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.
Sales catalogues can be used to:
A detailed study of sales catalogues gives access to centuries of data concerning the rise and fall in popularity and price of artists, schools, and objects such as furniture and carpets. They can also reveal the personal fortunes of those offering items for sale often as result of bankruptcy, ill health or changing taste.
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.