Bonhams is a privately owned British auction house and one of the world's oldest and largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques. The Bonhams name is recognised worldwide throughout all sectors of the fine art, antiques and collectors' market, with several of its departments established world leaders within their specialist category.
One of the few surviving Georgian auction houses in London, Bonhams was set up in 1793 when Thomas Dodd, a renowned antique print dealer, joined forces with the book specialist Walter Bonham.
The company expanded and by the 1850s was handling all categories of antiques including jewellery, porcelain, furniture, arms and armour and fine wines.
In the early 1950s the Bonham family purchased some land in Knightsbridge and erected a saleroom on Montpelier Street.
In 2001 Bonhams became Bonhams & Brooks when it was acquired by Brooks auction house. Brooks had been founded in 1989 by the former Head of Cars at Christie's, Robert Brooks who specialized in the sale of classic and vintage motorcars. Brooks continued a major acquisition programme aimed at creating a new international fine art auction house.
Later that year, Bonhams & Brooks merged with Phillips Son & Neale to form a new UK company trading as Bonhams.
Phillips Son & Neale had been based in 101 New Bond Street, which subsequently became the new headquarters of Bonhams. The building consisted of seven different freeholds and had been described as "a Dickensian rabbit warren". The first of the sites to be acquired was Blenstock House, a striking Art Deco building at the junction of Blenheim Street and Woodstock Street. Phillips took over the ground and lower ground floors in July 1939, gradually claiming more floors until the whole building was acquired in 1974. In the 1980s, 101 New Bond Street was added. An extensive renovation programme directed by Clare Agnew was undertaken when Bonhams moved into the premises.
Acquisition activity continued, and in 2002 Bonhams purchased Butterfields, a leading auction house on the West Coast founded in 1865. Bonhams changed Butterfields' name to Bonhams & Butterfields, and Malcolm Barber, formerly of Brooks, became the chief executive officer of the American subsidiary. Bonhams remained the company's brand name outside of the United States.
By the end of 2003 Bonhams was conducting more than 700 annual sales, had over 600 employees, and revenues of $304 million. The company's worldwide network of sales included two major London venues, nine additional UK locations, and salerooms in Switzerland, Monaco, Germany, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Sydney. Bonhams & Butterfields conducted its first East Coast sale in 2003 with an auction of Edwin C. Jameson's collection of classic cars and antiques in Massachusetts.
During 2005, Bonhams continued to expand its presence in the USA and acquired a new saleroom on Madison Avenue in New York. The company also expanded further in Europe with the opening of the Paris office in June 2005.
In October 2005, Bonhams gained full independence after buying back a 49.9% stake held by French luxury goods conglomerate LVMH.
In 2005 Bonhams magazine was launched. Published quarterly, the magazine feature articles written by curators, dealers, valuers, and also art critics such as Matthew Collings and Brian Sewell.
In 2007 Bonhams opened an office in Dubai as part of a joint venture with the family of former Ambassador to the UK Mohammed Madhi Al Tajir. The first sale held in Dubai on 3rd March 2008 was of Modern & Contemporary Arab, Iranian, Indian & Pakistani Art, and achieved total sales of over US$13million – almost three times the expected amount.
Bonhams opened a new office in Hong Kong in 2007, to further support its expansion into the Asian market. The business in Hong Kong works with clients in mainland China, Japan, India, South Korea, Indonesia and Singapore.
In March 2008, Bonhams New York moved to new salerooms on the corner of 57th Street and Madison Avenue - formerly the home of the respected Dahesh Museum. The inaugural sale featured 20th century furniture and decorative arts.
By 2007 Bonhams sales totalled US $600million.
In 2009 Bonhams announced that it has taken market leadership in ten key areas of the UK art market for the first time. The company now dominates the following specialist areas in the UK: Antiquities, Arms & Armour, Design Prior to 1945, Ceramics, Clocks, Glass, Jewellery, Japanese Art, Miniatures and Watches. During 2009 these departments all sold more by value in the UK than any competing auction house.
With Christie's, Bonhams is a shareholder in the London-based Art Loss Register, a privately-owned database used by law enforcement services worldwide to trace and recover stolen art.