Our extensive collection of current and historic auction sale catalogues and book dealer catalogues is an essential resource for provenance research.
About the collection
The Library’s sale catalogues have been acquired largely through purchase or donation because they are generally not covered by legal deposit. Apart from the auctioneers' archival copies, the Library's sets are therefore often incomplete, and catalogues from auction houses outside of those detailed below may not be in the Library's collections.
What is available online?
‘British Sales 1780-1800’ is a joint research project between the National Gallery and the Getty Research Institute that aims to index all known British art sale catalogues. The resulting database, which utilises many of the British Library’s catalogues, allows researchers to track the late eighteenth-century sale rooms, analysing trends, patterns of taste and identifying individuals involved in the art market.
Online resources available in the British Library Reading Rooms:
The database Art Sales Catalogues Online (an electronic version of Lugt’s Répertoire des catalogues de ventes publiques interessant l'art) lists art sales catalogues published between 1600 to 1900, with full digital facsimiles of nearly 24,000 catalogues. The facsimiles are made from originals held in various libraries, and many of the items are not otherwise available at the British Library.
SCIPIO: Art and Rare Book Sales Catalogs contains descriptions of over 800,000 sale catalogues held primarily in American libraries, but also at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The items described are predominantly art sale catalogues dating from 1599 to the present day.
What is available in our Reading Rooms?
The following sets of archival auction sale catalogues, annotated by the auctioneers at the time of sale, are available to consult at the Library:
- Evans (shelfmark S.C.Evans) – catalogues for 1812 to 1845, accompanied by a rough manuscript index of consignors
- Hodgson & Co. - catalogues for 1807 to 1967 (including Hodgson’s predecessors, 'Robert Saunders' and 'Saunders & Hodgson')
- Lewis - catalogues for 1825 to 1852
- Phillips (shelfmark S.C.Phillips) – catalogues for 1850 to 1995
- Puttick & Simpson - catalogues for 1846 to 1967
- Sotheby's - catalogues for 1739 to 1970 (including Sotheby’s predecessors, 'Samuel Baker' and 'Baker & Leigh'). A microfilm set, re-arranged chronologically and with missing catalogues filmed from other collections, runs from 1734 to 1980, and is shelved at Mic.B.740.
- Southgate - catalogues for 1825 to 1868.
- Wheatley (shelfmark S.C.Wheatley) – catalogues for 1825 to 1837 (including Wheatley’s predecessors, 'Stewart, Wheatley & Adlard' and 'Wheatley & Adlard')
Since the late 19th century, selected catalogues from some 2,000 major book dealers in Britain and abroad (plus a few publishers) have been acquired. These are kept in the 'S.C.Named' shelfmark sequence (e.g. S.C.Marlborough). For many there is no entry in the online catalogue, Explore the British Library. The separate Handlist of sale catalogues in the 'S.C. Named' sequence records the companies and individual dealers, and gives a broad indication of the dates for which their catalogues are held. A printed copy of the list is available for consultation at the Rare Books Reference Enquiry Desk.
The largest collection of older auction sale and booksellers' catalogues is at shelfmark 'S.C.' followed by a number (e.g. S.C.187). Catalogues in this sequence are described in Explore the British Library. More detailed catalogue records for this material can also be found in the 'Register of Preservation Surrogates'. Access to the original catalogues is restricted due to their poor physical state but Rare Books Reference staff can advise on how to find and order microfilm substitutes.
The List of catalogues of English book sales 1676-1900 now in the British Museum lists about 8,000 volumes and gives their shelfmarks. This is a list of book sale catalogues and most of the catalogues listed do not appear in Explore the British Library. Two annotated copies of this work can be found on the open shelves in the Rare Books and Music Reading Room.
British Museum 'Duplicate Sales'
When different parts of the early collections of the British Museum's books were brought together, a considerable number of duplicates came to light. To help raise money for the under-funded Museum, many duplicate copies were offered for sale at dedicated auctions arranged by Baker and Leigh (later to be Sothebys). Photocopies of the annotated sale catalogues from the British Library's own duplicate sales are on open access in the Rare Books and Music Reading Room at shelfmark RAR 090.16 ENG. Many important copies of books left the collection as a result of these duplicate sales which took place in 1769; 1788; 1803; 1805; 1811; 1816; 1818; 1819; 1831; and 1832.
What is available in other organisations?
The auctioneer's annotated archival set of Christie's catalogues from 1766 is available to researchers by prior arrangement with the Librarian, Christie's Archives, 8 King St., London SW1Y 6QT. The British Library has only a partial collection of catalogues for Christie's (shelfmark S.C.Christie’s).
The National Art Library at the Victoria and Albert Museum has a wide-ranging collection of sale catalogues from around the world.
Other significant holders of sale catalogues include the Wallace Collection, the British Museum, the Courtauld Institute, the National Archives and the National Gallery.