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At Christie’s, Bidders Compete to Own James Brown’s ‘Sex Machine’ Belt

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Today's Christie's auction of James Brown memorabilia got off on the good foot, with about a hundred buyers bidding on custom-made jumpsuits of varying colors (many had the word "SEX" embroidered on the front), awards, furniture, musical instruments, and a great number of flashy items from Brown's wardrobe. The sale of 329 lots of personal items belonging to the late Godfather of Soul, who died in 2006, almost didn’t happen. But on Tuesday a South Carolina court gave Christie’s the go-ahead when it lifted a temporary stay requested by two of Brown’s former business managers, still fighting their removal as estate trustees by Brown's children after his death.

Bow-tied auctioneer John Hayes soon became the hardest-working man in the auction business when a medical bracelet etched with the words "JAMES BROWN ALLERGY PENICILLIN DIABETIC" set off the day’s first bidding war: Estimated at $200–$300, for some odd reason it skyrocketed to $26,000. One disappointed bidder for the bracelet was Paul Shaffer, who also lost out on a set of red-leather living-room furniture, estimated at $1,500–$2,000, which went for $32,000. But the third time was the charm for Shaffer, whose $8,000 bid won him Brown’s Hammond B3 organ and Leslie speaker cabinet.

As a number of the so-called "sex suits" were about to go on sale, the intro to “Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine” piped into the room, providing a rare moment of funkiness in Christie’s rather staid Rockefeller Center confines. “And now the Sex Machine belt,” Hayes said, deadpanning. “I’ve waited my entire life to say that.” Including Christie's premium, the belt sold for $4,750. —Steve Bloom