Sotheby's is a multinational corporation, originally English but now owned and headquartered in the United States, that is one of the world's largest auctioneers of fine and decorative art, jewelry, and collectibles. Its operation is divided into three segments: Auction, Finance, and Dealer. The company’s services range from Corporate Art Services to Private Sales.

Sotheby’s is the world’s fourth oldest auction house in continuous operation, with 90 locations in 40 countries. As of December 2011, the company had 1,446 employees worldwide. It is the world's largest art business with global sales in 2011 totaling $5.8 billion.[2]

Sotheby’s was established on March 11, 1744 in London. The American holding company was initially incorporated in August 1983 in Michigan. In June 2006, Sotheby’s Holdings, Inc. reincorporated in the State of Delaware and was renamed Sotheby’s.[3] It is headquartered in New York City.



Sotheby's predecessor, Baker and Leigh, was founded in London on 11 March 1744 when Samuel Baker presided over the disposal of "several hundred scarce and valuable" books from the library of Rt Hon Sir John Stanley Bt., of Alderley. Three Swedish auction houses are even older, and Sotheby's great rival in London and then New York, Christie's, dates back to 1759 or shortly after.[4] 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. The library Napoleon took with him into exile at St Helena, as well as the library collections of John WilkesBenjamin Heywood Bright and the Dukes of Devonshire and of Buckingham (both related to George Leigh)[5] were sold through Samuel Baker’s auctions.[6]

After Baker’s death in 1778, his estate was divided between Leigh and John Sotheby. George Leigh died unmarried in 1816[7], but not before endeavoring to secure his succession by recruiting Samuel E Leighinto the business. Under the Sotheby family, the auction house extended its activities to auctioning prints, medals and coins.[8] When the last member of the Sotheby family died in 1861, John Wilkinson, Sotheby’s Senior Accountant, became the company’s new CEO.[9] 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 Halspainting for 9 thousand guineas as late as 1913.

In 1917, Sotheby’s relocated from 13 Wellington Street to 34-35 New Bond Street, which remains as its London base to this day.[10] They soon came to rival Christie's as leaders of the London auction market, which had become the most important for art. In 1955, Sotheby’s opened an office at Bowling Green, New York. In 1964, Sotheby’s purchased Parke-Bernet, then the largest auctioneer of fine art in the United States. In the following year, Sotheby’s moved to 980 Madison Avenue, New York. With international popularity of fine art auction growing, Sotheby’s opened offices in Paris and Los Angeles in 1967, became the first auction house to operate in Hong Kong in 1973, and Moscow in 1988.[11]

Public company

Sotheby’s became a U.K. public company in 1977, and in 1982, the company relocated its North American headquarters from Madison Avenue to 1334 York Avenue, New York. In the following year, a group of investors (such as American millionaire Alfred Taubman) purchased and privatized Sotheby’s. Sotheby’s was initially incorporated as Sotheby’s Holdings, Inc. in Michigan in the August of 1983.[3] Taubman took Sotheby’s public in 1988, listing the company’s shares on theNew York Stock Exchange, making Sotheby’s the oldest publicly traded company on the NYSE under the ticker symbol “BID.”[12] In June 2006 Sotheby’s Holdings, Inc. reincorporated in the State of Delaware and was renamed Sotheby’s shortly after.

With private transactions constituting an essential and increasingly profitable business segment, through the years Sotheby's has bought art galleries and helped dealers finance purchases. It has also gone into partnership with dealers on private sales.[13] In 1990, Sotheby's teamed up with dealer William Acquavella, to form Acquavella Modern Art, a subsidiary of Sotheby's Holding Company. The subsidiary paid $143 million for the contents of the Pierre Matisse Gallery in Manhattan, which included about 2,300 works by such artists as MiróJean DubuffetAlberto Giacometti, and Marc Chagall, and began selling the works both at auction and privately.[14] In 1996 Sotheby's acquired Andre Emmerich Gallery to operate a division called Emmerich/Sotheby's,[15] and in 1997 it purchased a 50% interest inDeitch Projects.[16] As a consequence, the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, the main beneficiary of the artists' estates, as well as the estates of Morris Louis and Milton Avery announced that they would not renew their Emmerich contracts.[17] That decision came right after it was disclosed that Sotheby's had decided to close Emmerich's prime space at 41 East 57th Street, and that its artists would be handled out of Deitch Projects.[18] Sotheby's subsequently closed Andre Emmerich in 1998 and later sold its share in Deitch Projects back to Jeffrey Deitch. In 2006, Sotheby's acquired a Dutch dealership, Noortman Master Paintings, from its owner, Robert Noortman, for $82.5 million ($56.5 million worth of Sotheby’s stock and assumption of more than $26 million in gallery debt, including $11.7 million owed to the auction house).[19][20] Sothebys and Noortman had collaborated before in 1995, when the sales of Dutch plastic millionaire Joost Ritman were divided between the two companies.[21]

Sotheby's New York completed renovations on its York Avenue headquarters in 2001, adding six floors and 240,000 square feet. The renovation added the 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 laterbistro), which was closed due to poor attendance.[22] In May 2007, Sotheby's opened an office in Moscow in response to rapidly growing interest among Russian buyers in the international art market and held sales in Qatar in 2009.[23]

As many industries took a blow from the economic crisis of 2008, the art market also saw a contraction. In international figures, art prices fell by 7.5% in Q1 of 2008 in comparison to the previous quarter. In September and October of 2008, major auction houses saw a sharp decline in sales:, the world leader in art market information, coined the term “Black October.” Sotheby’s bought-in rate was 27%, Christie’s was 45% and Phillips de Pury’s was 46%. However, the total values of global and United States Fine Art auction sales were USD$8.3 billion and USD$2.9 billion, respectively.[24] In 2009, art collector Steven A. Cohen built a 6 percent stake in the auction house for his hedge fund SAC Capital Advisors.[25]


Today, the firm has an annual revenue of approximately US$831.8 million[26] and offices on London's New Bond Street and Manhattan's York Avenue. This position has been achieved through natural growth, acquisitions (most notably the 1964 purchase of the United States' largest auctioneer of fine art, Parke-Bernet), and management during the cyclical "art recessions" of the 20th century. As of 2011, Sotheby’s is present in over 90 locations in 40 countries with ten salesrooms.[27] In 2012, the company signed a 10-year joint-venture agreement to form Sotheby’s (Beijing) Auction Co. Ltd., the first international auction house in China; under the agreement, it invested $1.2 million to take an 80 percent stake in the venture with state-owned Beijing Gehua Cultural Development Group.[28]

Sotheby's enjoys a longstanding and 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 introduced an online system – MySotheby's – allowing clients to track lots and create "wishlists" that could be automatically updated as new works became available. Sotheby’s also created the BIDnow service, which allows bidders to bid real-time online while watching the broadcasted auctions, with the exception of Wine auctions. LiveBid is Sotheby’s online bidding system exclusively for wine auctions.[29] In 2011, Sotheby's inaugurated a new gallery space called S2 at its York Avenue headquarters with a show of work by American abstract painter Sam Francis. Unlike Haunch of Venison, a gallery that Christie's bought in 2007, S2 is solely devoted to showcasing the auction house's private sales.[30]

As well as numerous high profile real life auctions being held at Sotheby's, the auctioneers has also been used in various films, including the 1983 James Bond film Octopussy in which Bond (played by Roger Moore) unsuccessfully tried to bid for a rare Fabergé egg, which he had cleverly exchanged for a fake that was finally sold to the villainous Afghan prince, Kamal Khan (Louis Jourdan).[31]


1.       ^ "Sotheby’s 10-K". Businessweek. 29 Feb 2012. Retrieved Mar 12 2012.

2.       ^ Sotheby’s SEC Filings (Report). Feb 29 2012. Retrieved Mar 18 2012.

3.       a b "Sotheby’s (BID) Stock Description-Seeking Alpha". Seeking Alpha a. Retrieved updated Mar 20 2012.

4.       ^ The oldest auction house in operation is the Stockholms Auktionsverk founded in 1674, the second oldest is Göteborgs Auktionsverk founded in 1681 and third oldest being Uppsala Auktionskammare founded in 1731, all Swedish.

5.       ^

6.       ^ "Sotheby’s History". Sonnenalp Real Estate. Retrieved Mar 18 2012.

7.       ^

8.       ^ "Sotheny’s New York, New York, NY". LiveAuctioneers. Retrieved Mar 19 2012.

9.       ^ "Sotheby’s Holdings, Inc. Company History". FundingUniverse. Retrieved Mar 19 2012.

10.   ^ "Sotheby’s-About us". Sotheby's. Retrieved Mar 19 2012.

11.   ^ "Sotheby’s Timeline". Sotheby's. Retrieved Mar 15 2012.

12.   ^ "SOTHEBY’S (BID:New York): Stock Quote&Company Profile". Businessweek. Feb 29 2012. Retrieved Mar 18 2012.

13.   ^ Carol Vogel (December 25, 1998), New Sotheby's Venture New York Times.

14.   ^ Carol Vogel (June 7, 1996), A Sotheby's-Emmerich Venture New York Times.

15.   ^ Carol Vogel (June 7, 1996), A Sotheby's-Emmerich Venture New York Times.

16.   ^ Kate Taylor (April 16, 2007), Auction Houses Vs. Dealers New York Sun.

17.   ^ Carol Vogel (October 3, 1997), Sotheby's Loses Albers Estate New York Times.

18.   ^ Carol Vogel (October 16, 1998), Emmerich Loses Estate New York Times.

19.   ^ Kate Taylor (April 16, 2007), Auction Houses Vs. Dealers New York Sun.

20.   ^ Judd Tully (October 24, 2011), Private Sales Go Public: Why Christie's and Sotheby's Are Embracing Galleries Like Never Before ARTINFO.

21.   ^ Godfrey Barker (January 23, 2007), An Inside Look at the Sothebys/Noortman Mega-MergerARTINFO.

22.   ^ Goldberg, Howard (Sep 21 2010). "Sotheby’s opens NY retail Outlet". Retrieved Mar 18 2012.

23.   ^ "Sotheby's Auction House Opens Moscow Office". 24 May 2007.

24.   ^ "2008 art market trends". 2008. Retrieved Mar 12 2012.

25.   ^ Jeff Segal (March 24, 2009), Steve Cohen’s Sotheby’s bet is no pickled shark Daily Telegraph.

26.   ^ "SOTHEBYS (Form: 10-K)". Businessweek. Feb 19 2012. Retrieved Mar 18 2012.

27.   ^ "Sotheby’s-Locations". Sotheby's. Retrieved Mar 18 2012.

28.   ^ Frederik Balfour and Scott Reyburn (September 21, 2012), Sotheby’s Agrees Joint Venture for Auction House in China Bloomberg.

29.   ^ "Sotheby’s-Glossary". Sotheby's. Retrieved Mar 18 2012.

30.   ^ Shane Ferro (September 14, 2011), Sotheby's Expands Beyond the Auction Floor With Its New S2 Art Gallery ARTINFO.

31.   ^ "James Bond multimedia-Sotheby's, London". James Bond multimedia.


Source: Wikipedia
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