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

28 May 1937: the Volkswagen car company is formed
This day in history

28 May 1937: the Volkswagen car company is formed

On this day in 1937, Volkswagen, now the world's second-biggest vehicle-maker, was founded as the 'Society to Prepare the German People’s Car'.
28 May 2021

Most Popular

Barry Norris: we’re already in the 1970s. Here’s how to invest
Investment strategy

Barry Norris: we’re already in the 1970s. Here’s how to invest

Merryn talks to Barry Norris of Argonaut capital about the parallels between now and the 1970s; the transition to “green” energy; and the one sector w…
19 May 2022
The ten highest dividend yields in the FTSE 100
Income investing

The ten highest dividend yields in the FTSE 100

Rupert Hargreaves looks at the FTSE 100’s top yielding stocks for income investors to consider.
18 May 2022
Share tips of the week – 20 May
Share tips

Share tips of the week – 20 May

MoneyWeek’s comprehensive guide to the best of this week’s share tips from the rest of the UK's financial pages.
20 May 2022