Sotheby’s has sold a record $7.3bn (£5.5bn) worth of art and other collectibles so far this year – the most in its 277-year history. The auction house said on Wednesday that an “influx of younger, tech-savvy collectors” buying luxury items such as handbags, jewellery, wine and non-fungible tokens (NFTs) during the pandemic had helped lift sales to the record high.
Sotheby’s, which was founded in London in 1744 and now operates from 80 offices around the world with its headquarters in New York, said the 2021 total would rise still higher as it has 20 more sales to come before the year end.
So far this year, Sotheby’s has sold 57 pieces for more than $15m each, with a Botticelli painting of a young man holding a roundel selling for $92.2m being the top selling item. Sales are already 71% higher than they had been in 2020, when demand had waned in the early stages of the pandemic.
Records were also set for the most expensive trainers (or sneakers) ever auctioned, with the Nike Air Yeezys that Kanye West wore to the 2008 Grammy’s selling for $1.8m in April, and for a 1933 “double eagle” gold coin, which raised $19m to become the most expensive coin ever sold at auction.
The most money changed hands in modern and contemporary art, which totalled a record $4.3bn across auction and private sales. The departments that sell luxury watches, wine and spirits, design and books & manuscripts also all achieved record annual sales. The company also set a record for the most valuable single-owner auction, with $676m paid for the Macklowe Collection amassed over more than half a century by the real estate magnate Harry Macklowe and his ex-wife Linda Macklowe. The couple were ordered to sell the collection, which included masterpieces by Alberto Giacometti, Mark Rothko and Cy Twombly, by a judge overseeing their divorce after they failed to agree on its value.
Sotheby’s also held its first sale of NFTs, selling $16.8m worth in three days including the “source code for the world wide web” which sold for $5.3m. It said the NFT sale fuelled a “dramatic expansion” of its audience, with 78% of the NFT bidders being new to Sotheby’s and more than half under 40. Overall, 47% of bidders were new customers in 2021, and the number of bidders under the age of 40 increased by 187%.
The announcement of Sotheby’s annual sales came as speculation mounts that the auction house’s billionaire French owner may be planning to float the company on the stock market.
Patrick Drahi, who bought Sotheby’s in a $3.7bn deal in 2019, is said to be exploring a prospect of flotation of Sotheby’s as soon as next year according to Bloomberg.