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Sotheby's is the world's third oldest auction house in continuous operation.


The oldest auction house in operation is the Stockholms Auktionsverk founded in 1674 and the second oldest is Göteborgs Auktionsverk founded in 1681 and third oldest is Uppsala Auktionskammare founded in 1731, all Swedish. Sotheby's predecessor, Baker's, was founded in Londonmarker, Englandmarker on 11 March 1744 when Samuel Baker presided over the disposal of "several hundred scarce and valuable" books from the library of a certain Rt. Hon. Sir John Stanley. This disposal however was not by means of auction and as Frank Herrmann and Brian Learmount observe, the business did not seek to auction fine arts in general until much later, their first major success in this field being the sale of a Frans Hals painting for 9 thousand guineas as late as 1913. The current business dates back to 1804 when two of the partners of the original business (Leigh and Sotheby) left to set up their own book dealership.

Today, the firm has an annual turnover of approximately $3 billion , and offices on London's New Bond Streetmarker and Manhattanmarker's York Avenue. This position has been achieved through natural growth, acquisitions (most notably the 1964 purchase of the United Statesmarker' largest auctioneer of fine art, Parke-Bernet), and management during the cyclical "art recessions" of the 20th century. Sotheby's New Yorkmarker completed renovations on its York Avenue headquarters in 2001 adding the unique capability to store works on the same premises as the specialist departments, galleries, and auction spaces. Sotheby's New York's offices also house Aulden Cellars (an in-house wine cellar) and the former Bid (an American contemporary restaurant and later bistro), which was closed due to poor attendance.

The company was purchased in 1983 by American millionaire A. Alfred Taubman, who took it public in 1988.

Sotheby's has an intense rivalry with Christie's for the position of the world's preeminent fine art auctioneer, a title of much subjectivity. In August 2004 Sotheby's introduce an online system. Sotheby's recently augmented its web services to focus more intensely on what its clients desired - in the form of MySotheby's - allowing them to track lots and create "wishlists" that could be automatically updated as new works became available. In May 2007, Sotheby's opened an office in Moscowmarker in response to rapidly growing interest among Russianmarker buyers in the international art market.

Auctioned artwork

York Avenue HQ

Sotheby's is distinguished by a number of world records for auctioned works of art. The following monetary values are given in United States dollars.
  • On 22 May 2002, Norman Rockwell's painting of Rosie the Riveter was sold for $4,959,500.
  • Sotheby's holds the world record for most expensive painting and work of art ever sold at auction with (Picasso's Garçon à la pipe, $104 million).
    • On 3 May 2006, Sotheby's auctioned Pablo Picasso's portrait Dora Maar au Chat which was sold for $95 million to an undisclosed purchaser, becoming the second most expensive artwork ever sold at auction.
  • On 7 June 2007, a Roman-era bronze sculpture of "Artemis and the Stag" was sold at Sotheby's by the Albright-Knox Art Gallerymarker in Buffalomarker, New Yorkmarker for $28.6 million, by far exceeding its estimates and setting the new record as the most expensive sculpture as well as work from antiquity ever sold at auction.
  • Sotheby's also holds the world record for most expensive piece of contemporary art ever sold at auction, with Mark Rothko's quintessential 1950 White Center (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose), which grossed $72.8 million in May 2007 and was famously offered by David Rockefeller as well as the most expensive work sold at auction by a living artist with Damien Hirst's "Lullaby Spring" pill cabinet, which grossed roughly $19,300,000 in a June 2007 London sale.
  • On 6 December 2007, Sotheby's auctioned the Guennol Lioness, a 3 1/4-inch limestone lion from ancient Mesopotamia. It is thought to be at least 5,000 years old. It was sold for $57 million, fetching the highest price ever paid for at an auction for a sculpture.
  • On 15 December 2007, Sotheby's auctioned a limited edition copy of The Tales of Beedle the Bard, written by J.K. Rowling. Although expected to make just $98,350, the book was purchased for a hammer price of $3,835,980 by London fine art dealers Hazlitt, Gooden and Fox on behalf of The novel, which contained children's stories, was originally mentioned in the Harry Potter novel series. J.K. Rowling finished the actual story in late 2007. Only seven copies are in existence, each version unique by its cover. Six were given away as gifts to those close to her, while the remaining "moonstone edition" was sent up for auction with proceeds going to the The Children's Voice charity. Each leather bound copy was hand written and illustrated by J.K. Rowling.


Illegal antiquities

In 1997, a Channel 4 Dispatches programme alleged that Sotheby's had been trading in antiquities with no published provenance, and that the organization continued to use dealers involved in the smuggling of artifacts.

As a result of this exposé, Sotheby's commissioned their own report into illegal antiquities, and made assurances that only legal items with published providence would be traded in the future.

Price fixing scandal

In February 2000, A. Alfred Taubman and Diana (Dede) Brooks, the CEO of the company, stepped down amidst a price fixing scandal. The FBImarker had been investigating auction practices in which it was revealed that collusion involving commission fixing between Christie's and Sotheby's was occurring.

In October 2000, Brooks admitted her guilt in hopes of receiving a reduced sentence, implicating Taubman.

In December 2001, jurors in a high profile New York City courtroom found Taubman guilty of conspiracy. He served ten months of a one year sentence in prison, while Brooks received a six-month home confinement and a penalty of $350,000. No staff from Christie's was charged.

At the time of the scandal 59 percent of the company's Class A was owned by Baron Funds.

London Location

Sotheby's central London saleroom is on New Bond Street.


  1. Learmount p 101-3
  2. " Sotheby's Auction House Opens Moscow Office",, 05-24-2007.
  3. " Tiny Sculpture Topples huge records at auction,, 12-06-2007.
  4. "TV Sting reveals illegal art deal" (February 12th 1997). The Daily Telegraph.
  5. "Smuggled art clampdown by Sotheby's" (December 17th 1997). The Times.
  6. Managing Money by Sizing Up Corporate Chiefs - New York Times - October 30, 2004

Further reading

  • Brian Learmount, "A history of the auction", 1985. Barnard & Learmont. ISBN 0951024000
  • Christopher Mason, The Art of the Steal, 2004. Putnam. ISBN 0-399-15093-5
  • Peter Watson, "Sotheby's: The Inside Story", 1998. Random House. ISBN 978-0679414032
  • Robert Lacey "Sotheby's: Bidding For Class", 1998 Little Brown & Co. ISBN 0316511390

External links

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