The history of DESA Unicum Auction House dates back to the 1950s. Państwowe Przedsiębiorstwo Desa (Desa State Enterprise) was established in 1950. The company's name is an acronym of the Polish words 'Dzieła Sztuki i Antyki" (Works of Art and Antiques). The seat of the first management board was located in Pałac Prymasowski (Primate's Palace) at Senatorska Street in Warsaw, whereas the first antique shop was opened at Wilcza Street. Its offer included not only works of art, but also books that could have been interesting for bibliophiles and philatelic items.
The company developed dynamically; soon new branches were opened in the biggest cities in Poland: Kraków, Poznań, Łódź, Wrocław and Gdańsk. In the 1970s Desa was already running 17 galleries, 19 antique shops and 19 so-called “mixed salons" located in smaller towns, where both antique and contemporary objects were sold.
1991 was a pivotal year in the company's history. It was then that Desa was divided – by the decision of the Minister of Culture and Art – into the Warsaw division (capital city branch) and the Kraków division (the remaining branches). The municipality of Warszawa-Śródmieście became the owner of the capital city branch. It decided to transform Desa into a company wholly owned by the municipality and call it “The Warsaw Desa".
In 1998, the company was privatised and merged with Unicum, which was the only auction house on the Polish market at that time. The result of the merger was the establishment of DESA Unicum Spółka z.o.o. – the first company in Poland to organise auctions of works of art.
1998 until present
From 1998 to 2019, DESA Unicum organised more than 500 events, including (among others) auctions of 19thcentury and modern art, post-war and contemporary art, works of young Polish artists and thematic auctions (e.g. works on paper, design, photography, comic art and illustration, jewellery, graphic art and sculpture). DESA also organises charity and collection auctions, as well as auctions commissioned by private entities.
In 2003, Juliusz Windorbski became the president of DESA Unicum. This was also the year in which the auction house began to develop rapidly. In November 2017, DESA Unicum moved to its new headquarters at 1A Piękna Street. This is the first such facility in Europe owned by an auction house.
Currently, DESA Unicum is the largest art dealer in Poland. The year 2018 turned out to be record-breaking – DESA Unicum was the first company on the Polish art market with sales results exceeding PLN 100 million. Thus, the auction house holds 45.8% of shares in this segment of the market.
Moreover, according to a report published by Artnet, the DESA Unicum auction house was ranked 11th among the biggest auction houses in Europe. DESA Unicum belongs presently to the DESA SA holding company, which is also the owner of the DESA Modern gallery & art boutique and the holder of shares in the following companies: Artbookstore (a chain of museum bookstores) and Ardor Auctions (an auction house for classic and vintage automobiles).
In 2019, DESA Unicum underwent a thorough rebranding, which included, among others, the change of the logotype and corporate identity, creation of a new website and brand claim.