On March 11, 1744, Samuel Baker, founder of Sotheby's, held the first-ever sale under his own name. The library of a certain Rt. Hon. Sir John Stanley, Bart. described as "containing several Hundred scarce and valuable books in all branches of Polite Literature" sold for a few hundred pounds. Well over two centuries later, on December 6, 1983, Sotheby's sold a single book, The Gospels of Henry the Lion, for more than 8 million pounds.
Since those early days, it is not just prices that have grown considerably. So too have the scope and scale of Sotheby's itself. Samuel Baker would hardly recognize his old firm, were he to take a stroll down London's present day New Bond Street - or, for that matter, down Manhattan's York Avenue. It has only been in the last century, after all, that the original London company has expanded from book auctions to cover all areas of the fine and decorative arts. This great expansion means that Sotheby's is not just one of the oldest fine art auctioneers in the world, but also now the largest. There are more than 100 Sotheby's offices around the world; and, in 1998, auction sales produced a turnover of just under $2 billion.