The tie-up will see Dreweatts conduct regular sales in the capital and Bloomsbury’s general book sales move to Godalming, Surrey.
Some form of alliance between similarly-sized firms with different strengths has been mooted for three years say the two parties.
Bloomsbury’s Mayfair premises and their salerooms in New York and Rome provide both the London shopfront and the international dimension that Dreweatts have long craved.
In turn Bloomsbury relish the opportunity to source more lots from the UK regions (Dreweatts do not have a full-time antiquarian books specialist) and move beyond their interest in antiquarian books and works on paper.
Managing director Rupert Powell, who has worked at Bloomsbury since 1985, said: “We have, for some time, been looking to diversify what we can offer our clients in New York and London. Dreweatts’ breadth of knowledge across the mainstream antiques market, will enhance our position”
Immediate targets for diversification include wine, jewellery and watches.
The relatively small amount of crossover between the two businesses is seen as one of the most positive aspects of the relationship, without the duplication in staff and premises that Dreweatts’ chairman Stephan Ludwig, a seasoned veteran of merging auction houses, was keen to avoid.
“Bloomsbury’s business complements ours perfectly” he said.
In practical terms for buyers and sellers, the relationship will mean perhaps a dozen events conducted by Dreweatts in London (some auctions, some auction previews) and the movement of Bloomsbury’s monthly Bibliophile auctions (the trademark orange catalogue sales) from Maddox Street to the former Hamptons saleroom in Godalming. The first will be on Wednesday, November 18.
The agreement as it stands is not financial. The two firms remain seperate corporate entities (for example they have different buyer’s premiums) and branding will remain largely unchanged. Dreweatts events conducted at Maddox Street will be simply dubbed ‘Dreweatts at Bloomsbury’.
But the tie-up is clearly more than a loose marketing alliance or the sharing of salerooms.
Stephan Ludwig will join the board of Stocklight, the holding company of Bloomsbury who also own Bernard J. Shapero Rare Books, while Rupert Powell joins the board of Dreweatts.
Neither would be drawn on the question of a merger but nor did they dismiss the possibility of a more formal relationship in the future.
Bloomsbury, established by three former Sotheby’s book specialists in March 1983, celebrated their 25th anniversary last year. The business has seen a steady expansion since it was bought by Bernard Shapero and Tommaso Zanzotto in 2000.
Since then the company has morphed from Bloomsbury Book Auctions to simply Bloomsbury Auctions, moved from Islington to Mayfair and opened salerooms in Rome and New York September 2007. Last year’s turnover at Bloomsbury was £23m (including buyer’s premium) with half of sales generated from their Maddox Street saleroom.
The new tie up opens a new chapter in the short but eventful life of The Fine Art Auction Group, parent company of Dreweatts.
“Our regional expansion has run its course with the end of the lease at Neales of Nottingham” Mr Ludwig told ATG.
Following a consolidation programme, Dreweatts’ network of regional auctioneers now includes permanent salerooms in Donnington Priory, Bristol and occasionally Godalming with total sales in 2008 of £16.5m.
By Roland Arkell