Sending another ripple through a London antiques world already in flux, the art appraisal firm Gurr Johns has purchased Dreweatts and Bloomsbury for £1.25m. The auction houses, which merged in 2011, have been owned by Stanley Gibbons, the historic stamps retailer (which also owns coin auctioneer Baldwin’s, Fraser’s Autographs, and antiques dealer Mallett) since 2013.
The terms of the deal encompass the Dreweatts operation, established in 1759 and headquartered at Donnington Priory near Newbury, plus Bloomsbury’s brand and intellectual property. Sotheby’s veteran George Bailey, who has led Dreweatts and Bloomsbury since 2014, will continue his role as chairman. The company relocated its London office to St James's earlier this year.
The sale follows the failure of a previous deal with former auctioneer Mark Law and investor Gavin Alexander, who had hoped to acquire Dreweatts and the Mallett brand for £2.4m. That partially completed transaction crumbled in August due to lack of funds.
For Gurr Johns, which offers valuations, advisory services, private sales, and financing on high-end works from offices in London, the United States, and India, the appeal of owning a regional player such as Dreweatts—whose general sale of 19 July carried estimates of £50 to £500—may not be readily apparent. However, the firm’s valuations business covers every price range, and according to executive chairman Harry Smith, the acquisition was a strategic move, given the up-for-grabs nature of London's middle market.
“The 21st century auction market continues to evolve; while there’s an increasingly intense focus on the very highest levels, where we operate as advisers and valuers, we’ve also observed huge opportunities at lower levels, particularly since the closure of Christie’s South Kensington," says Smith. “We believe that George and his team are perfectly placed to take advantage of these opportunities.”
Antiques dealer Robert Young says Dreweatts in the pre-Gibbons days was “one of the most highly respected and trusted provincial auctioneers”, and adds, “The timing is very good, as appetite is slightly increasing...There’s no harm in being regional as long as you’re active and alert and savvy.”