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Bonhams Crosses the Pond to Acquire Boston Auction House Skinner

The UK auction house continues to expand its global footprint by acquiring the mid-sized competitor in Massachusetts.

A one-of-a-kind 1954 Jaguar XK120 SE with a body by Pinin Farina. Justin Leighton/Bonhams

The auction house Bonhams has acquired Skinner, a mid-sized competitor based in Massachusetts, as the London-based firm seeks to further enhance its footprint globally as well as digitally.

The acquisition, which was brokered for an undisclosed sum, also follows Bonhams’s move to expand in Europe in the last year. In January, Bonhams acquired Scandinavian house Bukowskis from its Swedish owners in a deal that promised access to clients across the Nordic region. That acquisition was nearly a year after Bonhams bought the Market, a London-based online auction platform that specializes in collectible cars and operates across the UK, Europe and the US.

Over the last three years, Bonhams has seen sale activity nearly doubled, a spokesperson for the auction house said. “We operate at the hyper-local level, connecting our sellers in each market to buyers on a global scale,” Leslie Wright, chairman of Bonhams North America division, told ARTnews. “The acquisition of Skinner is a key moment for our US business,” Wright continued, saying the house’s foothold across New England, “provides us with another major American hub, and complements our regional offices and bi-coastal salerooms.” 

Founded in 1962 by a New England art dealer, Skinner operates spaces in Boston and Marlborough, a suburb about an hour outside the city, and conducts around 80 auctions per year across 23 categories spanning American and Asian art, contemporary editions and luxury, among others. The company maintains a staff of 75.

While two of the three companies that Bonhams has recently acquired have fine arts departments, each of them focuses also on mid-tier sales in the collectible markets, which span luxury sales of jewelry and cars. Taking a deeper hold in the mid-level marketplace is a part of Bonhams’s larger expansion strategy, as it does not currently compete directly with its three larger counterparts (Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips). Its core market, which relies heavily on virtual sales, typically does not produce the attention-grabbing prices achieved associated with the larger firms, where single blue-chip artworks can sell for multi-millions of dollars, but it still maintains a high percentage of the sales volume across the art market overall. Bonhams’s online marketplace was estimated to account for a nearly 25 percent share of the art market’s digital sales by the end of 2021, according to the Hiscox Trade Report.

The London-based house’s expansion, which operates eight sale rooms in London, New York, Los Angeles, Hong Kong and Sydney, comes several years after itself being acquired by Epiris, a UK-based private equity firm in 2018. After bringing on Molly Ott Ambler, a specialist at New York art advisory firm Gurr Johns, to head its fine arts division in September, Bonhams sold Pablo Picasso’s Femme au Beret Mauve for $10.8 million in New York in May, making it the house’s top lot last year. According to an Epiris spokesperson, the house has made major strides its digital and marketing investments since 2018.

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