The origin of Sotheby’s goes back to 1744 when Samuel Baker founded the firm Baker’s in London, which—during several years—was devoted to the marketing of rare and valuable books and acted as an intermediary for the bidding of relevant libraries belonging to famous personalities from different latitudes. In 1804, the name of the firm changed, when two of the original partners of the company, Leigh, and Sotheby, decided to start their own book distribution business.
Over time, besides books, Sotheby’s began to incorporate fine arts, registering as the first significant transaction in 1913 the sale of a painting by Frans Hals. From that date until now, Sotheby’s sales at its headquarters in New York, Paris, Geneva, Milan, Amsterdam, Doha, Zurich, Toronto, and Hong Kong arouse great excitement among collectors. Each auction exceeds expectations, and quite a few records have been established in the sale of famous works thanks to the firm’s excellent management. Many examples of the most valuable treasures in the world have been auctioned in its galleries and stores.
From that date until now, Sotheby’s sales at its headquarters in New York, Paris, Geneva, Milan, Amsterdam, Doha, Zurich, Toronto, and Hong Kong arouse great excitement among collectors. Each auction exceeds expectations, and quite a few records have been established in the sale of famous works thanks to the firm’s excellent management. Many examples of the most valuable treasures in the world have been auctioned in its galleries and stores.
We could cite a long list of incomparable works of the most significant sales. Suffice it to mention, for example, the impressive library that Emperor Napoleon was collecting at his home in Santa Elena; the coveted jewels of Wallis, Duchess of Windsor, which were gifted by King Edward VIII; some iconic objects that belonged to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis; the work Garcon a la Pipe by Pablo Picasso, which was sold for US $ 105 million, or the delicate Famille-Rose “Peach” vase from the Qianlong period, a masterpiece of Chinese imperial ceramics.
Other examples include Giacometti‘s sculpture L’Homme Qui Marche, which has become one of the most expensive works of art sold at auction for € 74 million (about US $ 83 million); the 5,000 years old Mesopotamian sculpture Leona Guennol found near Baghdad in 1930; the first printed version of the Declaration of Independence of the United States; one of the 17 manuscripts copies of the Magna Carta, a historical document dated in 1215 and considered a precursor of modern political statements; the work Aristotle with a Bust of Homer by Dutch painter Rembrandt, who scored a record price in 1961; the documentary legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., composed of thousands of documents, including the draft of his famous speech I have a dream. In all, the numerous events and sales organized by an auction house that has become milestones in the field of public sales of assets.
Sotheby’s was the first auction house that extended its presence from London to New York in 1955. It was also the first to carry out transactions in Hong Kong and the former Soviet Union. It currently has about 90 subsidiaries in approximately 40 countries, responsible for more than 250 auctions held annually in over 70 categories of collectible goods and jewelry.
Given the advances in technology and the increasing flow of business through the virtual world, the company quickly adapted their profile to the internet, and nowadays it is possible to examine the objects offered or to participate in auctions in real time through direct online connection from any country in the world.
At present, the company’s capital amounts to US $ 3, and this is only in its New Bond Street offices in London and York Avenue in Manhattan. The sheer volume of transactions is due to the firm’s expansion to the multinational auction market after the acquisition of other prestigious houses such as the American Benet Parke, purchased by Sotheby’s in 1964.
American millionaire A. Alfred Taubman bought the company in 1983, and since then Sotheby’s has consolidated its power, remaining faithful to the spirit that motivated its founders, but always trying to keep up with the times. With the digital revolution, it has added specialists and executives from younger generations, who remain continuously attentive to innovation.
The intelligent management of the famous house has allowed it to maneuver successfully during periods of financial recession, which usually affect the market of art and collectible goods. This has been done without undermining its business ethics, guided at all times by a historic commitment to the highest professional approach in its operations. Even when mistakes were made regarding the authenticity of a piece, the firm assumed legal and financial responsibility.
Hence, Sotheby’s has maintained its respectability; its deserved celebrity combines the best of the contemporary market and culture. ■