "I might keep those myself, because I'm a fan too. I think they are brilliant folk art."
Barrett trained at Camberwell School of Art, before joining his Cambridge friends to form Pink Floyd in the mid-1960s. After he was ejected from the band because of the excessive drug consumption that was to cast a shadow over the rest of his life, Barrett retreated to Cambridge, subsisting on the royalties that his former bandmates ensured he received.