What Is Lyon & Turnbull?

Lyon & Turnbull is an international auction house established in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1826. Along with Sotheby's and Christie's, it is one of the world's oldest auction houses.

In finance, the importance of auction houses, such as Lyon & Turnbull, has increased in recent years as investors turn to art, antiques, and limited-edition collectibles as alternative investment vehicles.

Key Takeaways

  • Lyon & Turnbull is a Scottish auction house specializing in fine art and antiques.
  • The company competes with Sotheby's and Christie's and is known for its work with private family collections.
  • The market for rare items has grown in recent years as international investors seek alternative investment vehicles.

Understanding Lyon & Turnbull

While smaller than Sotheby's and Christie's, Lyon & Turnbull is the largest and oldest auction house in Scotland. Through its sales offices in London and Edinburgh, it conducts approximately 35 auctions per year. Additionally, Lyon & Turnbull also conducts auctions in the United States, through a partnership with the Philadelphia-based auction house, Freeman's.

Lyon & Turnbull's auctions are focused on fine art and antiques, but they also include other categories, such as rare coins, books, and whiskies. Additionally, they are specialists in marketing entire private family collections.

Aside from their auctioneering, Lyon & Turnbull also offers other services, such as:

  • Valuations of art, jewelry, and antiques that can be used for insurance purposes, valuing an estate or determining inheritance or capital gains taxes.
  • Complimentary estimates of the auction value of pieces.
  • Assistance in acquiring new pieces, either through a Lyon & Turnbull auction or their network of contacts.

The company also holds auctions for charitable causes and will hold a valuation night, similar to "Antiques Roadshow," to help charities raise funds. Auctions can be held at one of their locations, at the company or residence of the client, or an unrelated venue depending on what location is best suited for the specific collection. For those unable to attend in person, Lyon & Turnbull provides online auctions services.

In addition to offering auctioneering services, Lyon & Turnbull and Freeman's team up to publish a magazine twice a year called International View. It contains information about recent auctions and the global art market as well as interviews with those in the business.

United States Partnership

Freeman's, Lyon & Turnbull's partner company in the United States, is America's oldest auction house. It was founded in 1805 by Tristam Bampfylde Freeman, who came from London as a printseller and was appointed to the office of auctioneer in Pennsylvania. Freeman's now has additional offices both nationally and internationally, and it is still run by a member of the family, Samuel M. "Beau" Freeman II.

Real World Example of a Lyon & Turnbull Auction

Given that the market for truly rare items is relatively small, most auctions occur with limited media coverage. In some cases, however, items gain mainstream attention, typically because they sold for significantly more than expected.

For instance, Lyon & Turnbull sold a first edition of Jane Austen's novel, Pride and Prejudice, for 40,000 British pounds (GBP), more than three times its expected value. Similarly, the company fetched 200,000 GBP for a painting by the Malaysian artist Latiff Mohidin—five times its expected selling price.