NEW YORK — The transit papers were stuffed under the lid of the piano — Humphrey Bogart’s fingerprints would have been on them. But Dr. Gary Milan said he never found out whose fingerprints were on the chewing gum that was under the keyboard.
The piano in question is one of the most famous in the world, the painted upright in Rick’s Café Américain in the movie “Casablanca.” Standing near it, Ingrid Bergman uttered those immortal cinematic words: “Play it, Sam. Play ‘As Time Goes By.’ ” Milan, a Los Angeles dentist who bought the piano in the 1980s, said in a telephone interview last week that the gum had “mummified over the years.”
On Monday, the piano was sold at auction, gum and all, for $3.4 million. The price included a 12 percent commission.
Of all the auction houses in all the towns in all the world, it had been wheeled into Bonhams in Manhattan for a sale of movie memorabilia.
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Of all the auction houses in all the towns in all the world, it had been wheeled into Bonhams in Manhattan last week in preparation for a sale of movie memorabilia. The catalog for the auction had not listed a presale estimate for the piano, one of two seen in “Casablanca.”
The other piano, the one in the flashback scene, sold for $602,500 at Sotheby’s in December 2012. (Milan once owned that piano, too, but sold it in 1988 for $154,000. “I felt selfish,” he told the Los Angeles Times then. “Nobody should have both pianos from ‘Casablanca.’ ”)
Catherine Williamson, the director of entertainment memorabilia at Bonhams, said this piano was unquestionably significant, not just as an object, but because of the central role it played in an enduring Hollywood classic.
The piano is central to the plot, she said, because of the transit papers — “this thing that everyone is searching for so desperately.”
“Fifteen minutes into the movie, he tucks them in there,” she said. “They’re under there while Sam plays, they’re there for all of the activity that happens in the cafe. The piano is there. It represents the way out for them. That’s what made it so important.”
The catalog says the piano — as well as the one from the flashback scene — was taken from the Warner Bros. prop room for the movie. The catalog says the one in the scenes in Rick’s Café Américain was probably made in 1927.
The catalog also says that the old-fashioned hinged lid was “altered” for “Casablanca” so that Bogart could raise it from the back and hide the transit papers.