Sotheby's
The Sotheby's team ringing the opening bell on the New York Stock Exchange on March 11 to celebrate its 275 year anniversary. Photo credit NYSE.

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The US-listed auction house rung the opening bell on the New York Stock Exchange today, where it is the oldest traded company - almost 50 years older than the exchange itself.

Book dealer Samuel Baker, a ‘joyous fellow’ with a love of books, an entrepreneurial spirit and a ‘fondness for plum-coloured coats’, held his first auction in his own saleroom of some ‘several hundred scarce and valuable books’ which totalled £826 on March 11, 1744.

Baker had already established himself as a bookseller, mainly from his corner table at the Angel and Crown pub in Covent Garden.

Samuel Baker

Samuel Baker, the founder of Sotheby's.

The firm had added the name Sotheby’s by 1780 when John Sotheby (Baker's nephew) was associated with the firm that was then known as Leigh & Sotheby.

Founded as an auctioneer of books – predating both the American and French Revolutions – the firm later added fine art, house sales, jewellery and more in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Sotheby's became a UK public company in 1977 and has expanded from London to the US and Asia - today it has 80 offices in 40 countries.

The anniversary will be marked by an exhibition in Sotheby’s Café on Conduit Street in London including 67 photographs which will run until September 2019. 

Tad Smith, Sotheby’s CEO, said: “Sotheby’s has thrived for 275 years precisely because it has dared to reinvent itself again and again, and in so doing has continually redefined the business of trading art on a global basis.”

Peter Wilson

Auctioneer Peter Wilson taking the sale of Sir Alexander Korda's Impressionist paintings at Sotheby's in 1962.

Sotheby’s – a brief history

1744 Founded in London by Samuel Baker

1780s John Sotheby (Baker's nephew) joins and the firm becomes Leigh & Sotheby

1861 The last of the Sotheby family died and partner John Wilkinson takes over as head of the business

1864 Edward Grose Hodge was promoted and restyled the company Sotheby, Wilkinson and Hodge - the name it carried until 1924

1917 The company moves to Bond Street from its previous saleroom in Wellington Street, just off the Strand

1955 It opens a US office

1973 Begins to hold auctions in Asia

1983 Alfred Taubman takes the company into private hands

1988 Lists again as a public company on the New York Stock Exchange