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Art auction sales, sales catalogues and price guides study guide

'The Saleroom of The Commissaires-priseurs, Paris', wood engraving, Paris, France, 1846–7. Museum no. NAL PP 10

'The Saleroom of The Commissaires-priseurs, Paris', wood engraving illustration from page 73 of 'L`Illustration', Vol.9, Paris, France, 1846–7. Museum no. NAL PP 10

This guide describes resources and standard reference works useful for finding information on prices paid at auction for works of art and locations of sales catalogues for provenance research. The majority of these resources can be consulted in the National Art Library (NAL). Many of the main published resources, both printed and electronic, are also likely to be available in academic and public libraries that hold extensive art and design collections.

Links are provided to resources freely available on the Internet. Due to licensing restrictions, some of the electronic databases referred to are only available to users in the NAL reading rooms, where we hold a subscription. The URLs to various online resources are included below. Where the NAL does not hold a subscription to a particular online resource, full details of how to subscribe can be found on the relevant website.

Current auction sale indexes

  • Art sales index
    Freely available
    Printed edition published: Weybridge, Surrey: Art Sales Index Ltd.,1972–
    Printed volumes covering years 1984–2000 at pressmark: REF 707.5 ART (1984–2000) and 902.AM.0001-0006. One of the most widely used sources for contemporary sales records, with probably the most comprehensive coverage. Online edition contains over 5 million art auction records. Continually updated not only with the latest catalogues but also retrospectively with catalogues from Christie's and Sotheby's dating back to 1920.
  • Artprice  
    Available online within the NAL
    Auction results since 1986 for 405,000 visual artists. Also includes artists' biographies and signatures, monograms and symbols, market reports and art market econometrics. The Fine Art categories covered include: painting, drawing, prints-posters, sculpture-installation, tapestry, miniatures, ceramics and books signed by an artist.
  • Gordon's print prices
    Available online within the NAL
    Printed edition published: New York: M Gordon Inc, 1978–
    Printed volumes covering the years 1978, 1994–2000 at pressmark: PP.76.H and on CD-ROM from 1986–2001
    Auction results for prints from 1985. Online version updated weekly, including back-loading data from historical catalogues from years past. Coverage includes fine prints, posters and books.
  • Gordon's photography prices

    Available online within the NAL
    Auction results from 1970 to the present for fine art and vintage photographs and books and periodicals with original photographs.
    Also available on CD-ROM from 1970–2002.
  • International Art Price Annual/Annuaire des Cotes (ADEC). Paris: ADEC-Production, 1987–
    Pressmark: PP.101.R (1989–1996)
    Published annually. Each volume contains entries for approximately 35,000 artists, covering: paintings, drawings, prints, photography and sculpture. Documents sales from over 600 auction houses worldwide. Prices listed in French francs, sterling and dollars. Gives dimensions, place and date of sale, plus auction house. Includes full list of contributing auction houses.
  • International Auction Records. Paris: Editions Mayer, 1967–
    Pressmark: 134.A-15-41 (1967–1994)
    NAL also holds CD-ROM cumulation covering sales from 1994–1998.
    Published annually. Coverage mainly European and American. Alphabetical by artist within classified chapters; engravings; watercolours; drawings; paintings; sculpture. It is necessary to check each section if you want to find out all works sold by an artist. Prices given in francs, dollars and sterling. NB. Mayer does not include works about which doubts as to authentication have been expressed, i.e. works 'attributed to..'
    Formerly known as International yearbook of sales. Pressmark: 184.A.14

  • Invaluable
    The Invaluable website includes a section entitled 'Auction features' which includes information on auction houses, upcoming auctions and a database of auction results available by subscription. Available online within the NAL.

For a fuller list of printed publications that document sales results choose the Subject Browse (NAL Subjects) option on the Library Catalogue and search for the heading "Sales -- periodicals".

Retrospective auction sale indexes

  • Art prices current: a record of sale prices at the principal London, continental and American Auction Rooms. London: Wm. Dawson & Sons Ltd, 1908–1973.
    Pressmark: PP.101.Y
    First few volumes deal specifically with sales at Christie's but coverage was expanded over the next few years. Years covered: 1907/08–1915/16; 1920/21–1972/73. Prices given in the national currency; dimensions; auction room.
  • Auction sale prices: supplement to the Connoisseur: an illustrated monthly record of prices realised at auction . London: Otto Ltd, 1901–1914
    Pressmark: PP.18.FFW
    Issues for 1901–1902 known as Sale Prices. Covers auctions for the years 1901–1914.
  • Connoisseur Art Sales Annual. London: Connoisseur,1969–1971
    Pressmark: REF Seminar Room 707.5 ANN
    Formerly known as Connoisseur Art Sales Index. Precursor of Art Sales Index.
  • The Year's Art. London: Macmillan & Co., 1880–1947.
    Pressmark: PP.102.P
    Details a variety of events in the British art world. Exhibitions, art education, etc. Not a primary source (has only limited section on major sales) but useful nonetheless. Important research tool with an application much wider than auction house and provenance research.

Selected reference works for locating sales catalogues and provenance information

  • Lugt, Frits, Répertoire des catalogues de ventes publiques intéressant d'art ou la curiosité ...
    Available online within the NAL
    Printed edition published:  The Hague: Nijhoff, 1938–1987. 4 vols. (Vol.4 published by Paris: Fondation Custodia, 1987).
    Vol. 1: 1600–1825, Vol. 2: 1826–1860, Vol. 3: 1861–1900, Vol. 4: 1901–1925. No more to be published.
    Printed edition at pressmark: REF 707.5 LUG
    Standard work and primary tool for locating extant copies of historical sales catalogues and for research on provenance, in printed format and online. Covers fine and decorative arts sales from 1600–1925. Arrangement is chronological by date of sale. Provides locations of catalogues; brief description of sale (no. of pictures, etc); auctioneers; description of catalogues (if priced or otherwise annotated). Includes index of owners and artists. To date, this is the most authoritative publication in the field, and is the source on which many contemporary research projects are based. It is not infallible, as demonstrated by the IDC project (see below) and the work of Getty provenance index (see below), but it is, unarguably, the starting place for any researcher in the field. The online version (available in the NAL) includes corrections to the original printed edition as well as many recently discovered catalogues since the printed edition was published.
  • Art Sales Catalogues 1600–1900
    Available online in the NAL.
    Microfiche edition published: Zug: Inter Documentation [IDC], 1987–2004.
    Pressmark: REF 707.5 LUG (Guides to collection) Pressmark: Microfiche F.96.0006, F.97.0001-0003 and 702.AD.0004
    Ongoing project to provide the complete texts of historical art sales catalogues listed in Frits Lugt's 'Répertoire des catalogues de ventes publiques ...' on microfiche and online. Includes titles which were omitted from Lugt as well as supplementing the information for catalogues already described by him. Holding libraries in several countries are co-operating with the project. Catalogues from 20 libraries were filmed for the 1600–1825 phase (including some from the NAL), the vast majority of them from libraries in Holland. For a selected number of catalogues more than one copy has been included, for example where annotations vary or where there is a translated edition. Subsequent phases (1826–1900) are so far based solely on the holdings of the Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentation, The Hague. The collection will eventually comprise all catalogues from the period 1600 to 1900 and catalogues from part 4 of Lugt, 1901–1925. Accompanied by printed guides based on the Lugt numbers and with supplementary sections detailing newly documented items.
  • Index of paintings sold in the British Isles during the 19th century: provenance index of the Getty Art History Information Program (ed. Burton Fredericksen). Santa Barbara, California and London: ABC-CLIO, 1988–<1996> Vol. 1: 1801–1805, Vol.2: 1806–1810; Vol. 3: 1811–1815, Vol. 4: 1816–1820.
    Pressmark: 184.A.0307-0313.
    Extremely important publication, supplementing Lugt upon which it is based. It aids research into provenance of works of art sold in the British Isles during the 19th century. Records locations of extant sales catalogues. Each entry is given with its Lugt catalogue number and errors in Lugt are also corrected. Records full contents of sales, with each painting in every catalogue described in detail. Also documents works sold through private contracts. Indexes: catalogues; paintings; owners; historical account of the art trade during the period. Scholarly publication, which expands vastly on the information given in Lugt.

  • Getty provenance index databases
    These freely available databases on the web are part of the Getty Research Institute's Project for the Study of Collecting and Provenance (PSCP); the databases are being compiled with the collaborative participation of institutions and individuals in Europe and the United States and contain indexed transcriptions of material from auction catalogs and archival inventories of western European works of art, and contain nearly 1,000,000 records that cover the period from the late 16th century to the early 20th century. Comprises the following databases:
    • Index to archival documents and their contents (inventories and other documents from city, state and national archives; works of art from private collections in France, Italy, the Netherlands, and Spain; period covered 1550–1840)
    • Index to sales catalogues and their contents (works of art from auction catalogues of sales in Belgium, France, Germany Great Britain, the Netherlands and Scandinavia; period covered 1650–1840)
    • Index to paintings in public collections (description and provenance of paintings by artists born before 1900 in American and British public institutions; period covered 1500–1990)
  • Bibliothèque Forney, Catalogues des catalogues de ventes d'art. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1972. 2 vols
    Pressmark: 184.A.10.
    Reproduces the Bibliothèque Forney's catalogue of illustrated sales catalogues. Intended by publishers to supplement Lugt. Contains over 50,000 entries. Owner, place and date indexes.
  • De Lorenzi, Giovanna, Cataloghi di collezioni d'arte nelle biblioteche fiorentine. Pisa: Scuola normale superiore di Pisa, 1988
    Pressmark: REF Seminar Room 707.5 CAT
    Based on the collections of eight Florentine libraries. A scholarly work documenting published catalogues of private collections and sales catalogues, including those of Sotheby's and Christie's. Entries are arranged alphabetically by collector and each is given a unique number. Contains a concordance giving Lugt numbers.
  • Sotheby & Co. catalogue of sales: 1734–1900 [parts I & II] . Ann Arbour, Mich.: Xerox University Microfilms, 1972-
    Pressmark: Micro. 213-430. Printed guide at REF 707.5 SOT
    Microfilm copies of catalogues from the British Museum collections. Annotated with prices and names of buyers. Subject classified printed guide available. Part I: 19/2/1734–20/12/1850. Reels 1–71 Part II: 12/1/1852–19/12/1900. Reels 72-148. Parts III, IV and V (1900–1980) NOT held in the NAL.
  • SCIPIO: art and rare book sales catalogs records on Worldcat
    Worldcat provides bibliographic descriptions of auction sale catalogues from all of the major North American and European auction houses as well as important private sales; held in U.S. libraries and including the holdings of the NAL. Includes descriptions of catalogues dating from the late 16th century to forthcoming sales.

Other reference works

  • Redford, George, Art Sales: a history of sales of pictures and other works of art ... London: George Redford, 1888. 2 vols. ill.
    Pressmark: REF 707.5 RED
    Documents selected arts sales. Based on catalogues from the British Library, Christies' records, and other sources. Also includes substantial essays on some of the important collectors of the 18th and 19th centuries, along with a historical account of auction sales. An extremely useful publication. [See also: Graves, below].
  • Graves, Algernon, Art sales from early in the 18th century to early in the 20th century: (mostly old master and early English prints). London: Graves, 1918–21. 3 vols. ill.
    Pressmark: REF 707.5.GRA
    Important and extensively researched publication documenting major British sales. Expands on the work of Redford, correcting errors and omissions which appear in 'Art Sales ...' described above. Arrangement: alphabetical by artist. Gives date of sale; auctioneer; owner; lot number; title; purchaser (where known). Indexes.
  • Blanc, Charles, Le trésor de la curiosité, tiré des catalogues de ventes de tableaux, etc ... avec diverses notes & notices historiques & biographiques. Paris: Renouard, 1857–58. 2 vols. ill.
    Pressmark: 185.609-610
    Reports sales of collections between 1737–1855.
  • Cote des tableaux, ou, Annuaire des ventes de tableaux, etc ...guide du marchand de l'amateur. Paris: L. Maurice Lang, 1919–1931. 11 vols
    Pressmark: 185.626-633
    Lists major sales only. Records size of sale and price of each item.
  • Duplessis, Georges, Les ventes de tableaux, dessins estampes et objets d'art aux XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles (1611–1800). Essai de bibliographie. Paris: Rapilly, 1874.
    Pressmark: 83.D.42
    Bibliography of sales catalogues for 17th and 18th centuries. Arrangement: chronological.
  • Mireur, Hippolyte, Dictionnaire des ventes d'art faites en France et a l'étranger pendant les XVIIIe et XIXe siècles. Paris: Soullie, 1901–1912. 7 vols
    Pressmark: 184.A.0236-0242
    Details 3000 public sales. Main focus on France but includes foreign sales too. Documents approx 30,000 artists.
  • Waagen, Gustav Friedrich, Treasures of Art in Great Britain: being an account of the chief collections of paintings, sculptures, illuminated mss. ..., London: J. Murray, 1854
    Pressmark: REF 708.2 WAA
    Based on Waagen's research trip to England and written in the form of a travel diary. Extremely valuable for locating art works in private collections. Vol. 1 includes an index of works mentioned in the text.
  • Waagen, Gustav Friedrich, Galleries and cabinets of art in Great Britain: being an account of more than forty collections of paintings, drawings, sculptures ..., London: J. Murray, 1857
    Pressmark: REF 708.2 WAA
  • Graves, Algernon, Summary of and index to Waagen. London: A. Graves, 1912
    Pressmark: 708.2 WAA
    Lists all pictures cited in Waagen (over 9000). A separate section focuses on portraits and includes an index of owners.

Christie's and Sotheby's previews and reviews

  • Christie's magazine. London: Christie, Manson & Woods Ltd., 1998–
    Pressmark: PP.5.B
    Documents upcoming major international sales. Lavishly illustrated. Contains articles. Called Christie's international magazine from 1984–1998. Retrospective issues pre-1987 useful for readers looking for particular categories of sale.
  • Christie's review of the year. London: Christie's, 1996–
    Pressmark: PP.36.C
    Reviews major sales. Addresses of Christie's show rooms internationally. Preceded by Christie's season (1928–1931); Called: Christie's review of the year (1932–1965), Christie's bi-centenary review of the year (1965/66), Christie's review of the year (1967–1971) and Christie's review of the season (1972–1995). Useful when searching for particular types of sales between these dates.
  • Sotheby's art at auction. London: Sotheby's, 1987–
    Pressmark: PP.73.D
    Annual review of major Sotheby sales. Contains articles and each issue is indexed. Useful for general queries about sales of a particular category. Previously called Art at auction (1967-1986); Issues for 1962/63–1965/66 titled The Ivory Hammer.
  • Sotheby's preview. London: Sotheby's, 1979–
    Pressmark: PP.6.K
    Previews upcoming sales. Lists major sales by category and by location. Addresses of Sotheby's offices worldwide. Lists of experts and their specialities. Also contains general articles. Retrospective issues useful for looking for sales of particular category for pre-1987 sales. Called Sotheby's international preview from 1985–1986, title reverted to Sotheby's preview in 1986.

Antiques and other collectibles

Numerous price guides for antiques have been published. The list below gives details of just a few of the mostly widely used. For details of other works held by the NAL do a Subject Browse (NAL subjects) search in the Library Catalogue using the term "Collectors and Collecting".
  • Lyle official antiques review / Lyle official review antiques price guide. Galashiels: Lyle Publications, 1973–1976; 1978–1983; 1985–2002
    Pressmark: PP.9.L
    Documents prices for the antiques trade. Level of information is variable but all items illustrated with b/w photographs. Auction house given, but not date of sale. Prices given in dollars and sterling. Quick reference table at front gives chronology of stylistic periods. Title varies.
  • Miller's antique price guide: professional handbook. Cranbrook, Kent: MJM Publications, 1983-
    Pressmark: PP.101.Q
    Function and arrangement similar to the above.
  • Miller's collectables: price guide. Cranbrook, Kent: MJM Publications, 1989-
    Pressmark: REF.707.5 MIL Previous issues shelved at PP.101.T
    Function: similar to above.

Stolen art works

  • Art Loss Register
    The Art Loss Register (ALR) is 'the world's largest private international database of lost and stolen art, antiques and collectibles that provides recovery and search services to collectors, the art trade, insurers and law enforcement'. Registered users can submit a mediated search for a fee. The ALR is also compiling a database of valuables stolen during the Holocaust and World War II. The website provides full details of all services and publications available and also includes a news and features section.
  • International Yearbook of Stolen Works Paris: International Institute for Research and Documentation on the Art Market, 1991.
    Pressmark: PP.500.E
  • Trace: the monthly magazine for retrieving stolen works of art and antiques. Plymouth: Trace Publications, 1988–
    Pressmark: PP.104.G
    Called Invaluable from May 2000–Feb 2002, title reverted to Trace from March 2002.

Further information

See Auction house sale catalogues in the National Art Library for information about the Library's sale catalogue collection.

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