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Auction sales catalogs: find them, find what is contained in them: Welcome

Annotated bibliography of databases and print sources for finding information on works sold at auction, and for finding auction catalogs.

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Auction sales catalogs in the Clark library

The Clark library has an extensive collection of auction catalogs going back to the mid-19th century.  A considerable portion of the early catalogs were part of the library of the Duveen Brothers Firm, acquired by the library in 1964.  Many of the Duveen Library catalogs include agents' annotations of prices and buyer's names; such catalogs are rich sources of provenance information that is often not available from any other source.

Auction catalogs are shelved under the call number N8660, and within that by auction house and then by date of sale.  The call number N8660 S717 1997 0218, for example, is a Sotheby's catalog for a sale held in 1997 on February 18.

The library also has a wide range and variety of reference tools, print and electronic, that can be used to identify and locate specific auction catalogs (union catalogs), to find when and where specific works of art were sold (indexes), and to find out about sellers.

Auction catalogs can be used for many purposes, including:

  • Establishing the value of an artist's work at a given time.
  • Determining the provenance of a work of art in cases where the names of sellers and buyers are reported, thus enabling the genealogy of the work to be traced.
  • Discovering information on little-known or contemporary artists whose work has recently been sold but for whom insufficient documentation exists.
  • Locating rarely published illustrations, sometimes in color, of an artist's works or on a particular subject.
  • Compiling a catalogue entry for a specific work of art, such as dimensions or date of completion.
  • Finding sources of further information (many auction catalogs have extensive bibliographies and references).
  • Evaluating the auction market.
  • Tracing artistic taste and trends, since sales prices are an indicator of the market's reaction to works of art and artists. 

Subject Guide

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Karen Bucky
The Clark Library
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Williamstown, MA 01267