O n 11 March 2019, Sotheby’s celebrated its 275th anniversary year with a ceremonious ringing of the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange. Tad Smith, Sotheby’s CEO, was accompanied by Chairman Domenico De Sole, CFO Mark Goss and Marsha Simms from the Board of Directors for the occasion. Nearly 100 Sotheby’s employees were drawn by raffle from departments across the company to attend and gathered on the historic trading floor. Founded in 1744, Sotheby’s holds the distinction of being the oldest company in the exchange, predating the NYSE itself by 48 years.
Established on 11 March 1744 with a Books Auction in London that totaled £826, Sotheby's has grown to a multi-billion dollar company with offices in 80 cities around the world.
“Sotheby’s has thrived for 275 years precisely because it has dared to reinvent itself again and again, and in so doing has continually redefined the business of trading art on a global basis. The company’s history is marked by a series of innovations that have not just continually changed Sotheby’s, but transformed the wider industry along with it. We are thrilled to share this important milestone with our clients, colleagues and shareholders around the world.”
Origins & Achievements
The anniversary provides a rare opportunity to celebrate Sotheby's landmark moments, initiatives and achievements that have defined the company over the centuries and continue to shape it today. In the years following the company’s establishment in 1744, Sotheby's founder Samuel Baker soon transformed his small book-selling business with the presentation of the library of a British nobleman, Sir John Stanley, as a single auction event. Soon, Baker’s company had developed into the leading auctioneer of aristocratic libraries.
Many other transformations followed. Sotheby's was the first auction house to set sail across the Atlantic and open offices in America (1955) and the first to hold auctions in Asia (1973). Sotheby’s pioneered the format of the evening “event” auctions that are a mainstay of today’s art market (1958), and were the first to use satellite transmission to allow for simultaneous bidding in London and New York (1960s). A Sotheby’s auction in the 1970s is credited with transforming the modern art market with the first auctions of works by living artists including Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg, the first to sell a work for more than $100 million (2004), pioneers in the field of e-commerce (2000), and we recently brought scientific research (2017) and artificial intelligence (2018) in-house.
Historic Auctions & Objects
Along the way, some of the world's most precious objects and collections have passed through Sotheby's: Napoleon’s Library (1823), the original manuscript for Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, presented by Lewis Carroll to the original Alice, Alice Liddell (1928), the 68-carat diamond bought by Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor (1969), Einstein’s Theory of Relativity (1987), The Jewels of the Duchess of Windsor (1987), The Andy Warhol Collection (1988), The Estate of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (1996), Sue the T Rex, now the star of the Field Museum in Chicago (1997), the collection of the Duke & Duchess of Windsor (1998), The Forbes Collection of Fabergé, including nine Fabergé Imperial Easter Eggs (2004), Martin Luther King’s Library (2006), The Magna Carta (2007), Edvard Munch’s The Scream (2012), and property from the Collection of Mrs. Paul Mellon (2014).
Today, Sotheby’s remains synonymous with innovation. Sotheby’s has recently rolled out a new online auction engine with mobile bidding. In 2018, sales to online buyers – which include items from live auctions purchased online, all online-only sales, as well as purchases made on our retail websites, Sotheby’s Home and Sotheby’s Wine – totaled $220.4 million, a 24% increase compared to 2017. Sotheby's now offers collectors the resources of Sotheby's Financial Services, the world's only full-service art financing company, as well as the collection, artist, estate & foundation advisory services of its subsidiary, Art Agency, Partners.
In keeping with the spirit that led Sotheby’s to look beyond books in the 19th century and beyond England’s shores in the 1950s, Sotheby’s acquired Thread Genius in 2018, a startup specializing in taste-based image recognition and recommendation technologies. Other developments have included the establishments of scientific research in-house with the acquisition of Orion Analytical as well as the Mei Moses Art Indices, widely recognized as the preeminent measure of the state of the art market.
2019 will also mark the most significant transformation of Sotheby’s physical premises in many years: in May, we will unveil new galleries at our Manhattan headquarters, which will be the premiere commercial gallery space in the world; in October, we will unveil spectacular upgrades to our New Bond Street property in London.