How Many of the World's Top Auction Houses Do You Know?

Art Wise

A calm façade in the room, as paddles are raised. One animated individual, holding the hammer and yelling numbers. Finally, after many tense minutes, the hammer comes down, and the word ‘SOLD’ resounds.

Auction houses have captivated generations of bidders and onlookers. Whether one has an interest in art or not, Christie’s and Sotheby’s are two names that everyone’s at least heard of. But besides these two legacy-rich auction houses, there are other internationally renowned auction houses that have quickly made their mark in the world of auctions and art. Here are some fascinating facts about the top 5 auction houses in the world, and some of the most expensive pieces they’ve sold!


From selling bed sheets and irons during its first auction to selling Pablo Picasso’s Les Femmes d’Alger or Women of Algiers, (Version “O”), for US$179.3 million, Christie’s is the world’s top auction house with total sales of $7.4 billion in 2015 alone!

(Picasso's famed painting Les Femmes d'Alger that sold for $179.3mn at a Christie's auction)

Established in 1766 by James Christie in London, the auction house is now head quartered in Rockefeller Plaza, New York and King Street, London. Christie’s conducts over 350 auctions annually, across categories like fine and decorative art, automobiles, jewelry, collectibles, wines and more. They have sold historic art pieces, such as Amedeo Modigliani’s Tête, which is the second most expensive sculpture ever sold (€ 43.2 mn), and that too, to an anonymous telephone bidder!

(Modigliani's sculpture 'Tete' sold at a 2010 Christie's auction in Paris)

Amongst other unique things, Christie’s has sold a model of the starship Enterprise-D, from the Star Trek movie series, and the “Happy Birthday” dress worn by Marilyn Monroe while serenading President Kennedy.

(Marilyn Monroe's 'Happy Birthday' Dress auctioned by Christie's)



Sotheby’s was established in 1744 by Samuel Baker, in London, as an auction house that sold rare books. Today, it is the world’s second largest auction house holding auctions across categories like real estate, fine and decorative art, jewelry and collectibles.

(A snapshot from an action-packed auction by Sotheby's)

The Guennol Lioness sold by Sotheby’s for $57.2 million held the record of being the most expensive antiquity ever sold until 2010. Amongst other incredibly prestigious names, Sotheby’s has overseen the sale of the Estate of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (the first wife of President J.F. Kennedy), the original manuscript of Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll and the oldest manuscript of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

(Guennol Lioness, which sold for $57.2mn at a 2007 Sotheby's auction, is a 5,000 year old Mesopotamian statue found near Baghdad)



China’s burgeoning appetite for art and collectibles have made Chinese auctions houses some of the largest across the world. Beijing Poly International Auction, founded in 2005 by defense contractor giant China Poly Group Corporation, is now the leading Chinese auction house, and the third largest in the world. Poly offers a range of categories including Chinese classical paintings, calligraphy, antiques, ceramics, jewels, Chinese modern and contemporary art. The house has been creating waves through the art world for its incredible sales of Chinese artworks, like Qi Baishi’s Album of Insects, which sold for approximately $18 million in 2015.

(Renowned Chinese artist Qi Baishi's 'Album of Insects' sold for $18 mn in Poly's auction)



Founded in 1993, China Guardian Auctions is the earliest auction house to specialize in the sale of Chinese artwork, and the first Chinese auction house to expand overseas. They were the leader in the Chinese auction market till the mid-2000’s, specializing in Chinese paintings, ink paintings, calligraphy, porcelain, oil paintings and sculptures. Guardian’s historic sales include the Album of Mountains and Rivers, by Qi Baishi, which sold for $6 million and a rare famille-rose vase with paintings of “Eight Immortals” crossing the sea.

(Beautiful famille-rose vase with 'Eight Immortals' is a famed work sold by China Guardian Auctions)


Based in Dallas Texas, Heritage Auctions is the largest ‘collectibles’ auction house in the world. Heritage specializes in Civil War memorabilia, Western art, vintage comic books, U.S. and world coins, and even space memorabilia.


(1792 penny 'Birch cent', named after it's engraver Robert Birch, sold by Heritage Auctions in 2015 for $2.2 mn; source - Daily Mail)

Today, Heritage conducts many of its sales online, with over 850,000 registered online bidders and nearly half of their sales coming from online purchases. Some of their ground-breaking sales include the sale of a rare 1792 penny which was the first ever made by the Philadelphia mint for $ 2.2 million, and the ‘Billy Wright Collection’ comprising 345 comics which sold for $3.5 million.

(Billy Wright's Comic Collection sold by Heritage Auctions for $3.5 mn)

Fascinated by the amazing pieces sold by these world-renowned auction houses? Bring home a treasure of your own, from Artisera’s curated selection of rare collectibles

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