Bonhams is a privately owned British auction house and one of the world's oldest and largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques. The present company was formed by the merger in November 2001 of Bonhams & Brooks and Phillips Son & Neale. This brought together two of the four surviving Georgian auction houses in London, Bonhams having been founded in 1793, and Phillips in 1796 by Harry Phillips, formerly a senior clerk to James Christie. Today the amalgamated business handles fine art and antiques in more than 60 specialist collecting areas. The firm has continued to grow and change since the merger in 2001. The last ten years have been among the most dramatic and fast-growing in its history.
In August 2002 the company acquired Butterfields, the principal firm of auctioneers on the West Coast of America, which had been founded in 1865 during the California gold rush.
Bonhams & Butterfields conducted their first East Coast sale in 2003, in the Art Deco Fuller Building erected in 1926. Bonhams is now established in 25 countries across five continents.
It is a remarkable story of rapid expansion which owes much to the energy and drive of Robert Brooks, formerly a director and department head at Christies, whose father had worked at Bonhams in the 1950s and 60s. Brooks set up his own firm (Robert Brooks Auctioneers) in 1989 to sell classic and vintage motorcars. In 2000 he and his business partner, Dutch entrepreneur Evert Louwman, acquired the family-owned firm of Bonhams, creating 'Bonhams & Brooks'. This was the start of the major program of acquisition and expansion which has continued since. When the European auction business of Phillips was merged with Bonhams the following year, the name was simplified to Bonhams. By the end of 2003 Bonhams was conducting 700 annual sales and had over 600 employees. Robert Brooks became and has remained the Chairman of the 'New Bonhams'.
In 2009 Bonhams announced that it had taken market leadership in 10 key areas of the UK art market for the first time including Antiquities, Arms and Armor, Watches and Clocks, European Ceramics and Japanese art. It is now a worldwide auction house, which handles fine art and antiques in more than 60 specialist collecting areas.