Skip to main content
Select Source:

Christie’s International plc

Christies International plc

8 King Street, St. Jamess
London SW1Y 6QT
United Kingdom
Telephone: (44) 20 7839 9060
Fax: (44) 20 7839 1611
Web site: http://www.christies.com

Private Company
Incorporated:
1766
Employees: 1,900
Sales: $2.92 billion
NAIC: 453998 Auction Houses

Christies International plc oversees the operations of one of the worlds premier art auction houses. Although the company holds regular auctions worldwide, its principal selling centers are located in London and New York City. Dubbed the oldest fine arts auctioneers in the world (rival Sothebys is 22 years older, but began by selling books), Christies has been in the business more than 200 years and has set record prices not only for works of art but also wine, scientific instruments, carpet, photographs, cameras, and teddy bears. The company went private in 1998. Soon thereafter, a U.S. Justice Department probe of possible price fixing with Sothebys rocked the art world and has damaged the fortunes and reputations of both venerable auction houses.

18th-Century Origins

Although documentation on his early life story is somewhat sketchy, it is generally held that James Christie was born in Perth, Scotland, in 1730 to a Scottish mother and English father. After serving briefly as a midshipman in the Royal Navy, he worked for an auctioneer named Annesley as an apprentice in fashionable Covent Garden, London. After a few years, Christie opened his own auction house at Daltons Print Rooms in the Pall Mall district. These premises also housed what was to become the Royal Academy of Arts. His first auction, on December 5, 1766, which included wine, netted £76, 16 shillings, and sixpence. This sale was the first recorded in a bound log of sales that has survived more than 200 years.

James Christie excelled at auctioneering. In the early years, he sold many things aside from works of art, including chamber pots, loads of hay, and even someones suddenly unneeded coffin. All of these were proffered with mellifluous and verbose charm, earning Christie the nickname The Specious Orator from satirical cartoonists of the day.

Within only a few years, Christie was handling truly valuable paintings, such as those by Europes Old Masters, which he picked up on the fashionable Grand Tour, as well as several by promising American artists. Christie eventually moved his offices (and residence) to 125 Pall Mall, becoming next door neighbors with Thomas Gainsborough, the great British painter, who later (like Sir Joshua Reynolds) painted Christies portrait. (After changing hands several times, Gainsboroughs Portrait of James Christie was bought by J. Paul Getty for $26,500 in 1938, Gettys first major painting purchase.)

Moreover, Christie was influential in the promotion of art, displaying the works of new artists at a time when, save the Royal Academys annual show, there were no other public places to display contemporary works. Many esteemed artists, including Landseer, Rossetti, and Sargent, saw their work pass through the auction house. Increasingly, when an artist who had been helped by a Christie auction passed away, the executors of his estate naturally turned to Christie to sell pictures remaining in the studio.

Christies reputation as a connoisseur was so esteemed that in 1778 he was called on to sell Sir Robert Walpoles magnificent art collection, which Catherine the Great eventually acquired for £40,000, then a colossal figure. (These pictures were the basis of the Hermitage in St. Petersburg; a few bought by Andrew Mellon made their way to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.)

Christies and the London art business as a whole benefited from the emigration of Huguenots from France. After the pacific mailboat that called at Victoria, British Columbia. Later, when the post office invited bids for various airmail routes, Hubbard tried to convince Boeing to apply for the Chicago to San Francisco contract. Boeing mentioned the idea to his wife, who thought the opportunity looked promising. In the prospect, he and Hubbard created a new airline named the Boeing Air Transport Company. They submitted a bid and were awarded the contract.

To meet the demands of their new business Boeing and his engineers developed an extremely versatile and popular airplane called the Model 40. Fitted with a Pratt & Whitney aircooled Wasp engine, it could carry 1,000 pounds of mail and a complete flight crew, and still have room enough for freight or passengers. The Kelly Airmail Act of 1925 opened the way for private airmail delivery on a much wider scale. As a result, a number of airline companies were formed with the intention of procuring the stable and lucrative airmail contracts. One of these companies was Vernon Gorsts Pacific Air Transport, which won various routes along the Pacific Coast. Boeing purchased this company and then ordered a young employee named William Patterson to purchase its outstanding stock. Boeing also purchased Varney Airlines, which began operation in 1925 and won almost every mail contract it applied for until it became overextended and had financial difficulties.

192934: United Era

With the addition of National Air Transport, Boeings airline holdings formed the original United Air Lines. In 1928 all these companies were organized under a holding company called the Boeing Aircraft and Transportation Company. In 1929 a larger holding company was formed, the United Aircraft and Transportation Company. Included in this group were the United airlines and Stout Airlines; Pratt & Whitney (engines); Boeing, Sikorsky, Northrop, and Stearman (manufacturers); and Standard Steel Prop and Hamilton Aero Manufacturing (propellers). Boeing was made chairman of the company and Fred Rentschler of Pratt & Whitney was named president.

Boeing and Rentschler became extremely wealthy in this reorganization by exchanging stock with the holding company in a method similar to J.P. Morgans controversial capital manipulation. They multiplied their original investments by a factor of as much as 200,000 times. It was, however, entirely legal at the time. In 1933 the government conducted an investigation of fraud and other illegal practices in the airline industry. Boeing was called upon to testify and explain his windfall profits before a Senate investigating committee. Under examination he admitted to making $12 million in stock flotations.

Boeing was so infuriated with the investigation that he retired from the company (at age 52) and sold all his aviation stocks. Upon Boeings departure the companys production manager, Phil Johnson, was named the new president. But William Boeing was not forgotten by the aircraft industry. In 1934 he was recognized for his innovation in aeronautical research and development with the award of the Daniel Guggenheim medal, for successful pioneering and achievement in aircraft manufacturing and air transport.

193452: Breakup and Military Aircraft

In 1934 a government investigation of collusion in the airmail business led to a suspension of all contracts awarded. As a result, the U.S. Congress declared that airline companies and manufacturers could not be part of the same business concern. This led to the break-up of the three aeronautic conglomerates: Boeings United, the Aviation Corporation of the Americas, and North American Aviation. All of the Boeing companys aeronautic properties east of the Mississippi became part of a new company, United Aircraft (later renamed United Technologies), operated by Fred Rentschler. The western properties, principally the Boeing Airplane Company, remained in Seattle exclusively manufacturing airframes. Pat Patterson was put in charge of the commercial air carriers, which retained the name of United Air Lines and based their operations at Chicagos Old Orchard (later OHare) airport.

In the years leading up to World War II Boeing led the way in developing single-wing airplanes. They were constructed completely of metal to make them stronger and faster; more efficient aerodynamic designs were emphasized; retractable landing gear and better wings were developed, along with multiple power plant technology; and, finally, directional radios were installed which enabled better navigation and night flying. Boeing had established itself as the leading manufacturer of airplanes.

When the United States launched its wartime militarization program, Boeing was called upon to produce hundreds of its B-17 Flying Fortresses for the U.S. Army. During the war the B-17 became an indispensable instrument for the U.S. Air Corps. In June 1944, when production was at its peak, Boeings Seattle facility turned out 16 of these airplanes every 24 hours. By this time the company was also producing an improved bomber called the B-29 Super Fortress. It was this airplane that dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

Boeings president, Phil Johnson, died unexpectedly during the war. He was replaced with the companys chief lawyer, William M. Allen, on the last day of the war. Under Allens leadership, Boeing produced a number of new bombers, including the B-47, B-50, and the B-52. Boeings B-307 Stratoliner, a B-17 converted for transporting passengers, was succeeded by the B-377 Stratocruiser in 1952. The Stratocruiser was a very popular double-deck transport, most widely used by Northwest Orient. It was also Boeings only airplane built for the commercial airline market since before the war.

Company Perspectives:

The Boeing Company, after its merger in 1997 with McDonnell Douglas and acquisition in 1996 of the defense and space units of Rockwell International, became the largest aerospace company in the world. Its history mirrors the history of aviation. Boeing is the worlds largest manufacturer of commercial jetliners, military aircraft and the nations largest NASA contractor.

195369: Jets, Missiles, and Rockets

In the spring of 1953 Bill Allen persuaded the secretary of the U.S. Air Force, Harold Talbot, to allow Boeing the use of pany was trailing by a significant margin behind Sothebys, however, a trend that some analysts attributed to a lack of confidence in Christies picture department. Nevertheless, Christies continued to set sales records, recording the highest price paid until then ($27,950) for a Pre-Raphaelite painting, The Lady of Shalott by Holman Hunt.

In 1962, as the Cuban missile crisis was simmering, Peter Chance reportedly made a secret trip to Cuba to consider auctioning property seized when Castro had risen to power in 1959. Although a valuation team arrived to catalog the valuables in what was in many ways a febrile environment, no sales materialized from their efforts. In spite of the bold efforts, Christies lost £6,000 that year, although it sold only slightly less art than the year before. Five years later, Christies did succeed in establishing a business relationship with the Soviet Union, selling for £65,751 ($193,308) a 1,700-piece porcelain banquet service made for Tsar Nicholas I in 1830.

A couple of notable staff additions helped bolster Christies ailing reputation in its picture department, as did initial moves to divide the companys departments into areas of specialty. Moreover, the sale of the Cook collection of Old Masters in 1965 proved Christies was a force to be reckoned with; Rembrandts Portrait of Titus (his son) sold for $2.2 million, a price that surpassed all expectations.

In 1965, Christies acquired White Bros. Printers for £38,000, a purchase that helped the company to produce its considerable volume of catalogs more efficiently. Interestingly, the company used an old-fashioned letterpress system until 1979, when it converted to offset lithography (which also required using union labor for the first time). In 1980 White Bros, began printing all of Christies Park Avenue catalogs as well.

To celebrate its 200-year anniversary, Christies held a tremendous Bicentenary Exhibition in January 1967. About 60 important drawings and paintings that had passed through Christies rooms over the years were lent back for the display, which raised about £3,000 for the National Art Collections Fund. Together, the works, which included Gainsboroughs Portrait of James Christie, were valued at approximately $5 million.

During this time, Christies European operations, based in Rome, were being hindered by Italys strict art export laws. In response, Christies established a new subsidiary, Christies International S.A., which was incorporated in Geneva in 1967 to oversee European business. Switzerland, moreover, did not have the import taxes of Great Britain. A program of international expansion included a host of new Christies auction houses in Australia, Japan, and Canada, as well as an American headquarters move to a new facility on Madison Avenue in New York.

New Leadership for a New Era

Christies went public in 1973, strengthened by three years of good results and expansion. Pretax profits had grown tremendously in the prior five years: from £139,000 in 1968 to £1.1 million in 1972. In two years, after practically doubling 1972s profits, Peter Chance announced his retirement as chair of Christie, Manson and Woods, although he would remain chairman of Christies International plc for two more years.

Jo Floyd took up Chances former duties just in time to be met by a worldwide economic recession. To cope with dwindling profits in London, both Christies and Sothebys introduced a ten percent buyers premium in the early 1970s. This new policy was not met with enthusiasm on the part of Londons art dealers, several of whom began litigation against the auction houses.

In autumn 1974, Christies acquired Debenham and Coe in South Kensington, for the purpose of handling lower value lots more efficiently than was possible at its King Street facility. At the end of the decade, Christies bought Edmistons, a Glasgow auction firm.

In 1977, Christies opened a New York salesroom in the Delmonico Hotel, a 1920s era skyscraper at 502 Park Avenue. American sales were becoming increasingly important to the British-based firm; by 1983, New York sales had surpassed those from London. In 1978, a second New York showroom, dubbed Christies East, was opened in a six-story East 67th Street garage. Christies reputation in America seemed to be cemented when in 1980 Henry Ford II chose the firm to sell ten of his excellent Modern and Impressionist paintings. A painting that had performed so impressively for Sothebys in 1958, Van Goghs Le Jardin du Poete, Arles, was sold by Christies for a record $5.2 million (£2.2 million) in London. Overall, the paintings brought in $18.3 million in one evening. Other great sales during this time included that of Coco Chanels wardrobe, a huge production that earned £43,250 for 40 dresses and brought in an even more impressive amount of good publicity.

Key Dates:

1766:
James Christie founds company.
1803:
Christie dies and his son, James Christie II, assumes control of the company.
1823:
Company move headquarters to 8 King Street, its current home.
1889:
Christie family involvement in the company ends.
1940:
R.W. Lloyd assumed chairmanship of Christies, which becomes a private limited company.
1958:
Company is reorganized as Christie, Manson and Woods Ltd.
1973:
Christies makes a public offering of its stock.
1998:
Francois Pinault acquires company and takes it private.

In 1987 several records were set at Christies, for paintings ($39.9 million for Van Goghs Sunflowers), jewels ($6.4 million for a 65-carat pear-shaped diamond), and automobiles ($9.8 million for a 1931 Bugati Type 41 Royale). Christies marketing efforts, aimed at broader audiences, helped sell large collections, such as the Nanking Cargo, consisting of gold bars and porcelain from a freighter sunk off the coast of Java in 1751. Human interest helped elevate the price to £10 million. Such valuable collections attracted interest from all walks of life, and in 1984 a group of armed robbers stormed into a jewelry auction at King Street, wielding a shotgun and a sledgehammer. Fortunately, the truly valuable pieces were overlooked.

In 1990 Christies set a record for furniture; $15.1 million was offered for the Duke of Beauforts Badminton cabinet. Then, the record for all works of art was broken with Christies sale of Van Goghs Portrait of Dr. Gachet, which went for $82.5 million. These records represented only the cream of many Modern and Impressionist paintings that Christies handled during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Christies was holding approximately 1,400 sales per year in the late 1980s.

Before resigning in 1989, Jo Floyd had secured a new 125-year lease for expanded premises on King Street. Christopher Davidge, whose grandfather had worked as a clerk at the firm, assumed the role of Christies CEO after becoming managing director four years earlier. Davidge had previously worked his way up the ranks at White Brothers, Christies printing company. He made effective communications and standardization throughout the organization two of his top priorities. As the art market lapsed into a recession that would last from 1991 to 1995, he also streamlined the staff and aggressively cut commissions to gain sales.

A long-term pattern of competing over market share with Sothebysas one firm underpriced the otherwould depress profits and lead to stagnant stock prices. Because there was so little art on the market during the slump of the early 1990s, the big sellers were able to negotiate zero commission deals in exchange for their business. Entering new categories of selling, such as rock and roll memorabilia, helped, but did not generate enough profits to offset the loss of commissions from the high-end art market. In March 1995, Davidge announced a new two percent commission on sales of more than $5 million. A few weeks later, Sothebys followed suit, with the result that neither auction house lost business to the other. Even when Christies passed Sothebys in market share for the first time in more than 40 years, its profits were clipped by escalating marketing costs. In 1997 the two rival firms and more than a dozen New York art dealers became the subject of a U.S. Justice Department investigation about possible collusion to depress prices, but the inquiry seemed to peter out, leaving only a patch of bad publicity.

Lacking a majority owner, Christies also found itself the target of takeover bids. Late in 1997 a Swiss investment bank, SBC Warburg, entered into talks with Christies about purchasing the firm. The talks eventually stalled, but a short time later, in May 1998, French tycoon Francois Pinault bought Christies for $1.2 billion. After buying such interests as Chateau Latour wines, Vail Resorts in Colorado, and Gucci, Pinault was known to analyze a new purchase during the first year, then change management. It was a difficult time for Christies, which was losing employees to Sothebys and Internet sites looking to sell art and collectibles.

In December 1999, after 34 years with Christies, Davidge was terminated and replaced by Edward Dolman, the head of the U.S. operation. The next day, Davidge handed Dolman a package of documents that included meeting minutes and handwritten notes of phone conversations that implicated top management of Christies and Sothebys in an effort to fix commission fees. After lawyers reviewed the material, Christies turned over the information to the U.S. Justice Department. Davidge provided more information to the government, and in exchange for their cooperation both Davidge and Christies received conditional immunity from prosecution. Sothebys executives were not so fortunate. While its chairman, A. Alfred Taubman, chose to fight the charges, Davidges counterpart, Diana D. Brooks, pleaded guilty in October 2000 to conspiracy to fix commission rates for auction customers.

Christies did not escape unscathed, however. Aside from tarnished images, Christies and Sothebys both faced a European Union inquiry and dozens of U.S. class action suits, which eventually would be settled at a cost of $256 million for each firm. Overseas suits looked to haunt the auction houses for years to come. The task of restoring the companys image was daunting enough for Christies, but perhaps of greater concern was the need to question how the auction business was run in general. Godfrey Barker wrote in the Wall Street Journal: Sothebys and Christies are the luxury toys of men who see their real businesses elsewhere. The auction houses are jewel boxes for their wives and fantasy stage sets for the owners themselves, places to meet people beyond their social reach and throw great partiesnot companies dedicated to making serious money. It cannot last much longer, though. A revolution is bound to come.

Principal Subsidiaries

Christies Great Estates, Inc.; Christies Education; Christies Fine Art; Christies Images; Christies Publications.

Principal Competitors

Sothebys Holdings, Inc.; Phillips Auctioneers.

Further Reading

Artful Auctioneering, Economist, March 11, 1995.

Blockage Discount at Issue in Andy Warhols Estate, Tax Management: Estates Gifts & Trusts Journal, January 13, 1994, pp. 5556.

Barker, Godfey, At the Court of the Auction KingsWhat, Compete Seriously? How Modern, How Declasse, Wall Street Journal, March 10, 2000, p. W17.

Brough, James, Auction!, Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1963.

DuBois, Peter C., African Icon Brings $1.2 Million, Barrons, May 8, 1995, p. 16.

, Art Fix, Barrons, October 31, 1994, p. 20.

, The Art of the Sale, Barrons, May 15, 1995, p. 13.

, High Contrast, Barrons, November 21, 1994, pp. 2425.

, Pretty Picture?, Barrons, May 8, 1995, pp. 1516.

Grey, Sarah, When the Skys Not the Limit, Accountancy, March 1995, p. 58.

Hammering Asia, Economist, September 17, 1994.

Herbert, John, Inside Christies, New York: St. Martins Press, 1990.

Huus, Kari, Art Market: Do I Hear Three?, Far Eastern Economic Review, May 12, 1994, pp. 6970.

, Jewellery: East Buys West, Far Eastern Economic Review, May 12, 1994, p. 69.

Jaffe, Thomas, IOCs, How Many Gs?, Forbes, May 8, 1995, p. 20.

Jarrett, Ian, A Gentler Kind of Bear Market, Asian Business, March 1995, p. 61.

, Zoom In on a Good Buy, Asian Business, August, 1994, p. 56.

Lacey, Robert, A Grand Old Rivalry, Vanity Fair, January 1996, pp. 10418.

Morais, R.C., Blood and Monet, Forbes, November 25, 1991, p. 149.

The Older the Better, Economist, March 5, 1994.

Raslan, Karim, Art Market: Price Propping, Far Eastern Economic Review, March 17, 1994, pp. 4445.

Richmond, Susannah, Butterfield Day Founder Swaps Ads for Artefacts, Campaign London, January 28, 1994, p. 10.

Rozhon, Tracie, Fighting for Turf: Sothebys vs. Christies, New York Times, April 14, 1996, Sec. 9, pp. 1, 10.

Serwer, Andrew E., Art Dealers Trade Screams for Smiles, Fortune, April 17, 1995.

Siobhan, Quin, An Ethnical Investment, Resident Abroad, June 1995, pp. 6566.

Frederick C. Ingram
update: Ed Dinger

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Christie’s International plc." International Directory of Company Histories. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Christie’s International plc." International Directory of Company Histories. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 20, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/books/politics-and-business-magazines/christies-international-plc

"Christie’s International plc." International Directory of Company Histories. . Retrieved August 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/books/politics-and-business-magazines/christies-international-plc

Christie’s International plc

Christies International plc

8 King Street, St. Jamess
London SW1Y 6QT
United Kingdom
(0171) 839 9060
Fax: (0171) 839 1611

Public Company
Incorporated:
1766
Employees: 1,700
Sales: £819.8 million (1994)
Stock Exchanges: London
SICs: 7389 Business Services, Not Elsewhere Classified

Christies International plc oversees the operations of one of the worlds premier art auction houses. While the company holds regular auctions worldwide, its principal selling centers are represented by subsidiaries Christie, Manson & Woods Ltd. in London and Christie, Manson & Woods, International Inc. in New York City. Dubbed the oldest fine arts auctioneers in the world (rival Sothebys is 22 years older, but began by selling books), Christies has been in the business over 200 years and has set record prices not only for works of art but also wine, scientific instruments, carpet, photographs, cameras, and teddy bears. In 1994, the firm garnered a turnover of £ 167.9 million on auction sales worth £820 million; profits were £13.4 million.

Eighteenth Century Origins

Although documentation on his early life story is somewhat sketchy, it is generally held that James Christie was born in Perth, Scotland, in 1730 to a Scottish mother and English father. After serving briefly as a midshipman in the Royal Navy, he worked for an auctioneer named Annesley as an apprentice in fashionable Covent Garden, London. After a few years, Christie opened his own auction house at Daltons Print Rooms in the Pall Mall district. These premises also housed what was to become the Royal Academy of Arts. His first auction, on December 5, 1766, which included wine, netted £176, 16 shillings, and six pence. This sale was the first recorded in a bound log of sales that has survived over 200 years.

James Christie excelled at auctioneering. In the early years, he sold many things besides works of art, including chamber pots, loads of hay, and even someones suddenly unneeded coffin. All of these were proffered with mellifluous and verbose charm, earning Christie the nickname The Specious Orator from satirical cartoonists of the day.

Within only a few years, Christie was handling truly valuable paintings, such as those by Europes Old Masters, which he picked up on the fashionable Grand Tour, as well as several by promising American artists. Christie eventually moved his offices (and residence) to 125 Pall Mall, becoming next door neighbors with Thomas Gainsborough, the great British painter, who later (like Sir Joshua Reynolds) painted Christies portrait. (After changing hands several times, Gainsboroughs Portrait of James Christie was bought by J. Paul Getty for $26,500 in 1938, Gettys first major painting purchase.)

Moreover, Christie was influential in the promotion of art, displaying the works of new artists at a time when, save the Royal Academys annual show, there were no other public places to display contemporary works. Many esteemed artists, including Landseer, Rossetti, and Sargent, saw their work pass through the auction house. Increasingly, when an artist who had been helped by a Christie auction passed away, the executors of his estate naturally turned to Christie to sell pictures remaining in the studio.

Christies reputation as a connoisseur was so esteemed that in 1778 he was called on to sell Sir Robert Walpoles magnificent art collection, which Catherine the Great eventually acquired for £40,000, then a colossal figure. (These pictures were eventually displayed at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg; a few bought by Andrew Mellon made their way to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.)

Christies and the London art business as a whole benefited from the emigration of Huguenots from France. After the French Revolution destroyed Paris as the leading art market, the revolutionary government turned to the nation of shopkeepers, and to Christies specifically, to dispose of La Comtesse Dubarrys most superlative collection of jewels after she was guillotined. However, the Reign of Terror both removed buyers and flooded the market with paintings, making jewelry sales still more important.

Industrial Era Transitions

American tycoons, newly rich from the Industrial Revolution, such as Mellon, Pierpoint-Morgan, Vanderbilt, and Kress, began to dominate buying activity in the 19th century. At the same time, Christies became known as a clearinghouse for country estates, a tradition that has continued for two centuries. Such a sale in 1848, for the Duke of Buckinghams Stowe House, lasted 40 days and realized £77,562. It also brought in a new employee and a future partner, the gatekeepers son, Thomas Woods, who thoroughly impressed the firm with his knowledge of the houses paintings.

James Christie died in 1803, whereupon management of the company was taken up by his son, James Christie II, and later his two grandsons. In 1823, Christies moved its headquarters to 8 King Street, where it would remain for over 170 years. The auction room thereknown as the Big Roomis said to have been designed by James Christie in the form of a hexagon in order to maximize wall space; paintings were hung on these walls all the way up to the ceiling.

In 1831 William Manson joined the firm. Thomas Woods became a partner in 1859, and the firms name changed to Christie, Manson and Woods. The year 1889 saw the retirement of the last of the Christies to be associated with the company: James Christie IV. Christies held the first auction of Impressionist paintings in Britain in the same year.

The Modern Era

After 50 years of passing picture sales on to Christies in favor of auctioning book collections, Sothebys management decided to begin auctioning paintings. By 1917, the company was holding regular art auctions. In response, Christies stopped referring books to Sothebys, opting to auction such collections themselves. Thus began a competition and rivalry between the two auction houses that would continue into the 1990s.

Although it had begun to broaden its offerings to include books and even fine wines, Christies focus remained primarily in the picture market. Among its more notable sales during this time was that of the Portrait of Mrs. Davenport, by British painter George Romney. The portrait was sold by Christies for £360,900 in 1926. Other significant sales in the interwar period included the Russian crown jewels, which realized nearly £250,000 in 1927.

Global economic depression and the world wars were devastating to the art market, and in the 1930s talk began to surface of merger between Christies and Sothebys. Nothing came of the discussions, however, and in the race for the top auction house spot, Sothebys began to gain ground, having been early to establish a presence in the United States.

In 1940, R. W. Lloyd bought a substantial share of Christies stock and thus became chairman of the company. Under Lloyd, Christies became a private limited company, and Sir Alec Martin, who had begun working for Christies at the age of 12 as an office boy, was named managing director. New management faced several challenges. In addition to its financial concerns, Christies suffered a terrible blow on April 16, 1941, when an incendiary bomb totally destroyed the firms building on King Street; the premises would not be completely rebuilt until well after the war, in 1953. Another wartime inconvenience was the suspension of wine sales, which did not resume until 1966.

Postwar Crisis and Opportunity

Christies market grew broader yet again after World War II, as art auctions, previously the domain of the upper classes, gained a more widespread appeal. Television cameras began to crowd into auction rooms, and the public began to hear news reports of important art sales and the money they fetched.

In 1958, Christies was reorganized as Christie, Manson and Woods Ltd; the new company issued £60,000 worth of capital. Ivan O. Peter Chance was selected to lead the new company. In order to buy shares owned by Martin and Lloyd (who died in April 1958), the Crown Lease of 8 King Street was sold to the Commercial Union Assurance Co., and leased back to Christies.

A process of professionalization had begun at Christies. First, Peter Chance promptly hired consultants to set up a press office at Christies. Then, the company began focusing on establishing a presence in Europe, becoming the first British auction house to hire a European representative, whom it situated in Rome. Soon offices in other European countries were established, and an American representative was hired. Christies also began to appoint more specialists in areas such as collectible coins and porcelain. Finally, as competition between Christies and Sothebys intensified in the late 1950s, both houses began requiring their managers to read the obituaries daily, looking for estates that might need auctioning. Later, social intelligence gathering would become more sophisticated, all with the end of determining who would control known valuable art collections. Christies had approximately 150 sales a year in this period.

In 1960 Christies reported sales of £2.7 million, and the following year that figure had risen to £3.1 million. However, the company was trailing by significant margin behind Sothebys, a trend that some analysts attributed to a lack of confidence in Christies picture department. Nevertheless, Christies continued to set sales records, recording the highest price paid until then ($27,950) for a Pre-Raphaelite painting, The Lady of Shalott by Holman Hunt.

In 1962, as the Cuban missile crisis was simmering, Peter Chance reportedly made a secret trip to Cuba to consider auctioning property seized when Castro had risen to power in 1959. Although a valuation team arrived to catalog the valuables in what was in many ways a febrile environment, no sales materialized from their efforts. In spite of the bold efforts, Christies lost £6,000 that year, although it sold only slightly less art than the year before. Five years later, Christies did succeed in establishing a business relationship with the Soviet Union, selling for £65,751 ($193,308) a 1,700-piece porcelain banqueting service made for Tsar Nicholas I in 1830.

A couple of notable staff additions helped bolster Christies ailing reputation in its picture department, as did initial moves to divide the companys departments into areas of specialty. Moreover, the sale of the Cook collection of Old Masters in 1965 proved Christies was a force to be reckoned with; Rembrandts Portrait of Titus (his son) sold for $2.2 million, a price that surpassed all expectations.

In 1965, Christies acquired White Bros. Printers for £38,000, a purchase that helped the company to produce its considerable volume of catalogs more efficiently. Interestingly, the company used an old-fashioned letter press system until 1979, when it converted to offset lithography (which also required using union labor for the first time). In 1980 White Bros, began printing all of Christies Park Avenue catalogs as well.

To celebrate its 200-year anniversary, Christies held a tremendous Bicentenary Exhibition in January 1967. About 60 important drawings and paintings that had passed through Christies rooms over the years were lent back for the display, which raised about £3,000 for the National Art Collections Fund. Together, the works, which included Gainsboroughs Portrait of James Christie, were valued at approximately £5 million.

During this time, Christies European operations, based in Rome, were being hindered by Italys strict art export laws. In response, Christies established a new subsidiary, Christies International S.A., which was incorporated in Geneva in 1967 to oversee European business. Switzerland, moreover, did not have the import taxes of Great Britain. A program of international expansion included a host of new Christies auction houses in Australia, Japan, and Canada, as well as an American headquarters move to a new facility on Madison Avenue in New York.

New Leadership for a New Era

Christies went public in 1973, strengthened by three years of good results and expansion. Pre-tax profits had grown tremendously in the prior five years: from £139,000 in 1968 to £1.1 million in 1972. In two years, after practically doubling 1972s profits, Peter Chance announced his retirement as chair of Christie, Manson and Woods, although he would remain chairman of Christies International plc for two more years.

Jo Floyd took up Chances former duties just in time to be met by a worldwide economic recession. In order to cope with dwindling profits in London, both Christies and Sothebys introduced a ten percent buyers premium in the early 1970s. This new policy was not met with enthusiasm on the part of Londons art dealers, several of whom began litigation against the auction houses.

In autumn 1974, Christies acquired Debenham and Coe in South Kensington, for the purpose of handling lower value lots more efficiently than was possible at its King Street facility. At the end of the decade, Christies bought Edmistons, a Glasgow auction firm.

In 1977, Christies opened a New York salesroom in the Delmonico Hotel, a 1920s era skyscraper at 502 Park Avenue. American sales were becoming increasingly important to the British-based firm; by 1983, New York sales had surpassed those from London. In 1978, a second New York showroom, dubbed Christies East, was opened in a six-story East 67th Street garage. Christies reputation in America seemed to be cemented when in 1980 Henry Ford II chose the firm to sell ten of his excellent Modern and Impressionist paintings. A painting that had performed so impressively for Sothebys in 1958, Van Goghs Le Jardin du Poete, Arles, was sold by Christies for a record $5.2 million (£2.2 million) in London. Overall, the paintings brought in $18.3 million in one evening. Other great sales during this time included that of Coco Chanels wardrobe, a huge production that earned £43,250 pounds for 40 dresses and brought in an even more impressive amount of good publicity.

In 1987 several records were set at Christies, for paintings ($39.9 million for Van Goghs Sunflowers), jewels ($6.4 million for a 65-carat pear-shaped diamond), and automobiles ($9.8 million for a 1931 Bugati Type 41 Royale). Christies marketing efforts, aimed at broader audiences, helped sell large collections, such as the Nanking Cargo, consisting of gold bars and porcelain from a freighter sunk off the coast of Java in 1751. Human interest helped elevate the price to £10 million. Such valuable collections attracted interest from all walks of life, and in 1984 a group of armed robbers stormed into a jewelry auction at King Street, wielding a shotgun and a sledgehammer. Fortunately, the truly valuable pieces were overlooked.

In 1990 Christies set a record for furniture; $15.1 million was offered for the Duke of Beauforts Badminton cabinet. Then, the record for all works of art was broken with Christies sale of Van Goghs Portrait of Dr. Gachet, which went for $82.5 million. These records represented only the cream of many Modern and Impressionist paintings that Christies handled during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Christies was holding approximately 1,400 sales per year in the late 1980s.

Before resigning in 1989, Jo Floyd had secured a new 125-year lease for expanded premises on King Street. Christopher Davidge, whose grandfather had worked as a clerk at the firm, assumed the role of Christies CEO after becoming managing director four years earlier. Davidge had previously worked his way up the ranks at White Brothers, Christies printing company. He made effective communications and standardization throughout the organization two of his top priorities. He also streamlined the staff and aggressively cut commissions in order to gain sales. However, in 1995, the commission-cutting stopped, as profits did not rise with sales. Under Davidge, Christies market share began to approach that of rival Sothebys.

In 1994, Christies sold £22 million worth of art works from the collection of the Marquess of Cholmondeley, a direct descendant of Robert Walpole, whose collection had been sold by Christies more than two centuries earlier. Although Christies has transformed into a forward-looking international firm, such links to the past seem vital to its enduring role as one of the only two truly world-class auction houses.

Principal Subsidiaries

Christie, Manson & Woods Ltd.; Christies South Kensington Ltd.; Christies Scotland Ltd.; Christie, Manson & Woods International (USA); Christies (International) S.A. (Switzerland); Christies Amsterdam B.V. (Netherlands); Christies (Monaco) S.A.M. (Monaco); Christies Swire (Hong Kong) Ltd. (Hong Kong); Christies Australia Pty. Ltd. (Australia); Spink & Son Ltd; Christies Education Ltd.; White Brothers (Printers) Ltd. (66%); Woods of Perth (Printers) Ltd. (66%); C.I. Property & Investments Ltd.; Christies Fine Art Security Services Ltd.; Watmoughs Holdings plc (20%); Studio SMK; Christies Images; Topsail Insurance; Christies Great Estates.

Further Reading

Artful Auctioneering, Economist, March 11, 1995.

Blockage Discount at Issue in Andy Warhols Estate, Tax Management: Estates Gifts & Trusts Journal, January 13, 1994, pp. 55-56.

Brough, James, Auction!, Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1963.

DuBois, Peter C., African Icon Brings $1.2 Million, Barrons, May 8, 1995, p. 16.

DuBois, Peter C., Art Fix, Barrons, October 31, 1994, p. 20.

_____, The Art of the Sale, Barrons, May 15, 1995, p. 13.

_____, High Contrast, Barrons, November 21, 1994, pp. 24-25.

_____, Pretty Picture? Barrons, May 8, 1995. pp. 15-16.

Grey, Sarah, When the Skys Not the Limit, Accountancy, March, 1995, p. 58.

Hammering Asia, Economist, September 17, 1994.

Herbert, John, Inside Christies, New York: St. Martins Press, 1990.

The History of Christies, company document, London: Christies International plc.

Huus, Kari, Art Market: Do I Hear Three? Far Eastern Economic Review, May 12, 1994, pp. 69-70.

_____, Jewellery: East Buys West, Far Eastern Economic Review,

May 12, 1994, p. 69.

Jaffe, Thomas, IOCs, How Many Gs? Forbes, May 8, 1995, p. 20.

Jarrett, Ian, A Gentler Kind of Bear Market, Asian Business, March, 1995, p. 61.

_____, Zoom In On a Good Buy, Asian Business, August, 1994, p. 56.

Lacey, Robert, A Grand Old Rivalry, Vanity Fair, January, 1996, pp. 104-118.

Morais, R.C., Blood and Monet, Forbes, November 25, 1991, p. 149.

The Older the Better, Economist, March 5, 1994.

Raslan, Karim, Art Market: Price Propping, Far Eastern Economic-Review, March 17, 1994, pp. 44-45.

Richmond, Susannah, Butterfield Day Founder Swaps Ads for Artefacts, Campaign London, January 28, 1994, 10.

Rozhon, Tracie, Fighting for Turf: Sothebys vs. Christies, New York Times, April 14, 1996, Sec. 9, p. 1, 10.

Serwer, Andrew E., Art Dealers Trade Screams for Smiles, Fortune, April 17, 1995.

Siobhan, Quin, An Ethnical Investment, Resident Abroad, June, 1995, pp. 65-66.

Frederick C. Ingram

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Christie’s International plc." International Directory of Company Histories. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Christie’s International plc." International Directory of Company Histories. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 20, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/books/politics-and-business-magazines/christies-international-plc-0

"Christie’s International plc." International Directory of Company Histories. . Retrieved August 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/books/politics-and-business-magazines/christies-international-plc-0