The library holds approximately 15,000 auction catalogues, mainly dating from the late nineteenth century onwards, but with some eighteenth and early nineteenth century sales.
Catalogues have been acquired in the following ways:
- by subscription on publication from the 1970s–2020 from Bonham’s, Christie’s, Phillips and Sotheby’s auction houses. Most auction houses stopped producing printed catalogues in 2020 but these are still acquired on an ad hoc basis when they are made available.
- by donation as loose catalogues from private collectors such as Brian Sewell or Peter and Renate Nahum or institutions such as the British Museum in 2001 and the University of Nottingham in 2011
- in sequences collected and bound by private collectors and acquired by donation or purchase
The library does not collect all subject categories. The focus is on British oil paintings, watercolours and drawings. Some decorative arts, furniture and print sales catalogues have also been donated or purchased over the years.
Most of the catalogues are originals but some, from the periods 1793–1799 and 1821–1840, are photocopies acquired as part of the Getty Provenance Index cataloguing project.
The majority of the auction catalogues are loose, but some are in bound sequences.
Apart from sales held in the Oppé library, they are held in two chronological sequences: British sales and Foreign sales (1960–).
Within the British sales sequence there are a number of discrete collections. In chronological order these are:
Christie's catalogues 1868–1929 formerly owned by Arthur Tooth & Sons
A collection of 90 volumes of over 3000 Christie’s and other auction catalogues, dating from 1868 to 1929, formerly belonging to Arthur Tooth & Sons gallery in London, and annotated by them with prices and the names of purchasers. Information is unavailable about how this material was acquired by the library.
These volumes are bound in red buckram and have the title: Christie's catalogues : [YEAR] : [Number]
All individual sales catalogue records bear the note: Formerly the property of the art dealer Arthur Tooth & Sons.
Christie’s catalogues 1881–1898 formerly owned by Ellis Waterhouse
This collection of 33 volumes of over 850 Christie’s London auction catalogues covers the period 1881–1898 and was owned by Sir Ellis Kirkham Waterhouse (1905–1985), an art historian and museum director and Director of the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art (1970–1973).
When Waterhouse took up post as Director of the Centre in 1970, he brought with him various research resources, including these auction catalogues. When he resigned in 1973, this material remained at the Centre, where it continued to be made available to staff and interested researchers. It was formally acquired by the Centre upon his death in 1985. The collection includes old masters, modern pictures and drawings sales.
These volumes are bound in green buckram and have the title: Christie's catalogues : [Year] : [Number]
All individual sales catalogue records bear the note: Formerly the property of Ellis Kirkham Waterhouse, 1905–1985.
Engravings catalogues 1885–86
A single volume of 36 London engravings sales dating from 1885-1886 mostly from Christie, Manson & Woods, Puttick & Simpson and Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge. Information is unavailable about how this material was acquired by the library.
This volume is bound in grey-green buckram and has the title: Catalogues : engravings : 1885–86
All individual sales catalogue records bear the note: Formerly the property of Anon [? William W]
William Roberts / Ellis Waterhouse collection 1892–1937
The personal collection of 5,150 auction catalogues in 144 volumes built up, and annotated, by William Roberts (1862–1940) an art critic and art sales correspondent of the Times and later owned by Sir Kirkham Ellis Waterhouse.
The collection was purchased by Ellis Waterhouse at a Sotheby’s, London, auction in July 1940. When Waterhouse took up the post of Director of the Paul Mellon Centre in 1970, he brought with him various research resources, including these auction catalogues. When he resigned in 1973, this material remained at the Centre where it continued to be made available to staff and interested researchers. It was formally acquired by the Centre upon his death in 1985. This collection contains some rare and hard to find catalogues, as well as many on-the-premises sales.
This collection also includes newspaper cuttings, images, journal articles and a small amount of correspondence that Roberts inserted or pasted into the sale catalogues. This material relates to the sales. The inserts and pasted-in material have been fully catalogued as part of the Centre’s Archive Collections. Please search the archive catalogue for full details. (Ref WR)
These volumes are bound in blue buckram and have the title: Picture sales [Year] : [Month – Month]: E K W
All individual sales catalogue records bear the note: Formerly the property of William Roberts, 1862-1940, and Ellis Kirkham Waterhouse, 1905–1985
This material is kept in the Library Special Collections under the Classmark ‘AUCTION CATALOGUES’.
The library holds catalogues of sales held at a wide variety of auction houses, including:
Eighteenth century - Mr Bryan; Christopher Cock; Mr Cooper; Messrs Greenwood; Mr Langford & Son.
Nineteenth century – Burrell and Foster; Mr Cameron; Christie & Manson; Christie, Manson & Woods; Peter Coxe; Mr Dowell; Messrs Foster; Mr Edward Foster; Mr Hickman; Mr Hodgson; Horne, Eversfield & Co; Mr George Jones; Mr Phillips; Phillips, Son & Neale; Puttick and Simpson; Messrs Robins; Mr Robins; Robinson & Fisher; Mr Shuttleworth; Mr Southgate; Sotheby’s; Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge; Mr Squibb and Son; Mr Stanley; Mr Wright.
Twentieth century – Bonhams; Bruton, Knowles & Co.; Christie's; J & R Edmiston; Hampton & Sons; Hurcombs; Knight, Frank & Rutley; Phillips; Robinson, Fisher & Harding; Sotheby's; Sotheby Parke Bernet Inc.; Henry Spencer & Sons; Waring & Gillow Ltd.
The collection includes catalogues of auctions held mainly in London, but also in Dublin, Edinburgh, Paris and New York. Country house and on-the-premises sales catalogues have also been acquired, many of which are rare and hard to find.
All auction catalogue holdings have either a full catalogue record or a skeleton record on the Library and Photographic Archive catalogue.
As a rule, all auction catalogue holdings up to 1826 have been fully catalogued as well as those in bound sequences; the rest have skeleton records.
Catalogues are not on the open shelves; they will be retrieved by staff on request.