The acquisition of Noble Investments for £45.3m was deemed a “major milestone” and within months the venerable dealer Mallett had also been bought for nearly £9m.
Less than four years later, the dismantling of this expensive union is underway with the off-loading of auctioneer Dreweatts and Mallett for just £2.4m to Mark Law and investor Gavin Alexander.
A lot has changed since 2013: Stanley Gibbons is under new management and its share price has collapsed by 98% from its 2014 peak. There were no emotional goodbyes for Dreweatts or Mallett. Chairman of Stanley Gibbons, Harry Wilson, said decisions by previous management “caused undeniable damage” adding that “acquisitions had been made after insufficient due diligence and then neglected with business integration effectively ceasing at the time of acquisition”.
The so-called Interiors division, which includes the Dreweatts, Mallett and Bloomsbury businesses, made an operating loss before exceptional costs of £4.1m in the year to March 2016 and £2.1m in the six months to September 2016.
The sigh of relief was almost palpable in the statement from Stanley Gibbons. The sell-off enables the group to chip away at a £17m debt pile and focus on the core philately and numismatic businesses that “share similar characteristics”. Coin specialist Baldwin’s is now performing well, albeit at a reduced level.
Wilson said its model “of a capital light, specialist dealing and auction platform has established a template that is equally applicable to the stamp division” as it is restructured.
It is less clear where much depleted Bloomsbury Auctions now fits into the picture – or indeed the recently acquired and refurbished Pall Mall premises that was to be a shared home with Mallett.
ATG understands the books and works on paper firm will be run by James Harvey. But with the last full-time cataloguer having recently left, he has his work cut out.
Fresh start for Dreweatts
Dreweatts, once the very top name in UK regional fine art auctioneering, has been sold for £2.4m – a price that includes the Mallet brand, once the premier UK art and antiques dealership.
Such a relatively modest sum is a reminder that most businesses in the fine art world are only as good as their recent sales.
For Dreweatts, the change of ownership represents at least the chance of a fresh start. The firm has been hampered by a parent company in deep financial trouble and staff departures.
Dreweatts’ union with Bloomsbury was never fully consummated while the blending of retail and wholesale that was championed after the Mallett acquisition ultimately provoked brand confusion.
Last week Stanley Gibbons described its erstwhile portfolio of companies as “a collection of businesses, which despite potential synergies, had no common systems, operating platform or cohesive strategy”. All too often, fire-fighting rather than consignment gathering became the focus.
But a few difficult years does not make for a bad auction room. Mark Law is correct when he suggests recent upheavals in the London scene offer opportunities for regional salerooms. And Donnington Priory, aesthetically a fine saleroom with excellent specialists on the valuation counter, is a glorious place to find them.
The recent history of Dreweatts
2003 The Fine Art Auction Group buys Dreweatt Neate.
2008 All branches previously trading as Dreweatt Neate or Neales rebranded as Dreweatts.
2009 Dreweatts and Bloomsbury form ‘marketing alliance’.
2011 The Fine Art Auction Group, owner of Dreweatts, buys Bloomsbury Auctions.
2012 Baldwin’s owner Noble Investments buys Dreweatts’ owner The Fine Art Auction Group.
2013 Stanley Gibbons buys Noble Investments including The Fine Art Auction Group, valuing the newly acquired firm at £45.3m.
2014 The £8.6m purchase of Mayfair dealership Mallett.
2015 Ian Goldbart and Stephan Ludwig – the two who brought Dreweatts, Bloomsbury, Baldwin’s and Mallett together – leave Stanley Gibbons.
2017 Stanley Gibbons sells Dreweatts and Mallett.
Mark Law – A brief history
1984 Mark Law joins Dreweatts as a porter; becomes partner at 30.
1998 Under the direction of Law, Dreweatts acquires venerable Bruton Street ceramics dealership Albert Amor.
2000 After 16 years, Law leaves Dreweatts with Albert Amor.
2000 Following a brief partnership with Andrew Hilton of Special Auction Services, Law Fine Art is formed.
2005 Law Fine Art sells the Arts & Crafts collection of Andrew Keith at Littlecote House, Hungerford.
2005 Takes over Partridge Fine Art in £14m deal with fellow board members Christopher Jemmett and David Mellor, pledging to reinvigorate the brand.
2009 Partridge is placed into administration in July and then closes.
2017 With investor Gavin Alexander, Law buys Dreweatts and Mallett.