A brief history of auctions

“Auction” comes from from the Latin word “augeō” which means “I increase” or “I augment”. Prior to the seventeenth century, although used, auctions were few and far between. The more common methods are still ones we use today, haggling and set-price.

The beginnings of auctions go so far back in time no one knows who, how, or when they started. But we do know that the Greeks were using auctions to sell their daughters as wives. Actually, if you sold your daughter outside of an auction, you were breaking the law. Seems reasonable.

Romans would auction off the spoils of war, including people as slaves, to help pay for their wars. It was also popular to auction off family estates as well. In fact Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius sold furniture at auction to pay off debts.

When the Roman Empire fell, so did the favor of auctions. Then starting in the seventeenth century, there was a unique technique developed for holding auctions in England. They would light a candle to signal the beginning of an auction and bids would be taken until the candle went out. Whoever had the high bid at that time was the winner.

historyWhen the Pilgrims came to America, so did auctions. Crops, livestock, tobacco, farms, and, unfortunately, slaves were common items up for auction during the years America was being colonized. Fur, especially beaver pelts, was very popular as well.

During the Civil War auctions were becoming very popular. The spoils of war once again became frequent items for sale. The commanding officer, often a Colonel, would act as the Auctioneer. This is why today we sometimes call the auctioneer “Colonel”.

In the early 1900’s schools began opening to train Auctioneers. Which was at odds with the belief at that time that Auctioneering was a natural ability and one could not be trained to do it. Back then there was no PA systems, so they had trouble being heard. This, along with difficult travelling conditions, and weather (as auctions were held outdoors), made life a challenge for the Auctioneer.

After the great depression and World War II, auctions started becoming very popular. The sale of real estate and goods was exploding, and auctions allowed for the timely sales of such items. This is also the time when Auctioneers became true businessmen; they worked to gain reputation and began establishing formal connections with other business entities, banks, attorneys, etc.

The next big thing for auctions was technology. Auctioneers began to leverage computers, fax machines, digital cameras, and big screens to make their business more efficient and allow their customers to get a better look at the items for sale.

Then the Internet took off. eBay opened in 1995 and quickly became the site of choice for online auctions. People were able to easily sell an item or two on their own without much time or effort invested.

Today, Auctioneers even have specialized certifications such as CES-Certified Estate Specialist, AARE-Accredited Auctioneer Real Estate, GPPA- Graduate Personal Property Appraiser, and NAA auctioneers who are bound by a code of ethics that protects consumers against fraud and unfair business practices.

Auctions have a long, rich history because they meet a need and are very effective. But I think the reason they have been so popular over the years is because they are such great fun!

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Phone. 812-547-7653


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