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Auction sales catalogs: find them, find what is contained in them: Primary sources: research sales & sellers

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

Newspapers, journals, archival materials....

In looking for information about sales and sellers of works of art, it is sometimes necessary to turn to contemporary newspapers, correspondence, and other primary-source materials.  In particular, finding information about the buyer of a work is difficult as auction houses rarely report this information.  Often the only source of information about a buyer is an annotated auction catalog, an article announcing the sale of a work, or the papers of an artist, dealer, or collector.

Newspapers and Journals

Works sold at auction are rarely announced in the press, but it does happen in some cases.  Try checking the following sources to find contemporary articles or advertisements announcing sales or reporting on works sold.

Index to 19th-Century American Art Periodicals

Index to “nearly all” art journals published in the United States between 1840 and 1907.  Each issue is indexed completely, including articles, art notes, illustrations, stories, poems, and advertisements. 

Clark Electronic Resource


London Times Digital Archive 1785–1985

Scanned version of the London Times. Contains full content of the newspaper including advertisements, editorials, reviews, stock exchange tables, and weather reports. Does not include the Sunday edition.  

Clark/Williams Electronic Resource


Pro-Quest Index to Historical Newspapers

Full-text.  Indexes the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles TimesNew York TimesWall Street Journal, and Washington Post, and other major American newspapers from all over the country.  Coverage varies from publication to publication; papers are indexed from their inception and start dates range from 1851 to 1890.  Find advertisements, announcements, reviews, and articles.

Clark/Williams Electronic Resource



Full-text database created by the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, which has digitized a wide variety of 17th-, 18th-, and 19th-century books, documents, and periodicals.  Click the “Discover” link for “La presse quotidienne dans Gallica” for a list of digitized periodicals that can be browsed and downloaded or printed.  Click the “Themes” link to browse/search collections organized by subject, or use the search box to search for specific titles, authors, or subjects.

Internet resource


Readers’ Guide Retrospective

Citation index to a wide variety of U.S. and Canadian general-interest periodicals and popular, non-technical magazines, a rich source of American cultural history.  Find articles and reviews from such publications as Critic, Century, Harper’s, The Nation, and International Studio.
Coverage is from 1890 to 1982.  (See Reader’s Guide for coverage from 1982 to the present.)

Clark/Williams Electronic Resource


Archival materials

Artists' papers can be an important source of information about works commissioned or sold, as can the correspondence of well-known dealers and collectors.  The AAA is a rich collection of the papers of American artists, dealers, collectors, and art historians; most of the collections have been microfilmed and are available through Interlibrary Loan and ongoing digitization projects are making other collections available via the internet.  ArchiveGrid is a database of archival materials not necessarily related to art, and can thus be used to find the papers and correspondence of people outside the art world.


A database of the archives of hundreds of research libraries worldwide.  From within a search result you can restrict a search to specific archives or specific locations, using links on the sidebar. 

Clark Electronic Resource


Archives Nationale (France)

Website for the five centers of the French national archives:  Centre Historique des Archives Nationale (pre-1958), the Centre des Archives Contemporaines (post-1958), the Centre des Archives d’Outre-Mer (documents of French overseas colonial possessions), Centre des Archives du Monde du Travail (documents of corporations, syndicates, associations), and the Centre National du Microfilm.  One of the available online resources worth exploring is the database called Arcade ( index.html): “A la lumière des documents d'archives, la base Arcade retrace la genèse et l'histoire des œuvres d'art, acquises, commandées ou gérées par l'Etat et les collectivités territoriales de 1800 à 1939.”   Also includes links to other online resources related to French art and museums.

Internet resource


Archives of American Art (index search), Smithsonian Institution Research and Information System (SIRIS)

Online catalog for Smithsonian research collections—spanning more than 200 years—that include letters, diaries, and scrapbooks of artists, dealers, and collectors; manuscripts of critics and scholars; business and financial records of museums, galleries, and associations; photographs; works of art on paper; and oral history interviews.  Many entries include links to finding aids and bibliographies.  AAA materials on microfilm can usually be obtained through Interlibrary Loan.

Internet resource

Advertisement in the Times

Advertisement in the Times of London, May 30, 1818.

This advertisement was found by searching the London Times Digital Archive and limiting the search to advertisements.

Gossip column in "The Crayon"

"Domestic Art Gossip."  The Crayon, Vol. 6, Issue 4 (April, 1859): p. 125

The so-called gossip columns in art journals can be very good sources of information about works of art sold, commissioned, and exhibited.  This article was found using Index to Nineteenth-Century American Art Periodicals.  Note, for example, that this article names the buyer of a work by E.H. May sold at auction, information that would not appear in the auction catalog and in most cases would not be divulged in the price list of works sold.

Featured resource: Archives of American Art

The Archives of American Art is the world’s most widely used research center dedicated to collecting, preserving, and providing access to primary sources that document the history of the visual arts in America.

The AAA's vast holdings include more than 20 million letters, diaries and scrapbooks of artists, dealers, and collectors; manuscripts of critics and scholars; business and financial records of museums, galleries, schools, and associations; photographs of art world figures and events; sketches and sketchbooks; rare printed material; film, audio and video recordings; and the largest collection of oral histories anywhere on the subject of art.

Much of the archival material has been microfilmed; AAA microfilm can be requested on interlibrary loan.