Bonhams acquired by Epiris

A private equity group has bought UK auctioneer Bonhams, which specialises in art, cars and wine and spirits, for an undisclosed sum.

It is thought the London-based group is keen to see Bonhams gain some market share from rivals Christie’s and Sotheby’s.

Bruce Vinciguerra, formerly COO at Sotheby’s has been brought in as executive chairman, reported the Financial Times.

Chief executive Matthew Girling said in a statement: “We are delighted to have found a buyer that recognises the potential offered by this business and its employees. Bonhams is one of the world’s oldest auctioneers — and one of the most ambitious.”

Although it holds sales around the world, Bonhams tends to be viewed as the junior of the main trio of leading British auction houses, with Christie’s and Sotheby’s attracting the bulk of the high profile sales in art and wine.

Bonhams however has a number of specialities that give it a head start over its rivals.

To begin with it is one of the world’s leading auctioneers of rare vintage motor cars.

Furthermore, although its wine sales are not as big as other auctioneers, it has a much longer track record selling rare spirits, with a dedicated salesroom in Edinburgh.

Currently, it is Bonhams that holds the record for the most expensive whisky ever sold, a bottle of 1926 Macallan with a label by Italian futurist artist Valerio Adami, which was auctioned in Hong Kong earlier this year for US$1.1 million. At the same sale a bottle of 1926 Macallan with a Sir Peter Blake label briefly held the world record when it sold for US$1m.

In August a bottle of 50 year-old Yamazaki also broke records when it sold for US$343,000 at a Bonhams sale in Hong Kong.

Sotheby’s is selling a bottle of the Macallan with the Peter Blake label at one of its sales in New York next month and global head of wine Jamie Ritchie said it would be upping its spirits consignments due to the growing demand for whisky around the world.

Will whisky be the area in which Epiris wants Bonhams to do battle with its auctioneer rivals?

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