Sold to You the Reader

Auction Houses are located in many towns and cities around the world. They can vary  from small local companies selling furniture and other household pieces which may sell for conservative amounts right up to the largest and most prestigious, auctioning fine art and other valuable collectables for millions of pounds. London, of course, does not want to be left out and is therefore home to three of the largest and most famous such enterprises in the world. However, London is not home to the oldest of these institutions. In fact, the oldest only comes fourth in line of age. The three leaders all reside in Sweden. But, like me. You might find it difficult to name any of them.

But, I’m pretty sure many of you could name at least two of the three London businesses. Coming in at fourth oldest is Sotheby’s. It was started in 1744 by a bookseller by the name of Sam Baker. Their first location was in Covent Garden. Later, it moved to Wellington Street and then in 1917, they moved to their present location in New Bond Street. And it was at this location some years ago, that I directed a live video auction which was delivered via satellite to other buyers in other parts of Europe. I have to admit that when the bids are coming in, the atmosphere can be tense and certainly exhilarating.

The largest auction houses are international and so in 1964, Sotheby’s purchased the largest fine art business in America. It was called Park-Bernet. Sotheby’s has also made an appearance in the James Bond movie, Octopussy, starring Roger Moore as 007. They were also responsible for selling the jewel collection owned by the Duchess of Windsor in 1987. The collection went for £50 million which was a great deal then as now.

The other world-famous auction house headquartered in London is Christies. It was started by John Christie, a Royal Navy man, in 1766. During its history it has been located near Pall Mall and its present location in King Street, in St James’s. There is a saying that “from small acorns, grow big oak trees,” and this was true of Christies. They started small, even specialising in selling chamber pots for a time. But, that soon changed and they began to specialise in selling fine art. This was mainly due to the friendship John Christie had with two of the finest artists in England, Sir Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough.

Today, Christies have offices in over 40 countries around the world. Perhaps, one of their greatest claims to fame came when they were asked to sell the world-famous painting, “Sunflowers” by Vincent Van Gough. It will be no surprise to hear it fetched £24.75 million.

The third of London’s big auction houses is Bonhams. Perhaps, not known as well as the first two, it is still a very important member of the industry. Founded in 1793 by William Charles Bonham, it was first located as a small gallery in Leicester Square. Before that, they had also traded in Oxford Street and Burlington Street. Together, these three auction houses have become some of the major outlets for the most valuable collectables it is possible to buy. So, you’d better start saving.

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