Photographer Barron Claiborne paid $6 for the plastic crown that The Notorious B.I.G. wore in his iconic “King of New York” magazine shoot. Now, that same circlet has fetched $594,750 at Sotheby’s first ever hip-hop auction.
The bidding took place Tuesday, September 15th, and other notable items up for grabs included a one-of-a-kind Def Jam jacket and a triptych of paintings by Fab Five Freddy. But the plastic coronet was always going to be the star of the auction.
Now 57, Claiborne photographed Biggie wearing the crown in 1997, three days before his death. The stunning images later appeared in Rap Pages magazine, but as Claiborne recalled, the shoot almost didn’t happen. At the time, Bad Boy Records owner Sean “Puffy” Combs was against the whole concept. Claiborne explained,
“He said it would make Biggie look like Burger King. But Biggie didn’t listen. He wore it anyway. And nobody’s ever told me that they look at the photo and think the crown is plastic… His power cancels out the fact that it is a novelty crown.”
Claiborne, who remained the owner until yesterday, told the New York Post, “This crown is a novelty item; I bought it at a place on Broadway called Gordon’s.” He added, “Without Biggie, the crown would not be worth [six figures]. I only paid six bucks for it
The crown’s new owner is a mystery, for now, and Sotheby’s remains the premiere middle man between world-changing artists and the impulsive rich. Last year, the venerable auction house sold a lock of Beethoven’s hair for $45,000, and in 2018, a Bansky painting self-destructed after selling for over $1 million.