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The announcement last week followed considerable speculation over the past year about Bonhams’ future, including rumours that the firm might be sold outright.

The two companies, which have a combined turnover of £75m, will become the world’s fourth largest auction house under the new name of Bonhams & Brooks. The merger will be financed by Louwman Brooks, a holding company whose principals are Robert Brooks and Evert Louwman, a Dutch industrialist and founding partner in Brooks whose father established the Dutch National Motor Museum.

Louwman Brooks will be the merged company’s majority shareholder, although Nicholas Bonham retains a share in the new company. A new enlarged board will comprise the merged boards of the two existing companies with Robert Brooks becoming chairman; Nicholas Bonham will be deputy chairman and the current managing directors of Bonhams and Brooks, Christopher Elwes and Malcolm Barber, chief executive and chief operating officer respectively.

Bonhams, founded in 1793, was wholly family owned until this merger. Making the announcement last week, Nicholas Bonham, who represents the sixth generation to run the firm, said he had mixed emotions. “I have conducted a lot of auctions with over 1000 people but never had a dry mouth before”. Outlining what he described as “the biggest change my company has had in its history,” he said “we are very strong in this country but have very few people around the world. It is vital if we are to compete in this market that we have an international flavour. Now is the time to merge with someone who has the same qualities as Bonhams. We needed the finance to compete”.

Robert Brooks, who started his auction career at Christie’s South Kensington where he became head of the company’s car department, founded Brooks with an inaugural sale at the London Motorfair in 1989. It now has headquarters in the UK, and has offices and conducts sales in the USA, Europe and Australia.

Asked what the attractions of the merger were from Brooks’ standpoint, Robert Brooks said “When you reach a certain level you need ever stronger back-up. We were heavily reliant on one subject area, the merger brings a fantastic administrative background and great staff”.

Last week both Robert Brooks and Nicholas Bonham were keen to emphasise the strength of their companies’ marriage, which will combine the traditional and comprehensive structure of Bonhams’ family firm with the international sales platform developed by its younger partner. They also stressed the two companies’ “seamless fit” with virtually no overlap of staff over areas of expertise. The new company will have over 220 staff: 28 from Brooks and 200 from Bonhams, and there had been only three or four redundancies, said the two men last week. They were also keen to emphasise that this was a merger of two privately-owned family businesses and of two British auctioneers.

Bonhams & Brooks aim “is to compete at the highest level” by combining strengths and through investment in the merged business. Robert Brooks said that the company was not looking for outside finance, “We have the capital we need”.

The immediate plans were to get the companies working side by side, moving staff into their Knightsbridge headquarters. Manager director Christopher Elwes said last week that the new company was committed to traditional auctioneering and would be “strengthening our core business – property consigned for sale by private vendors mainly in the UK” with activity centring on Chelsea and Knightsbridge, although he added that they would now “be able to do things faster”.