Sotheby’s is a multinational corporation headquartered in New York City that was founded in the United Kingdom. It is one of the largest brokers of fine and decorative art, jewelry, and collectibles in the world. It has 80 locations in 40 countries and a significant presence in the United Kingdom.
History of Sotheby’s
Samuel Baker, a bookseller, founded Sotheby’s on 11 March 1744 in London. George Leigh joined the firm in 1767, and it became Baker & Leigh. After Baker’s death, Leigh’s nephew John Sotheby inherited his share, and the company was renamed Leigh in 1778. Over the years, the company went through various name changes, including Leigh, Sotheby Wilkinson, Wilkinson and Hodge, Sotheby Company, Mssrs, Wilkinson, Sotheby Mak van Waay, and Sotheby’s & Co.
The American holding company, originally called Sotheby’s Holdings, Inc., was incorporated in August 1983 in Michigan. It later moved its incorporation to Delaware in June 2006 and changed its name to Sotheby’s. In July 2016, Taikang Life, a Chinese insurance company, became the largest shareholder of Sotheby’s. In June 2019, French-Israeli businessman Patrick Drahi acquired it at a 61% market premium.
It has subsidiaries and partner organizations, including Sotheby’s Institute of Art, it International Realty, and RM Sotheby’s, which specialize in education, real estate, and classic cars, respectively.
Auctions at Sotheby’s are typically held during the day. With the exception of occasional evening auctions, which require tickets, the majority are free and open to the public. Attendees are not required to bid.
Bidding ends when only one bidder remains willing to pay the declared price for the lot. The lot is “knocked down” by the auctioneer, who declares it sold to the highest bidder. The winning bid for a lot is referred to as the hammer price. Sotheby’s arranges for the lot to be delivered in private with the buyer.
Buying at Sotheby’s Aunction
Buyers can learn about what is available for purchase at Sotheby’s by browsing e-catalogs, attending pre-sale exhibitions, purchasing print catalogs, and signing up for e-mail alerts. Buyers can register to bid in person or online at Sotheby’s offices. Sotheby’s requires prospective buyers to provide government-issued identification and, in some cases, a bank reference. Buyers can bid in four ways: in person at the auction rooms, by phone, live online, or absentee bid online. When a bid is accepted, Sotheby’s computer totals the hammer price, buyer’s premium, and taxes.
Sellers must submit an Auction Estimate Form with detailed information and a photograph of the item. When an item is accepted for auction, the seller and Sotheby’s sign a contract outlining the reserve price and the seller’s commission. If the reserve price for a seller’s lot is not met, the item is not sold.
Sotheby’s Service categories
Here is a list of the categories of Sotheby’s
- Fiduciary client group
- Global partnerships
- Financial services/lending
- Fine art storage
- Post sale services
- Private sales
- Scientific research
- Tax, heritage, and UK museums
- Wine advisory services
Sotheby’s Private Sales
If sellers do not want a public auction, Sotheby’s connects them with prospective buyers in private. The identities of the buyers and consignors are not revealed. Sotheby’s Private Sales maintain client confidentiality and tailor the buying and selling process in a private setting. In 2011, private sales accounted for 16.5% of total Sotheby’s sales.
That year, Sotheby’s opened S2, a new gallery space at its York Avenue headquarters, with a show of work by American abstract painter Sam Francis. Unlike Haunch of Venison, a gallery purchased by Christie’s in 2007, S2 is solely dedicated to displaying the auction house’s private sales. In 2013, Sotheby’s opened a private sales gallery near its London branch, in a five-story building at 31 George Street.
Sotheby’s Financial Services
Sotheby’s Financial Services, founded in 1988, provides loans for consigned property as well as loans against the value of clients’ items on customized terms. The auction house also makes term loans on works that clients aren’t planning to sell for a set period of time, in part to “establish or enhance mutually beneficial relationships with borrowers” that can lead to future consignments.
While traditional lenders such as banks offer lower-cost loans to borrowers, according to Sotheby’s 2011 annual report, few will accept works of art as the sole collateral.
Sotheby’s Picture Library licensed images in a variety of formats and was one of the image suppliers to databases such as the British Association of Picture Libraries and Agencies (BAPLA).
However, as of April 2021, the only image archive mentioned on Sotheby’s website is an out-of-date reference to the Cecil Beaton Studio Archive, which Cecil Beaton sold to Sotheby’s in 1977.
Sotheby’s launched Sotheby’s Own Label Collection, a line of a dozen wines, in October 2019. The project, which took two years to complete, is based on Sotheby’s best-selling wines, both in-store and on the company’s e-commerce platform. Furthermore, the collection reflects some of Sotheby’s long-standing relationships with producers around the world. Tom Stevenson’s Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia has been published in several editions since 1988.
You can get more information about Sotheby’s at their main website: www.sothebys.com.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Much Does It Cost to Sell At Sotheby’s?
A commission is paid to Sotheby’s by the consignor, which is deducted from the hammer price. Sotheby’s standard seller’s commission for most auctions, including those in our Fine Arts division, is 10% of the hammer price.
Who Buys Sotheby’s?
Sotheby’s was acquired and taken private by Patrick Drahi for $3.7 billion in 2019, and the company is no longer listed on the New York Stock Exchange.
How does Sotheby’s make money?
Sotheby’s generates revenue from a variety of sources, including commissions on sales and consignment loans for various artworks. Patrick Drahi, a billionaire and telecom executive, owns Sotheby’s.
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