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How Artprice.com raised $24 million on the Nouveau Marché

Part owned by Bernard Arnault’s luxury group, this auction price database has huge expansion plans

In January, artprice.com, which publishes the results of art sales on the web, was floated on the Paris stock exchange with the usual success of internet companies: 32.6 million shares were requested when buying opened to the public, but only 1,150,000 were available, and of those only 345,000 to the general public. The introduction of Artprice to the market was painstakingly and professionally prepared.

On 21 January, when the company was presented by the stock exchange, 98,000 subscribers applied for shares and, in order to make the flotation a success in the face of a further influx of demands, on 24 January the authorities at the stock exchange decided to increase the margin of fluctuation permitted in one day (maximum 20%) to 50%. But because they had been unable to find another party to stem the wave of demand, they had to raise the permitted margin by 50% again, thereby propelling the paper value of Artprice shares to FFr347 on 27 January, compared with an original offer of FFr125. The society will have raised slightly under than FFr150 million.The shares went on to reach FFr436, and on 17 March stood at FFr272.

Artprice.com was created by Thierry Ehrmann three years ago and in 1999 it made a profit of FFr5 million, which, he says, should “reach FFr34 million by the end of the year and more than FFr100 million in 2001”. Now employing about forty people, it should expand enormously during the coming months.

Mr Ehrmann was a director of Server, a group of fifteen data banks devoted to economic and legal data, and began with the idea that the art market is universal. He proceeded to build up his database methodically, by stages. First, in 1997, he bought Adec/Artprice annual, a yearbook of art prices which reaches eighty-four countries. The following year he bought the US leader, Falk’Art price, which gave him a majority stake in publishing annual price lists.

His development benefits now from the support of Europ@web, which belongs to the Bernard Arnault group (LVMH, Phillips auction house, iCollector.com, étude Tajan, museumnetwork.com), the group having bought a 20% stake in artprice.com in October 1999. From this base Thierry Ehrmann was able to create the first French data-base of prices on the web and set things up to enable him to gain a head-start over his North American rivals.

He has some fundamental advantages: a vast documentary base, twelve years of results, 2.5 million works of art catalogued since 1962, 170,000 artists from the tenth century until today. Artprice collects sales catalogues and sales results from 2,200 auction houses and auctioneers in forty countries. The company has clients who are professional dealers, but it also serves enthusiasts in growing numbers. Artprice currently deals with nine areas: painting, drawing, printmaking, sculpture, photography, miniatures, tapestry, posters, ceramics and, most recently, it has taken on wine sales as well.

“Our development plans should include the purchase of catalogues raisonnés, of publishers’ lists and of national price catalogues”, says Mr Ehrmann. During the coming six months he plans to create a data base of prices fetched by works of art changing hands outside public art sales in order to throw more light on the results of these transactions. In order to do this, artprice.com has already bought a register of living US artists.

Appeared in The Art Newspaper Archive, 102 April 2000