Bonhams' owner is reportedly looking to sell the UK auction house for US$1 billion

In 2022, Bonhams has taken over four regional auction houses across Europe and America. The acquisition spree is part of its ambitious strategy to build a strong global network – and it proved to be a smart move, as its annual revenue topped US$1 billion for the first time last year, a 27 percent increase from US$816 million in 2021. 

Entering into 2023, the London-based house may be facing another major change. 

First reported by Bloomberg, Epiris, the private equity firm behind Bonhams, is working with advisers at JPMorgan Chase & Co. on a prospective sale of the 230-year-old British house, which is valued at about US$1 billion in any deal. 

Bonhams' headquarter in London and Cornette de Saint-Cyr on Avenue Hoche in Paris

Bonhams has been expanding and strenthening its business in Asia (Photo: Gigi Yu, Head of Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art, Hong Kong)

According to Bloomberg, the potential sale is still in its early stages, and there is no guarantee that it will end in a transaction.

Last year, Bonhams extended its global reach by acquiring a number of auction houses across the globe, including Bukowskis in Sweden, Skinner in Boston, Bruun Rasmussen in Denmark and Cornette de Saint-Cyr in Paris (now known as Bonhams Cornette de Saint Cyr), as well as actively expanding and consolidating its business in the Asia-Pacific region. The company now has 14 salesrooms and 34 offices worldwide.

Its top lot for 2022 was a 1955 Porsche 550 Spyder, fetching US$4.19 million in America. Another category that delivered impressive result was Chinese art, which saw a Bodhisattva figure from the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234) spark spirited competition and sell to an Asian collector for €3.34 million (US$3.55 million), more than three times its €1-million low estimate.

A 1955 Porsche 550 Spyder sold for US$4.19 million last year

A Bodhisattva figure from the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234) sold for €3.34 million to an Asian collector

Since 2018, Bonhams has been owned by Epiris Fund II, a London-based private equity fund under Epiris, with auction veteran and former Sotheby's chief operating officer Bruno Vinciguerra serving as its global CEO. 

Epiris is a top-decile private equity firm which focuses on investment in in UK-headquartered businesses valued between £75 million and £500 million, whereas the investors of Epiris Fund II are mainly from America and the UK. 

Although the fund had only been in operation for a year when it acquired Bonhams, it had already made a number of significant investments, including:

  • February 2018| Portals De La Rue, a leading manufacturer of paper founded in 1712. The kind of paper that it manufactured is substrate, a material used to make banknotes and security documents such as passports. Every year, the business produces the substrate for 12 billion banknotes and over 70 million passports.
  • February 2018| Time Inc. UK, one of the UK’s largest consumer magazines and digital publishers. Time Inc. UK is a division of Time Inc., the American worldwide mass media corporation. Time Inc. was sold to another media company Meredith Corporation in 2017, together with Time Inc. UK. The UK division was later sold to Epiris Fund II. The transaction amount was reported to be about £130m.
  • May 2018|The Club Company, the UK’s leading country club operator which runs 13 country clubs. The clubs have over 40,000 members and offer a range of facilities, including championship-standard golf courses, state-of-the-art health and fitness facilities etc.