Sotheby’s just auctioned off its priciest collector’s item ever: Itself

Sotheby’s auction house went private in a $3.7B acquisition, setting the stage for the next chapter in its long-running rivalry with Christie’s.

June 18, 2019

Sotheby’s, the 275-year-old auction house, sold for $3.7B — a 61% premium on its public price — to billionaire Patrick Drahi.

Now, French-Israeli Drahi is competing against another French billionaire art collector to build the world’s most prestigious auction house.

A dueling duopoly

Sotheby’s and Christie’s have been art-auctioneering adversaries for 250 years: Christie’s was founded in London 2 decades after Sotheby’s. When Christie’s went public in 1973, Sotheby’s followed suit 4 years later.

Together, Sotheby’s and Christie’s dominate the market: The 2 auction houses sell more than 80% of the world’s $1m+ auction items. 

But in the last several years, Christie’s has outsold its rival: Last year, Christie’s did $7B while Sotheby’s did $6.4B.

So, now Sotheby’s is copying another page from Christie’s catalog — by going private in a sale to a French billionaire.

Which billionaire’s collection will be biggest?

Christie’s has been owned by French billionaire François-Henri Pinault since 1997. Private ownership has allowed Pinault to stay plugged into the art world — but it has also allowed Christie’s to avoid the variability of swings in stock price.

Now, Sotheby’s will also avoid stock market volatility as it chases Christie’s top spot in the world of art auctions.

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