Robert Brooks became Christie's young auctioneer when he joined at 27 and specialised in motor car sales. He later acquired salerooms key locations in New York and Hong Kong, to establish Bonhams as an international auction house.
Robert Brooks, former owner of Bonhams auction house, died on August 23 following a long illness, aged 64. Brooks leaves behind his wife, Evelyn and his three children.
Brooks poses with the Land Rover Defender's rare door
Rise to fame
Born on 1 October 1956, Brooks was brought up in London and educated at St Benedict’s School in Ealing, West London.
Originally leaving school to pursue motor racing, Brooks failed to make the grade and ran out of money at 19. He joined Christie's as its youngest auctioneer, and later became a Christie’s director in the cars department at 27. Brooks then joined the main board at 30.
He left Christie’s at 33 in 1989 to establish his car auction house, Brooks. Most of Brook’s team came from Christie's collectors' cars department, joined by some ex-Sotheby's staff in the mid-1990s.
Brooks (left) and Nicholas Bonhams (right) in central London. Both parties agreed to merge together and form the world's fourth largest auction house, Bonhams & Brooks, in 2000
He acquired Bonhams, which later became Bonhams & Brooks, to create an international brand in 2000. The auction house joined selling cars with art and antiques.
Brooks was determined Bonhams that rivalled two other auction house juggernauts, Christie’s and Sotheby’s. He quickly expanded with rapid acquisitions of other key auction houses.
Bonhams and Brooks merged with Phillips Son & Neale from Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy in 2001. A new company was formed called Bonhams. Some smaller departments traded as Phillips de Pury and Company. Simon de Pury acquired majority control of the firm in 2002. The company was purchased from de Pury by Russian Mercury Group in 2008, and became Phillips.
Brooks bought the Californian auction house, Butterfields, from eBay in 2002. He then opened in New York in 2005.
He continued to be very competitive, and turned his attention to the New Bond Street headquarters in London in 2013. Brooks spent £30 million pounds, and transformed the venue’s the old offices into London's flagship saleroom. He established an office in Hong Kong in 2007, and opened a saleroom in the Asian city in 2014.
Bonhams was later bought by the British private equity group, Epiris, in September 2018. Brooks decided to retire in his farm near Exmoor, southwest England.
Bonhams has auction sales across the world, in key cities such as London, New York, Paris, Hong Kong, Singapore, San Francisco and Sydney.
Ferrari 250 GTO was sold for US$38.1 million dollars in 2014. It is the most valuable car ever sold at an auction
Importance of car sales
Brooks was a car specialist, and Bonhams continues to develop in this market.
Motor cars are one of Bonham’s most important departments since its establishment in 1989 by Brook, apart from fine arts and antiquities. It sells motor cars ranging from the earliest veterans to modern supercars.
Ferrari 250 GTO sold for US$38.1 million dollars at a Bonham's sale in 2014. Another record sale by the auction house was the Birkin single seat, “Blower Bentley”, which sold for £5 million pounds in 2012.
Malcolm Barber, chief executive of Bonhams Asia
Malcolm Barber, chief executive of Bonhams Asia, joined Brooks' car auction company in 1995.
Barber said, "Robert was a visionary with a very shrewd understanding of the auction world. He alone saw what Bonhams could become when he acquired it at the turn of the millennium – and then in turn, Phillips UK and Butterfields. It was his drive, judgement and business instincts that – within a matter of years – transformed the company from a Knightsbridge saleroom to the global auction house it is today. No one but Robert who could have done that so swiftly and so successfully.”