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Art Auctions (Sales) Catalogues


The Barber Fine Art Library holds an important collection of recent and historical auction catalogues, also known as sale catalogues.  Most of the holdings are British, with a small number of European, North American and Asian sales, usually through the local branches of Christie’s and Sotheby’s.


How you can use sales catalogues in your research

Sales catalogues can be used to:

  • Establish the value of an artist's work at a given time.
  • Establish the provenance, i.e., ownership history of a work of art.
  • Locate illustrations.
  • Find details about an artwork such as dimensions
  • Trace trends in the history of collecting.

A detailed study of sales catalogues gives access to centuries of data concerning the rise and fall in popularity and price of art works and other collectable objects.   

The earliest sales catalogues are generally simple pamphlets with basic information about the lots. A few, such as the catalogue to the sale of the contents of Fonthill Abbey in 1823, stand out as substantial publications reflecting the size and importance of the sale. A few catalogues from the 18th and 19th centuries have a small number of illustrations but it was not until the advent of photography that illustrated catalogues become commonplace. In some cases, a photograph of an object taken for the catalogue might be the only published image.


Major auction houses

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