5 January 1766: Christie’s first auction

Venerable auction house Christie's began business on this day in 1766 selling pillow cases, bed-sheets and second-hand chamber pots.

Bed sheets, pillow cases, or two pre-loved chamber pots, anyone? It was on this rather humdrum assortment of household items that auctioneer James Christie first brought down his gavel on 5 January 1766 at his "Great Rooms" on Pall Mall.

True, it was not the most illustrious of beginnings. But by 1788, Christie's auction house was doing what it's best known for today selling art to the world's richest people. That year, Christie's sold the collection of paintings that had belonged to Britain's first prime minister, Sir Robert Walpole, to Russia's Catherine the Great for £40,000.

The move into art proved to have been a wise one. Not long afterwards, the French Revolution broke out; many of the aristocrats who came scurrying across the Channel found themselves short of a sou or two and turned to Christie's to literally sell off the family silver.

Subscribe to MoneyWeek

Subscribe to MoneyWeek today and get your first six magazine issues absolutely FREE

Get 6 issues free

Sign up to Money Morning

Don't miss the latest investment and personal finances news, market analysis, plus money-saving tips with our free twice-daily newsletter

Don't miss the latest investment and personal finances news, market analysis, plus money-saving tips with our free twice-daily newsletter

Sign up

In 1803, James Christie died, aged 73. The family business passed to his son, also named James, and Christie's has been auctioning off masterpieces ever since, including works by Degas, Velazquez and Van Gogh.

In November 2014, Christie's in New York shifted a recording-breaking £540m in modern art in a single day. That figure included the £52m that one punter splashed out on a painting of three Elvises by Andy Warhol. Another painting by the artist, this time of Marlon Brando, went for £44m.

Chris Carter

Chris Carter spent three glorious years reading English literature on the beautiful Welsh coast at Aberystwyth University. Graduating in 2005, he left for the University of York to specialise in Renaissance literature for his MA, before returning to his native Twickenham, in southwest London. He joined a Richmond-based recruitment company, where he worked with several clients, including the Queen’s bank, Coutts, as well as the super luxury, Dorchester-owned Coworth Park country house hotel, near Ascot in Berkshire.

Then, in 2011, Chris joined MoneyWeek. Initially working as part of the website production team, Chris soon rose to the lofty heights of wealth editor, overseeing MoneyWeek’s Spending It lifestyle section. Chris travels the globe in pursuit of his work, soaking up the local culture and sampling the very finest in cuisine, hotels and resorts for the magazine’s discerning readership. He also enjoys writing his fortnightly page on collectables, delving into the fascinating world of auctions and art, classic cars, coins, watches, wine and whisky investing.

You can follow Chris on Instagram.