Despite the Headwinds of a Market Correction, Bonhams Achieved Its Best First-Half Year Results Ever

Investments in acquisitions of auction houses, dubbed the 'Bonhams Network,' and a revamped political strategy have paid off.

Bonhams headquarters on London's New Bond Street. Courtesy of Bonhams.

The auction house Bonhams achieved $552 million in sales during the first half of 2023, making it the best first-half year results in the company’s history. The reported results reflect a 32 percent year-on-year increase in sales despite market correction observed at recent auctions around the world.

The results came at the heels of the first $1 billion the house achieved since it was founded in 1793, following a series of acquisitions of auction houses and a reinvention of its digital strategy. Last year, Bonhams acquired Bukowskis in Stockholm, Sweden, Skinner in Boston, Massachusetts, Bruun Rasmussuem, Copenhagen, Denmark, and the Paris house Cornette de Saint Cyr—the new consortium of houses are addressed as the “Bonhams Network.”

fontana red

Lucio Fontana (1899-1968), Concetto spaziale, Attese (1960) Courtesy Bonhams.

While the expansions have contributed to the growth, Bonhams said it grew by 20 percent excluding the acquisitions.

“The auction houses acquired last year continue to strengthen Bonhams global network, and we have seen a number of memorable sales across the world and achieved some remarkable results,” Bruno Vinciguerra, Bonhams CEO, said in a statement. “These results confirm the increasing digitization and globalization of the art market across all price points, the two forces underpinning Bonhams’s growth strategy.”

Bonhams also reported selling more than 100,000 lots out of the 585 sales in the first half of this year. The number of purchases made by new buyers across the Bonhams network has grown by 45 percent. Purchases made by Gen Z and millennials increased by a staggering 147 percent.

Sales made in the first half of this year also became more international. Some 35 percent of the total art and collectible sales were “intercontinental buying,” the house said. About 33 percent of hammer for fine art and collectibles sold to Asia-based buyers, a 58 percent up from the same period in 2022.

_The Bedchamber Sword of Tipu Sultan (reg. 1782-1799), a fine gold-koftgari-hilted steel sword (sukhela) India, 18th Century image 11

The Bedchamber Sword of Tipu Sultan (reg. 1782-1799), a fine gold-koftgari-hilted steel sword (sukhela) India, 18th Century, was Bonhams’s top lot in the first half of 2023. It sold for £14 million ($18 million, including fees) at May’s Islamic and Indian Art sale in London. Photo courtesy Bonhams.

Investments in revamping the house’s digital transformation also paid off, with the number of online sales increased by 132 percent in the first half of 2023 compared to the same period last year. Digital bidding also went up by 62 percent during this period compared to that in last year.

A market correction is apparent during the first half of this year as seen at major art auctions across New York, London, and Hong Kong, where total sales of modern and contemporary art all reported a decline from last year. Bonhams may have narrowly escaped from this trend.

The house held a single-owner sale of 20th Century Masters sale and a Post-war and Contemporary Art sale in London end of June during the London auction week. Some of the key lots at the two sales hammered at prices above the presale low estimate. Lucio Fontana’s Concetto spaziale, Attese (1960), a striking red slashed canvas work among the five Fontanas offered that evening, led the 20th Century Masters sale. It went under hammer at £1.4 million ($1.8 million) against a £1.3 million low estimate, and sold for £1.7 million ($2.3 million) including fees. Banksy’s Congestion Charge (2004) from the private collection of British fashion icon Paul Smith, a guaranteed lot, led the post-war and contemporary art sale with a hammer price at £1.4 million ($1.7 million), against low estimate £1.2 million. It sold for nearly £1.7 million ($2.3 million) including fees.

Despite the relatively high sell-through rates of the two sales—26 lots out of 27 offered (96.3 percent) sold at the 20th Century Masters sale and 38 out of 45 lots offered (84.4 percent) sold at Post-war and Contemporary Art sale, the hammer total of the two sales were just on par with the presale fees-free low estimates. The 20th Century Masters achieved a hammer total at more than £3.9 million ($5 million), which fell below the lower end of the presale expectation at £4.9 million including the one withdrawn lot (£3.3 million excluding the withdrawn lot). Post-war and Contemporary Art sale, on the other hand, achieved a hammer total at £2.97 million ($3.9 million), against a presale estimate at £2.8 million including one withdrawn lot (£2.7 million excluding the withdrawn lot).


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