Private equity firm Epiris has announced the purchase of auction house Bonhams from private shareholders. Financial terms “are not being disclosed,” Epiris said in its announcement.
Founded in 1793, Bonhams conducts more than 250 auctions a year of fine art, antiques, jewelry and collector cars and motorcycles. Epiris said that in 2017, Bonhams sales generated more than £450 million ($577 million) in hammer sales, which do not include the auction house commissions paid by bidders.
The purchase is the latest in a series of auction house acquisitions involving the collector car hobby. At one point, eBay purchased Kruse Auctions (only to sell the company back to Dean Kruse), Sotheby’s has taken a major interest in RM Auctions, and Ritchie Bros. recently purchased Leake Auction Company.
Epiris LLP says it “invests in opportunities to transform businesses in partnership with exceptional management teams,” and targets “control positions” in UK-centric businesses valued between £75 million ($96 million) and £500 million ($641 million).
Bonhams is headed by chief executive Matthew Girling and chief financial officer Jonathan Fairhurst. They will be joined by executive chairman Bruno Vinciguerra, who for eight years as chief operating officer at rival auction house Sotheby’s, and previously had senior management roles at Bain, Dell and Disney.“We are delighted to have found a buyer that recognizes the potential offered by this business and its employees,” Girling is quoted in Epiris’ news release. “During the past 20 years we have pursued a growth strategy that has turned the company into a truly global organization.
“The value of Bonhams rests with its people, their skills, their extraordinary expertise and their strong networks across the world. Epiris has a demonstrable and successful track record in investment in growing brands and we believe that together we can continue to expand the business whilst still offering the highest possible level of service wherever we operate.”
“We have always had the intention one day to pass on the business to a new owner who shares our long-term vision for Bonhams,” added Robert Brooks, Bonhams chairman. “I am immensely proud of what we have achieved at Bonhams and look forward to seeing the business continue to thrive under its new owners.”
Bonhams traces to its founding in 1793 by Thomas Dodd a print dealer in London’s Covent Garden. His apprentice, George Jones, became owner in 1817 and in the 1850s took George Bonham as a partner. In the 1870s the bonhams family became sold owner.
In 2000, Bonhams became Bonhams & Brooks after being acquired by Brooks, an auction company founded in 1989 by Robert Brooks, former director at auction house Christie’s. In 2001, Bonhams & Brooks merged with Phillips Sons & Neal and formed a new company named Bonhams. A year later Bonhams purchased Butterfields, an auction house based on America’s West Coast.
“Bonhams is a global business operating in a market with long-term structural growth and high barriers to entry,” added Owen Wilson, a partner at Epiris. “It is a platform with extensive scope for transformation through investment. We are delighted to be working with Bruno, Matthew and the rest of the team to implement our shared vision.”
“We are thrilled to announce the acquisition of Bonhams, which is Epiris Fund II’s fourth investment,” said Alex Fortescue, managing partner of Epiris. “We have taken a selective approach since the fund was raised, and have been assembling a portfolio of exciting investments, each of which fits our transformative strategy.”