NEW YORK—On Feb. 14, London-based auctioneers Bonhams announced it will be opening a branch in Manhattan on 57th Street at Fifth Avenue. The rapidly expanding auction house has taken space on the sixth floor of the Fuller Building, which is already brimming with gallery tenants.
Bonhams will be renovating and hopes to open its 5,000-square-foot office and auction room by spring. The space will hold traveling exhibitions and auction previews for the design, painting and jewelry auctions the firm plans to mount in 2005.
Bonhams, with salerooms in San Francisco and Los Angeles as well as in the U.K., Europe and Australia, tested out the New York market late last year. On Dec. 15 the firm sold $1.24 million in 20th-century furniture and decorative arts from an ad hoc auction room set up at the Flatotel on West 52nd Street.
Bonhams, founded in London in 1793, is headed by chairman Robert Brooks, 48, who drives race cars when he’s not building the Bonhams empire. The firm calls itself “the world’s fastest growing auction house.”
A former Christie’s auctioneer, Brooks started Brooks Auctioneers in 1989 to sell vintage cars. In 2000, together with a partner, he bought Bonhams, which gave him a much broader range of sales categories ranging from books to paintings. That same year he made a deal with luxury retailer LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy) to acquire the London branch of the Phillips auction house. This gave Bonhams more staff, more experts and a beachhead on New Bond Street.
In 2002 Brooks bought Butterfields, an established West Coast house, from online seller eBay, which was said to have vastly overpaid for the bricks-and-mortar Los Angeles and San Francisco auctioneer, reportedly paying around $260 million. Brooks’s good timing means he probably paid reasonably low prices for these companies.
In 2003 Brooks continued his buying spree, acquiring Goodman’s, an Australian auctioneer. The net result of all these mergers is a company that claims it holds 700 sales a year. New York is just the latest frontier it aims to tackle.
“New York is halfway between California and Europe,” says Jon King, Bonhams vice president and director of the New York office. “New York is a very viable auction center.”