Affectionately known as ‘CSK’ or simply ‘South Ken,’ the fin de siecle Old Brompton Road building has been a central cog in the UK art and antiques machine for over four decades.
The operation, formerly Debenham Coe, was acquired in 1975 as Christie’s answer to Sotheby’s second-tier sales in Belgravia (and later Olympia).
At its peak holding three or more sales a week, CSK was both a seemingly never-ending source of middle-range chattels and a high-profile shop window for a range of embryonic collecting areas from vintage posters and Lalique to teddy bears. For collectors of Clarice Cliff or Hornby Dublo, the annual coach trip to west London was the highlight the year.
Rumours regarding the long term future of the saleroom have circulated for some years. Somehow a staff-heavy operation in an expensive piece of real estate selling ‘affordable’ art and antiques didn’t quite fit with a firm that could turn over £200m in a single evening at King Street or the Rockefeller.
Online trumps saleroom
Many of those pioneering specialist departments closed (most recently posters in 2016) and the writing was on the wall as online sales (118 last year) and higher minimum lot values turned a once thriving hub of commercial activity into a showroom where sales came and went but once a week.
The news of CSK’s impending closure thus comes as no great surprise and, of course, there will be many highly competent salerooms in the UK delighted to accept the material Christie’s staff must now turn away.
But, without doubt, the demise of Christie’s South Kensington is an ‘end of an era’ moment.