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Bonhams auction house bought by Epiris private equity group

The British auction house brings in former Sotheby’s financial executive Bruno Vinciguerra as part of the deal

Bonhams in London Grant Smith

Bonhams announced today that it has been acquired by Epiris Fund II, the London-based private equity firm that bought and promptly renamed the UK arm of Time Inc. in February. The sale comes on the heels of record-breaking profits for the British auction house, which netted a £4.8m profit last year, markedly up from £1.9m in 2016.

Among the firm’s private shareholders selling their stakes is chairman Robert Brooks, who said in a company-issued statement, “We have always had the intention one day to pass on the business to a new owner who shares our long-term vision for Bonhams.”

The 225-year-old auction house has been on the market for four years; China’s largest auctioneering group, Poly Culture, first made an unsuccessful bid for the company in 2014. In May, The Sunday Times reported that other companies had also expressed interest in buying Bonhams, including CVC Capital, Bridgepoint and Bain Capital, before the firm entered into talks last spring with the investment bank NM Rothschild to advise on a potential sale.

The financial terms of Epiris’s acquisition were not disclosed, but the auction house says that Bruno Vinciguerra, the former chief operating officer of Sotheby’s, will be installed as executive chairman immediately. He joins the current chief executive, Matthew Girling, and chief financial officer, Jonathan Fairhurst. Vinciguerra, who has also held senior roles at Bain, Dell and Disney, described Bonhams as a business with “great potential and a strong track record” and said he intends to “deliver the next stage of growth”.

Though the auction house's total 2017 sales of £450m may fall far short of Sotheby’s (£3.6bn) or the Leonardo-flushed Christie’s (£5.1bn), its global profile has been on the rise since Brooks merged it with his own business in 2001. After a series of takeovers and acquisitions since then, Bonhams now has nine salesrooms in New York, Hong Kong, Edinburgh and Sydney, among other cities. Its London flagship underwent £30m in renovations in 2013, just before Brooks opened up the company for bidding.

Bonhams represents the fourth investment for Epiris Fund II, advised by Epiris LLP, which focuses on investment in UK-based businesses valued between £75m and £500m. Beyond its takeover of the Time Inc. UK portfolio of magazines this year, in May it also acquired The Club Company, a country club operator reportedly valued at around £100m.

Girling said in a statement that Bonhams is “one of the most ambitious” auction houses in the world and that, with Epiris’s investment, the company can continue to expand: “We are delighted to have found a buyer that recognises the potential offered by this business and its employees.”