Sotheby's is the world's fourth oldest auction
An auction is a process of buying and selling goods or services by offering them up for bid, taking bids, and then selling the item to the highest bidder...

 house in continuous operation.


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. Sotheby's predecessor, Baker's, was founded in London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

 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.
The Right Honourable
The Right Honourable is an honorific prefix that is traditionally applied to certain people in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Anglophone Caribbean and other Commonwealth Realms, and occasionally elsewhere...

 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 art
Fine art
Fine art or the fine arts encompass art forms developed primarily for aesthetics and/or concept rather than practical application. Art is often a synonym for fine art, as employed in the term "art gallery"....

s in general until much later, their first major success in this field being the sale of a Frans Hals
Frans Hals
Frans Hals was a Dutch Golden Age painter. He is notable for his loose painterly brushwork, and helped introduce this lively style of painting into Dutch art. Hals was also instrumental in the evolution of 17th century group portraiture.-Biography:Hals was born in 1580 or 1581, in Antwerp...

 painting for 9 thousand guineas
Guinea (British coin)
The guinea is a coin that was minted in the Kingdom of England and later in the Kingdom of Great Britain and the United Kingdom between 1663 and 1813...

 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
In business, revenue is income that a company receives from its normal business activities, usually from the sale of goods and services to customers. In many countries, such as the United Kingdom, revenue is referred to as turnover....

 of approximately US$774 million and offices on London's New Bond Street
Bond Street
Bond Street is a major shopping street in the West End of London that runs north-south through Mayfair between Oxford Street and Piccadilly. It has been a fashionable shopping street since the 18th century and is currently the home of many high price fashion shops...

 and Manhattan
Manhattan is the oldest and the most densely populated of the five boroughs of New York City. Located primarily on the island of Manhattan at the mouth of the Hudson River, the boundaries of the borough are identical to those of New York County, an original county of the state of New York...

's York Avenue
York Avenue
York Avenue is a short north-south thoroughfare on the East Side of the borough of Manhattan in New York City. It runs from 59th Street north to 91st Street on the Upper East Side. It is known for its upscale apartments, much like the rest of the Upper East Side...

. This position has been achieved through natural growth, acquisitions
Mergers and acquisitions
Mergers and acquisitions refers to the aspect of corporate strategy, corporate finance and management dealing with the buying, selling, dividing and combining of different companies and similar entities that can help an enterprise grow rapidly in its sector or location of origin, or a new field or...

 (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. Sotheby's New York 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
Wine cellar
A wine cellar is a storage room for wine in bottles or barrels, or more rarely in carboys, amphorae or plastic containers. In an active wine cellar, important factors such as temperature and humidity are maintained by a climate control system. In contrast, passive wine cellars are not...

) and the former Bid (an American contemporary restaurant and later bistro
A bistro, sometimes spelled bistrot, is, in its original Parisian incarnation, a small restaurant serving moderately priced simple meals in a modest setting. Bistros are defined mostly by the foods they serve. Home cooking with robust earthy dishes, and slow-cooked foods like cassoulet are typical...

), which was closed due to poor attendance.

The company was purchased in 1983 by the American millionaire, shopping mall
Shopping mall
A shopping mall, shopping centre, shopping arcade, shopping precinct or simply mall is one or more buildings forming a complex of shops representing merchandisers, with interconnecting walkways enabling visitors to easily walk from unit to unit, along with a parking area — a modern, indoor version...

s developer A. Alfred Taubman
A. Alfred Taubman
Adolph Alfred Taubman is an American real estate developer and philanthropist from Michigan. He pioneered the modern shopping mall concept and was described by CBS News as a "legend in retailing" who became wealthy developing upscale shopping malls. He built shopping mall developer Taubman Centers...

, who took it public in 1988.

Andrew Festing
Andrew Festing
Andrew Festing MBE PPRP is a well known portrait painter, and fellow and former president of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters.-Life:...

 began working for Sotheby's in 1969 and was head of the British Pictures Department from 1977 to 1981. He became Sotheby’s chief expert on British Pictures.

Sotheby's has an intense rivalry with Christie's
Christie's is an art business and a fine arts auction house.- History :The official company literature states that founder James Christie conducted the first sale in London, England, on 5 December 1766, and the earliest auction catalogue the company retains is from December 1766...

 for the position of the world's preeminent fine art auctioneer, a title of much subjectivity
Subjectivity refers to the subject and his or her perspective, feelings, beliefs, and desires. In philosophy, the term is usually contrasted with objectivity.-Qualia:...

. In August 2004 Sotheby's introduced 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 Moscow in response to rapidly growing interest among Russian buyers in the international art market.

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
James Bond
James Bond, code name 007, is a fictional character created in 1953 by writer Ian Fleming, who featured him in twelve novels and two short story collections. There have been a six other authors who wrote authorised Bond novels or novelizations after Fleming's death in 1964: Kingsley Amis,...

 film Octopussy in which Bond (played by Roger Moore
Roger Moore
Sir Roger George Moore KBE , is an English actor, perhaps best known for portraying British secret agent James Bond in seven films from 1973 to 1985. He also portrayed Simon Templar in the long-running British television series The Saint.-Early life:Moore was born in Stockwell, London...

) 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
Afghanistan , officially the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, is a landlocked country located in the centre of Asia, forming South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East. With a population of about 29 million, it has an area of , making it the 42nd most populous and 41st largest nation in the world...

 prince Kamal Khan
Kamal Khan
Kamal Khan is a fictional character and the main antagonist in the James Bond film Octopussy. He is portrayed by Louis Jourdan.Khan is a suave exiled Afghan prince living in India in the Monsoon Palace. He has a penchant for fine food and liquor, priceless jewels, "hunting" humans, and atomic...

 (Louis Jourdan).

Auctioned artwork

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
    Norman Rockwell
    Norman Percevel Rockwell was a 20th-century American painter and illustrator. His works enjoy a broad popular appeal in the United States for their reflection of American culture. Rockwell is most famous for the cover illustrations of everyday life scenarios he created for The Saturday Evening...

    's painting of Rosie the Riveter
    Rosie the Riveter
    Rosie the Riveter is a cultural icon of the United States, representing the American women who worked in factories during World War II, many of whom produced munitions and war supplies. These women sometimes took entirely new jobs replacing the male workers who were in the military...

     was sold for $4,959,500.
    • On 3 May 2006, Sotheby's auctioned Pablo Picasso
      Pablo Picasso
      Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso known as Pablo Ruiz Picasso was a Spanish expatriate painter, sculptor, printmaker, ceramicist, and stage designer, one of the greatest and most influential artists of the...

      's Dora Maar au Chat
      Dora Maar au Chat
      Dora Maar au Chat is a 1941 painting by Pablo Picasso. It depicts Dora Maar, the painter's lover, seated on a chair with a small cat perched on her shoulders...

      which was sold for $95 million to an undisclosed purchaser, becoming the second most expensive artwork ever sold at auction at that time.
  • On 7 June 2007, a Roman-era
    Roman art
    Roman art has the visual arts made in Ancient Rome, and in the territories of the Roman Empire. Major forms of Roman art are architecture, painting, sculpture and mosaic work...

     bronze sculpture
    Bronze sculpture
    Bronze is the most popular metal for cast metal sculptures; a cast bronze sculpture is often called simply a "bronze".Common bronze alloys have the unusual and desirable property of expanding slightly just before they set, thus filling the finest details of a mold. Then, as the bronze cools, it...

     of Artemis and the Stag
    Artemis and the Stag
    Artemis and the Stag is an early Roman Imperial or Hellenistic bronze sculpture of the ancient Greek goddess Artemis. In June 2007 the Albright-Knox Art Gallery placed the statue into auction; it fetched $28.6 million, the highest sale price of any sculpture at the time.-Description:The statue...

    was sold at Sotheby's by the Albright-Knox Art Gallery
    Albright-Knox Art Gallery
    The Albright-Knox Art Gallery is an art museum located in Delaware Park in Buffalo, New York. The gallery is a major showplace for modern art and contemporary art. It is located directly across the street from Buffalo State College.-History:...

     in Buffalo, New York
    Buffalo, New York
    Buffalo is the second most populous city in the state of New York, after New York City. Located in Western New York on the eastern shores of Lake Erie and at the head of the Niagara River across from Fort Erie, Ontario, Buffalo is the seat of Erie County and the principal city of the...

     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
    Contemporary art
    Contemporary art can be defined variously as art produced at this present point in time or art produced since World War II. The definition of the word contemporary would support the first view, but museums of contemporary art commonly define their collections as consisting of art produced...

     ever sold at auction, with Mark Rothko
    Mark Rothko
    Mark Rothko, born Marcus Rothkowitz , was a Russian-born American painter. He is classified as an abstract expressionist, although he himself rejected this label, and even resisted classification as an "abstract painter".- Childhood :Mark Rothko was born in Dvinsk, Vitebsk Province, Russian...

    '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
    David Rockefeller
    David Rockefeller, Sr. is the current patriarch of the Rockefeller family. He is the youngest and only surviving child of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, and the only surviving grandchild of oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller, founder of Standard Oil. His five siblings were...

     as well as the most expensive work sold at auction by a living artist with Damien Hirst
    Damien Hirst
    Damien Steven Hirst is an English artist, entrepreneur and art collector. He is the most prominent member of the group known as the Young British Artists , who dominated the art scene in Britain during the 1990s. He is internationally renowned, and is reportedly Britain's richest living artist,...

    '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
    Guennol Lioness
    The Guennol Lioness is a 5,000-year-old Mesopotamian statue found near Baghdad, Iraq. Depicting a well-muscled anthropomorphic lioness, it sold for $57.2 million at Sotheby's auction house on December 5, 2007...

    , a 3-inch limestone lion from ancient Mesopotamia
    Mesopotamia is a toponym for the area of the Tigris–Euphrates river system, largely corresponding to modern-day Iraq, northeastern Syria, southeastern Turkey and southwestern Iran.Widely considered to be the cradle of civilization, Bronze Age Mesopotamia included Sumer and the...

    . 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
    Sculpture is three-dimensional artwork created by shaping or combining hard materials—typically stone such as marble—or metal, glass, or wood. Softer materials can also be used, such as clay, textiles, plastics, polymers and softer metals...

  • On 15 December 2007, Sotheby's auctioned a limited edition copy of The Tales of Beedle the Bard
    The Tales of Beedle the Bard
    The Tales of Beedle the Bard is a book of children's stories by British author J. K. Rowling. It purports to be the storybook of the same name mentioned in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the last book of the Harry Potter series....

    , 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, Inc. is a multinational electronic commerce company headquartered in Seattle, Washington, United States. It is the world's largest online retailer. Amazon has separate websites for the following countries: United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Japan, and...

    . The novel, which contained children's stories, was originally mentioned in the Harry Potter
    Harry Potter
    Harry Potter is a series of seven fantasy novels written by the British author J. K. Rowling. The books chronicle the adventures of the adolescent wizard Harry Potter and his best friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, all of whom are students at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry...

     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.
  • The sculpture L'Homme qui marche I
    L'Homme qui marche I
    L’Homme qui marche I is the name of any one of the cast bronze sculptures that comprise six numbered editions plus four artist proofs created by Swiss sculptor Alberto Giacometti in 1961...

    by Alberto Giacometti
    Alberto Giacometti
    Alberto Giacometti was a Swiss sculptor, painter, draughtsman, and printmaker.Alberto Giacometti was born in the canton Graubünden's southerly alpine valley Val Bregaglia and came from an artistic background; his father, Giovanni, was a well-known post-Impressionist painter...

     sells in London
    London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

     for £65 million (US$
    United States dollar
    The United States dollar , also referred to as the American dollar, is the official currency of the United States of America. It is divided into 100 smaller units called cents or pennies....

    103.7 million), setting a new world record for a work of art sold at auction.

Illegal antiquities

In 1997, a Channel 4
Channel 4
Channel 4 is a British public-service television broadcaster which began working on 2 November 1982. Although largely commercially self-funded, it is ultimately publicly owned; originally a subsidiary of the Independent Broadcasting Authority , the station is now owned and operated by the Channel...

Dispatches (TV series)
Dispatches is the British television current affairs documentary series on Channel 4, first transmitted in 1987. The programme covers issues about British society, politics, health, religion, international current affairs and the environment, usually featuring a mole in an organisation.-Awards:*...

programme alleged that Sotheby's had been trading in antiquities with no published provenance
Provenance, from the French provenir, "to come from", refers to the chronology of the ownership or location of an historical object. The term was originally mostly used for works of art, but is now used in similar senses in a wide range of fields, including science and computing...

, and that the organisation continued to use dealers involved in the smuggling
Smuggling is the clandestine transportation of goods or persons, such as out of a building, into a prison, or across an international border, in violation of applicable laws or other regulations.There are various motivations to smuggle...

 of artifacts
Artifact (archaeology)
An artifact or artefact is "something made or given shape by man, such as a tool or a work of art, esp an object of archaeological interest"...


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
A. Alfred Taubman
Adolph Alfred Taubman is an American real estate developer and philanthropist from Michigan. He pioneered the modern shopping mall concept and was described by CBS News as a "legend in retailing" who became wealthy developing upscale shopping malls. He built shopping mall developer Taubman Centers...

 and Diana (Dede) Brooks, the CEO
Chief executive officer
A chief executive officer , managing director , Executive Director for non-profit organizations, or chief executive is the highest-ranking corporate officer or administrator in charge of total management of an organization...

 of the company, stepped down amidst a price fixing
Price fixing
Price fixing is an agreement between participants on the same side in a market to buy or sell a product, service, or commodity only at a fixed price, or maintain the market conditions such that the price is maintained at a given level by controlling supply and demand...

 scandal. The FBI
Federal Bureau of Investigation
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is an agency of the United States Department of Justice that serves as both a federal criminal investigative body and an internal intelligence agency . The FBI has investigative jurisdiction over violations of more than 200 categories of federal crime...

 had been investigating auction practices in which it was revealed that collusion
Collusion is an agreement between two or more persons, sometimes illegal and therefore secretive, to limit open competition by deceiving, misleading, or defrauding others of their legal rights, or to obtain an objective forbidden by law typically by defrauding or gaining an unfair advantage...

 involving commission
Commission (remuneration)
The payment of commission as remuneration for services rendered or products sold is a common way to reward sales people. Payments often will be calculated on the basis of a percentage of the goods sold...

 fixing between Christie's and Sotheby's was occurring.

In October 2000, Brooks admitted
Plea bargain
A plea bargain is an agreement in a criminal case whereby the prosecutor offers the defendant the opportunity to plead guilty, usually to a lesser charge or to the original criminal charge with a recommendation of a lighter than the maximum sentence.A plea bargain allows criminal defendants to...

 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
Conspiracy (crime)
In the criminal law, a conspiracy is an agreement between two or more persons to break the law at some time in the future, and, in some cases, with at least one overt act in furtherance of that agreement...

. He served ten months of a one year sentence in prison, while Brooks received a six-month home confinement
House arrest
In justice and law, house arrest is a measure by which a person is confined by the authorities to his or her residence. Travel is usually restricted, if allowed at all...

 and a penalty of US$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
Ronald S. Baron
Ronald Stephen Baron is the founder of Baron Capital Group, an investment management firm. The New York City based firm, markets the Baron Funds. As of 2006, the funds had 700,000 investors and a market value of $16 billion.Baron grew up in Asbury Park, New Jersey...


Teamsters Labor Dispute

Currently, Sotheby's is in a labor dispute with Teamsters Local 814, which represents the art handlers working at the New York City auction house. The contract between the two parties expired on July 1st, 2011, and despite ongoing negotiations, there has been no agreement on a new contract. Local 814's stance is that because of Sotheby's record profits for 2010 (over $680 million), Local 814 should not be giving in to any of Sotheby's concessions. Meanwhile, Sotheby's is bargaining for replacing full-time union jobs with 24 temporary workers, waiving the union's rights to litigate in State or Federal court, reducing work-week hours, and eliminating seniority. Sotheby's hired Jackson Lewis, a "preventive labor relations" law firm, for the negotiations, which are still ongoing. Due to disagreements over a new contract, on July 29, 2011, Sotheby's imposed a lockout on the Local 814 art handlers. The dispute remains unresolved.

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
    Random House
    Random House, Inc. is the largest general-interest trade book publisher in the world. It has been owned since 1998 by the German private media corporation Bertelsmann and has become the umbrella brand for Bertelsmann book publishing. Random House also has a movie production arm, Random House Films,...

    . ISBN 978-0679414032
  • Robert Lacey "Sotheby's: Bidding For Class", 1998 Little Brown & Co. ISBN 0316511390

External links

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