An auction is a type of sale where the price of an item is not predetermined but arrived at through negotiation and bidding. Auction houses began in the middle of the 18th century as distinct locations where auctions took place. Early auctions focused mainly on household goods or supplies, but took on items of higher cultural status, such as art and libraries, into the 19th and 20th centuries.
Today, auction houses are usually owned by independent companies and even comprise online auctions, which sell anything from fine art to airline tickets to various services.
Christie's opened on December 5th, 1766 when James Christie held a sale from his Great Rooms in Pall Mall, London. The sale included two chamber pots, two pillowcases, sheets, and four irons. These Great Rooms became the home of Christie's permanent auction house. The auction house conducted the largest and most well-known auctions of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.
Today, Christie's has 57 offices in 32 countries, and boasts £3.3 billion annually in auction and private sales--the largest in the world.
Christie's London, King Street Saleroom
8 King Street, St. James's
London SW1Y 6QT
+44 (0)20 7839 9060
Sotheby's Parke-Bernett House
Sotheby's held its first sale on March 11th, 1744 on Bond Street in London. Samuel Baker sold Sir John Stanley's complete library, comprised of several hundred books, for a few hundred pounds. Baker continued to auction famous libraries until his death in 1778, and the company was passed on to John Sotheby.
Sotheby's expanded into the United States with its first New York office in 1955. Sotheby's now offers select auctions on its website, as well as auctions at museums, trusts and estates and private sales. Bidding can be done in person, on the telephone, and through absentee bids. Sotheby's also offers financial and collection services to help buyers and sellers keep track of their purchases and entire collections.
1334 York Avenue
New York, NY
Bonham's & Butterfields
William Butterfield opened Marble Head Auctioneers in 1865 in San Francisco to sell surplus goods to homesteaders. In the Victorian Era, auctioneers shifted its focus to private auctions to accommodate the growing cultural atmosphere of San Francisco.
In 2002, the company was acquired by the privately-owned, British fine arts auction house, called Bonham's. Bonham's & Butterfields is now the third largest auction house in the world.
To sell through Bonham's & Butterfields, a seller must go through a valuation of their goods and pay the commission fee. Potential buyers are encouraged to obtain a catalogue of goods for an upcoming auction. Bonham's & Butterfields auctions are free and open to the public and bidding is in person or through telephone.
Bonham's & Butterfield's
220 San Bruno Avenue
San Francisco, CA