Sotheby's and Christie's: A benchmark of taste
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Sotheby's and Christie's: A benchmark of taste

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Sotheby's and Christie's

“It's a critical forum because it's where you get information on prices. It's a public forum where you can see what market comparables are on what you want to buy.”

Citigroup's Mary Hoeveler isn't describing a bond-trading platform or a stock exchange. She's talking about auction houses. James Christie held his first sale in London in 1766 and 12 years later John Sotheby inherited a share of his uncle's auction business. Today, as the dominant international auction houses, Sotheby's and Christie's face issues familiar to the capital markets.

Like banks, auction houses have to follow and predict the waxing and waning of different markets. In the early 1990s, the Impressionist market heated up then fell by around 60% in one year. “The auction houses have to determine what resources to put into a market and how to price it, and identify new sale markets,” says Hoeveler, head of Citigroup Private Bank's art advisory service.

Auction houses helped democratize art collecting in the 1980s by organizing sales of a wider range of popular collectables, from cars to teddy bears.

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