Enjoy unlimited access: just £1 for 12 weeks

Subscribe now

As the merger took place, chief executive Robert Brooks vowed to keep all four of the merged company’s London salerooms open.
The first sales will take place in January 2002. Louwman Brooks and LVMH, the holding companies of the two auction houses, first announced their plans to merge four months ago, but the accounts department at Bonhams & Brooks is understood to have finally completed the merger paperwork a fortnight ago.

Classic car auctioneer Robert Brooks and his Dutch financial backer Evert Louwman have acquired a controlling stake in the new company and Bernard Arnault’s LVMH group have retained a minority interest, with the shareholding split 50.1/49.9 per cent. The merger did not need government referral, said an Office of Fair Trading spokesman, because the merger would not exceed 25 per cent of the UK market share, nor involve the acquisition of more than £70m of assets.
Bonhams & Brooks have a combined annual turnover of £75m, but with the incorporation of Phillips’ UK operations, Robert Brooks predicts the annual sales turnover to grow to £150m.

The new Bonhams chairman said that “it was too early to say” how many staff would lose jobs as a result of the merger, but with almost 250 Bonhams & Brooks staff joining around 500 Phillips staff, duplications will be inevitable.

The deal also leaves the new Bonhams with four London salerooms – Bond Street, Bayswater, Knightsbridge and Chelsea – at a time when larger rivals Sotheby’s and Christie’s have only two salerooms each in the capital and have been planning to reduce these overheads. Mr Brooks had no doubts about the future of this quartet. “I will not close any of them,” he said.

However, the closure of regional offices and salerooms was not ruled out. Bonhams will have 40 offices and salerooms in the UK, 31 of them ex-Phillips.

The go-ahead of the merger furthers Robert Brooks’ ambition to build an auction empire that will rival Sotheby’s and Christie’s on a global scale. But it is also marks Phillips’ decision to abandon the majority of their interests in Britain to focus on sales of top-end art in Geneva and New York as Phillips, de Pury & Luxembourg.