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.

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.

Recommended

16 January 1991: Operation Desert Storm begins
This day in history

16 January 1991: Operation Desert Storm begins

Coalition forces led by the US launched an operation to liberate Kuwait from Iraqi forces on this day in 1991, sending the oil price soaring.
16 Jan 2021
15 January 1892: the rules of basketball are published
This day in history

15 January 1892: the rules of basketball are published

Canadian PE instructor Dr James Naismith, working at a YMCA training school, published the 13 rules of basketball on this day in 1892.
15 Jan 2021
15 January 1759: British Museum opens
This day in history

15 January 1759: British Museum opens

On this day in 1759, the British Museum opened in Bloomsbury after Sir Hans Sloane left his of collection of books, manuscripts and specimens to the n…
15 Jan 2021
14 January 2002: Britain’s foot-and-mouth disease epidemic ends
This day in history

14 January 2002: Britain’s foot-and-mouth disease epidemic ends

The government finally declared Britain’s foot-and-mouth disease crisis over on this day in 2002, almost a year after the first case had been identifi…
14 Jan 2021

Most Popular

Bitcoin: fool’s gold or the new gold?
Bitcoin

Bitcoin: fool’s gold or the new gold?

With bitcoin hitting new highs last week, and close to becoming a mainstream investment, is it really gold for the 21st century?
15 Jan 2021
The MoneyWeek Podcast: bitcoin special
Bitcoin

The MoneyWeek Podcast: bitcoin special

Merryn talks to bitcoin experts Dominic Frisby and Charlie Morris to get the lowdown on the cryptocurrency to find out why it's such a huge global phe…
15 Jan 2021
Leasehold reforms promise the end of a nightmare for many homeowners
Property

Leasehold reforms promise the end of a nightmare for many homeowners

Horror stories about unscrupulous landlords profiting from a legal relic of the feudal era are about to get a happy ending, says Simon Wilson.
16 Jan 2021