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What is not clear, however, is how their total revenues and profits compare; as a wholly privately owned company, Christie’s are not obliged to publish such results. Christie’s sales totals for the first six months of 2001 compare with £761m ($1.172bn) for the same period in 2000, a sterling drop of 11 per cent.

Chief executive Edward Dolman echoed Mr Ruprecht’s belief that buyers were proving more selective. Both firms have declared their intention to focus on improving client services and are developing their international networks to secure more of the healthy top end of the market while attempting to revitalise the middle market in the UK, Sotheby’s with their new Olympia salerooms and Christie’s with their plans for merging both London rooms at Somerset House.