London auctioneers Bonhams has acquired the US auction house Butterfields from eBay Inc. The purchase price is not yet known.

The acquisition comes a year after Bonhams merged with Phillips Auctioneers, and creates a global company with an annual turnover of over US$250m. (€252.7m).

eBay bought West Coast-based Butterfields in 1999, and introduced Live Auction Technology to the San Francisco and Los Angeles showrooms in order to accept wine bids online. Butterfields will continue to trade on the West Coast under its own name.

The sale is seen as likely to stiffen already stiff competition among US wine auctioneers. However, some are playing it cool. Zachys president Jeff Zacharia said that the current tightening in wine competition is good for the consumer. ‘We have a great auction line-up for the Fall, and I don’t see the change at Butterfields affecting us.’

Butterfields’ public relations director D Levi Morgan said, ‘We feel Bonhams, a traditional house, is a good match for Butterfields, and look forward to being the US arm of the world’s No. 3 auctioneer.’

Founded in 1793, Bonhams is the world’s oldest and largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques still under private British ownership. It has four salerooms in London and 11 more throughout the UK. Sales are also held in the US, Switzerland, Monaco, Germany and Australia.

One of its first jobs following the purchase may be to appoint a new wine director. Longtime director Bruce Kaiser recently withdrew from the post for medical reasons.

Butterfields was established 1865 and deals with a wide range of high-end collectibles. The house has been strong in California wines for many years.

Written by Howard G Goldberg in New York2 August 2002