Bonhams is one of those major British auction houses that are rich in tradition and have a renowned numismatic department. By now, this department has been closed – or rather transferred to another company. Behind this is Bonham’s new strategy to successfully position itself on the international market.
British Coin Traditions from Glendining to Bonhams
Founded in 1793, the auction house with salerooms around the globe specialises in antiques, art, jewellery and motor cars. In 2001, the company, then still called Bonhams and Brooks, absorbed the auction house Philipps Son & Neale, which in turn brought the renowned British coin auction house Glendining into the merger.
Glendining’s last CEO, John Millensted, henceforth headed Bonham’s Coins, Military Medals and Banknotes department, as it was officially called. Regular auctions were held in the company’s salerooms in London Knightsbridge and, of course, online. This has now come to an end.
Bonhams and the Investment Business
In 2018, the owner of Bonhams sold his stock to the London investment company Epiris. In recent years, several investment companies have targeted the coin business. At the end of 2020, a group of investors caused a stir when they acquired the grading company PCGS; a few months later, Blackstone bought the Certified Collectibles Group CCG.
Since Bonhams has been part of Epiris, the auction house has apparently been drilled to keep up with the big competitors Christie’s and Sotheby’s. First, Bonhams bought Bukowskis in Stockholm, then the US auction house Skinner in Boston. In early 2022, this was followed by Bruun Rasmussen in Denmark, and in the summer of 2022 by Cornette de Saint-Cyr in Paris.
Brexit is likely to have provided an additional incentive for the Brits to continue to be represented in the EU. That’s what Bonhams’ CEO Bruno Vinciguerra indicated when they took over Bruun Rasmussen: “The addition of Bruun Rasmussen will enhance Bonhams’ European scale and increase digital capabilities to support further outreach across the Bonhams network.”
Globalisation 2.0 – Outsource Regionally, Trade Globally
In the March of 2022, Bonhams held its last coin auction in Knightsbridge. There will no longer be a numismatic department within the company, the former head John Millensted will continue to support the company on a consultant basis.
By now, Bonhams sees itself as a network of companies with different focal points. After all, the company specifically acquired auction houses that were by no means weak, but rather very strong in their respective fields.
Vinciguerra clearly voiced this strategy recently: “Following on from Bonhams’ acquisition of the Swedish auction house Bukowskis in January, our strategy is to bring a thriving regional business to the global marketplace through Bonhams’ international network.”
Behind this strategy are probably concrete expectations of the new parent company Epiris. Owen Wilson, Partner at Epiris, emphasised after the acquisition of Bruun Rasmussen that there are “plentiful opportunities to develop synergies between the two auction houses’ networks and brands.”
Especially in the Danish market, Bruun Rasmussen has been the top dog in numismatics. Now, Bonhams first geared its new acquisition to act globally and has now entrusted it with the entire numismatic business.
Matthew Haley, Managing Director of Bonhams Knightsbridge, said to CoinsWeekly: “Since Bonhams’ acquisition of Bruun Rasmussen, the Danish auction house in March, Coins and Medals, along with stamps, will be offered through Bruun Rasmussen’s dedicated online and traditional sales. The clientele for coins is global and largely online, and Bruun Rasmussen has a highly developed offering for this category […].Coin sales in the Bonhams’ network will now take place in Copenhagen, rather than in London […].”
The customers will judge whether this decision was in their best interest or not. This could determine whether other auction houses will opt for a similar strategy to position themselves in the global market.
Here is Bonhams’ website.
You can still find the numismatic department there.
And here is the website of Bruun Rasmussen.