France’s unique and thrilling Hôtel Drouot

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Drouot has always held an allure for collectors, amateurs and tourists alike and we also know it can also feel rather daunting. This week we explain what exactly ‘Hôtel’ Drouot is and how this operation works. Next time you’ll be ready!

First thing to know is that The Hôtel Drouot itself isn’t an auction house. It’s a building that looks and feels like an American mall with florescent lighting and a central escalator connecting several floors, which opened in 1852 and today hosts about 75 small, private Paris-based auction houses, each with its own auctioneer.

There are 16 salerooms and outside of each one is a screen telling you which auction house is offering what sale is inside. It also list all of the specialists that worked on the sale. There are over 200 independent specialists that assist the auction houses to identify and authenticate every single object offered for sale.

About 1,300 sales take place in the Hôtel per year and on average about 500 objects sold per day – 6 days a week. Hotel Drouot is open Monday – Saturday.


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Marc Chagall (1887-1985) Lithograph

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Flowers low table,  with colored silkscreen on paper after Andy Warhol, Edition SundayB Morning.

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Pair of Jacques-Emil Ruhlmann (1879-1933) ash wood bergères, model ‘Bas Ducharme’, circa 1927.


Who can go? Just like all auction houses Drouot is open to the public and anyone can attend and participate in an auction.

What is for sale? Everything. From box lots that can contain vases, incomplete sets of Limoges dishware, fur coats, silvered trinkets, pin boxes, etc … with estimates of 10-20 euros to the most important/valued furniture and art in the world. France, having been the wealthiest country in the world during the reign of Louis XIV until the 19th century accumulated a lot of riches and cultural objects that are still uncovered in homes to this day. The quantity and quality of objects is unique to France and consequently the treasure hunt is alive and doing very well here at Drouot!

You can certainly feel the energy of the hunt! We were recently there before opening hours for a private view and the moment the doors opened to the public at 11am the escalators were packed. And people were on a mission! Don’t get in their way. Everyone seemed to have done previous research and knew what they were there to see. Some people pulled suitcases behind them anticipating leaving with treasures. Others carried flashlights to use when they pull out drawers to examine construction, and still others examined silver stamps. One thing for sure – the objects for sale are sold as is – authenticity is a matter of wording, which can be tricky for the unseasoned browser. We noticed that many people were saying good morning to each other tipping us off that they are regulars and mainly dealers.


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French black lacquered wood and silvered cast iron standing cabinet.


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Art Deco Glass and Silvered Metal Tray


How it works:

  • There are about 7/8 sales in Drouot every day.
  • Each sale comes and goes over two days. The first day is an exhibition of all the sale lots from 11am-6pm. The second day the smaller items are available to touch and examine from 11am to 12noon. During this time the larger items are moved to the edges of the room and an auction stand is placed in the room, chairs are slowly set up for the public who will bid on the items.
  • All auctions start at 2pm.
  • All sales are finished by 6pm and the next sale begins it’s set up at 7pm/8pm until about 10pm.

Whew! It’s very impressive! The energy is palpable. Drouot says that almost 5,000 people come through each day.


Unlike Christie’s and Sotheby’s there are no set bidding increments so you need to really pay attention!

  • Just like all the other auction houses there are buyer premiums to pay … 25% at the moment. There is often an expert fee to add on and there is always a 5% state fee to pay. It’s always important to keep in mind these fees when considering your top bid. You’ll need to add about 30% to the hammer price.
  • For property under 1000 Euros you can pay cash – just like in the shops.
  • The winning bidder pays on the spot and walks out with the smaller items purchased. (Hence the people pulling suitcases!)
  • If an item is too big to carry out there is a desk on the ground floor where you can arrange shipping. There is next day shipping in Paris and shipping is available worldwide.


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Set of four Tulip Chairs by Aero Saarinen (1910 – 1961) Edited by Knoll International


Some extra info:

  • Drouot produces a weekly magazine listing all of their sales plus many other sales around France including Christie’s/Sotheby’s to small regional auctions. It comes out every Friday.
  • There is a free monthly magazine as well (in French, Chinese and English) that highlights the important sale highlights and results as well as interviews, museum highlights and trend reports.
  • DrouotLive is for the online sales. All wine sales are on line and many other sales as well. You need to check on the website.
  • Catalogues are produced for the important sales. Sales without catalogues
  • Each first Saturday of the month a decorator is invited to create rooms using objects on view. It’s a project that takes place during opening hours. The idea is inspire people by putting the objects in context as a way to help highlight their value.

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Rosewood commode by Kurt Ostervig (1912-1986) Edited by KP Mobler

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Four gilt cast iron chairs by Rene Prou (1889- 1947)

Bon weekend!

All photos from catalogues for upcoming sales at Drouot.

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