UK Auctions 2018: A report by


Latest figures reveal how salerooms outside the ‘big four’ are increasingly reaping the middle-market rewards. Data analysis by Dr Lorenzo Basso, data scientist, Auction Technology Group

The contribution of Britain’s ‘regional’ salerooms – defined here as those outside the big London four of Sotheby’s, Christie’s, Bonhams and Phillips – is frequently overlooked when figures demonstrating the size of the UK auction market for art and antiques are created.

In fact, the plethora of smaller fine art auctioneers’ hammer totals collectively make up roughly one quarter of the market. The grand total overall for UK auctions stood at close to £3.2bn in the calendar year of 2017. Regional rooms’ sales volumes have grown steadily in recent years – rising from £763m in 2015 to £821m in 2017 at a compound annual growth rate of 4%, according to new figures from Auction Technology Group. It adds weight to the general impression that the ‘regionals’ are proving increasingly successful in attracting ‘middlemarket’ material.

Price that can be right:

For more than a decade, London’s top auctioneers have been stepping back from selling objects in the £500-5000 price bracket – a move that last year culminated in the closure of Christie’s secondary London rooms in South Kensington. The numbers suggest that the fruits of this change of tack have not just been harvested by a handful of ‘tier two’ firms (as indicated last week in ATG No 2330, not all of the traditional players enjoyed a ‘vintage’ 2017), but rather that a steady increase in consignments has had an effect across many of the 560-or so UK auctioneers that conduct regular sales of art, antiques or general chattels. Many of these firms are selling more of their lots online each year and are benefiting from the greater visibility that the internet brings (if the lot sells to the room or on the phone, the internet may well have provided underbids that drove the hammer price higher). The compound annual growth rate in total hammer of UK sales conducted via was 9% from 2015-17 – greater than the UK regional market as a whole. Peaks and troughs in the upper echelons of the London market are not unusual, and are most usually accounted for by the serendipitious consignment or otherwise of a few trophy lots or major private collections. The migration of material to other international markets – the movement of the best Chinese items to Hong Kong and 20th century pictures and sculpture to New York to avoid Artist’s Resale Right duties – is a cause for concern at the top end of the London market. However, 2017, with the pound relatively weak in the wake of the Brexit vote, proved a very solid year for the capital’s big four after a dip in 2016. For the full report please log into