If there is one name that will always be mentioned and associated with auctions and such, it would be Sothebys. This is because it has one of the longest standing history of being a true auction house having been established in 1744 and is still operating to this day.
Sothebys, unlike Christie’s is more renowned for its antique auctions although they are also very much involved with fine arts, in which old and new artwork like paintings and sculptures have came under the hammer over the years.
Sothebys was established in the United Kingdom in London on 11 March 1744 by Samuel Baker where it now operates in its headquarters in the United States in New York. With more than a thousand employees in its stable, Sotheby’s have 4 main divisions which are located in London, New York, Hong Kong and Moscow.
The internationally known auction house is the fourth oldest auction house and has been widely regarded as the ‘largest’ auctioneer in the world today. Samuel Baker had in 1774 held the first sale then under his name when the library of Rt. Hon. Sir John Stanley came under the hammer. This was when several hundred books of Polite Literature were involved and brought home hundreds of pounds, which was extremely significant at that time.
Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, Sotheby’s would move on from its early establishment to auction off items in the print areas like books, manuscripts, and others. it was only after the First World War that Sotheby’s would venture into art, specializing in Impressionist works.
When Peter Wilson took over the leadership in 1936, Sotheby’s went international after selling off the Goldschmidt collection and in 1955, the New York office was opened. 9 years after that, Sotheby’s bought over the Parke-Bennet auction house which was then the largest and most renowned fine art auction house in the United States where in 1961, it sold off Rembrandt’s ‘Aristotle Contemplating the Bust of Homer’ painting for a then record of $2.3million to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Expansion was imminent and by 1967, 3 more branches were set up and 4 more a year later.
Today, Sotheby’s holds floor auctions in their spaces globally while they have also ventured into more technology based operations through online and real time bidding through its association with major companies like eBay. Apart from that, its brand was also licensed through Sotheby’s Australia and today, there are over 100 offices worldwide.
Over the years, sales undertaken through Sotheby’s auctions have gained worldwide recognition and notice. In 1983, the The Gospels of Henry the Lion book was hammered off for more than £8 million. The sale was deemed as possibly the most ‘exciting art auction of the century’.
Sotheby’s had also previously sold off the jewels of Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor where they also hold several world records for art and antiques. The Pablo Picasso’s Dora Maar au Chat which was auctioned off for $95 million, the Roman-era bronze sculpture of Artemis and the Stag $28.6 million, the Guennol Lioness known to be at least 5000 years old for $57 million and a710 year old copy of the Magna Carta for $ 21.3 million.
The latest record was set by Sotheby’s when in May 2012, it auctioned off “The Scream” for $119million.