According to Bloomberg, Bonhams itself could be offered for sale for $1 billion (£823 million) by its owners, the private equity group Epiris, who are reportedly seeking advice from JP Morgan Chase & Co.. The 230-year-old auction house is one of the world’s oldest and largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques.
Bonhams was established in London, in 1793 by the renowned antique print dealer Thomas Dodd (1771-1850) and book specialist Walter Bonham. By the 1850s, the house had expanded to handle all categories of antiques, including jewellery, porcelain, furniture, arms and armour, and fine wines. Bonhams now sells at all price points—from £500 to £10 million paintings and collectibles. It is currently the sole remaining international auction house that is privately owned and in British hands.
The last time Bonhams was sold, it spent four years on the market following a succession of unsuccessful bids. London-based firm Epiris acquired Bonhams in 2018 for an undisclosed amount and since then the auction house has undergone a period of significant reinvigoration. Alongside enhancing its digital capabilities, its physical geographical footprint was dramatically expanded around the world. This involved the purchase of smaller regional auction houses like Bukowskis in Stockholm, Skinner in Boston, Rasmussen in Copenhagen, and most recently Cornette de Saint Cyr in Paris. The house boasts more departments than any other auction house.
At the time of the Cornette de Saint Cyr acquisition in 2022, Bonhams’ chief executive Bruno Vinciguerra denied claims that it was motivated by the possible resale of Bonhams: “it will happen one day, but this is not what drives our strategy. I’m personally convinced we’re going to work on this for 20 years, as a company; it’s a long-term thing.”
Epiris is now said to be in talks with advisors at JP Morgan Chase & Co. regarding the valuation of the auction house, which would reflect recent revenue achievements. However, the sale process is allegedly in the “early stages”. Epiris and J.P. Morgan have declined to comment on the matter.
Last year Bonhams had a phenomenal year, reaching a record of $1 billion (£823 million) in their annual revenue for the first time. This was a 27 percent increase from the $816 million (£671 million) reported in 2021. Highlights from the 2022 saleroom included the library of late-Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (1933-2020), which exceeded the “wildest dreams” of auctioneers after selling for $2.4 million (£2 million), an important Yangcai-painted vase that sold for $4.1 million (£3.3 million), and a rare 1955 Porsche 550 Spyder which sold for $4.2 million (£3.4 million).