Auctions: The Past, Present and Future
“Auction” derives from the Latin word “Auctus” which means “increasing”.
Babylon 500 B.C.
The First Auctions
• Women were auctioned off as wives
• The descending method of sale was used
• Returns were allowed
• Dowries and other offers were added for less attractive women
• It was considered illegal to allow a daughter to be “sold” outside of the auction method
Rome 30 A.D.
• Rome was the first nation to license auctioneers.
• Marcus Aurelius sold family furniture at auction to satisfy debts.
• Roman soldiers sold war plunder at auction.
• The “Magister Auctionarium” drove a spear into the ground to start the auction. Today auctioneers use a gavel to start auction.
• One of the most significant historical auctions occurred in the year 193 A.D. when the entire Roman Empire was put on the auction block by the Praetorian Guard.
• On March 23 the Praetorian Guard first killed Emperor Pertinax, then offered the empire to the highest bidder.
• Didius Julianus outbid everyone for the price of 6,250 drachmas per guard.
• This initiated a brief civil war and Didius was beheaded two months later when Septimus Severus conquered Rome.
Stockholm Auction House
• Founded in 1674, Stockholms Auktionsverk is the oldest auction auction house still in business.
• Founded by Baron Claes Rålamb
In some parts of England during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries auction by candle was used for the sale of goods and leaseholds.
The auction began by lighting a candle after which bids were offered in ascending order until the candle sputtered out. The high bid at the time candle extinguished itself won the auction.
Post French Revolution
At the end of the 18th century, auctions came to be held in taverns and coffeehouses to sell art.
Auctions were held daily and catalogs were printed to announce available items. Many considered the auction catalogs art in themselves as they were very elaborate and detailed.
Sotheby’s Auction House was founded in 1744
Christies Auction House was founded in 1766
Popular Early American Auction Items
America’s first president, George Washington, was an avid auction buyer.
Civil War Era
• Colonels auctioned off the spoils of the war
• Only officers of the Colonel rank could conduct auctions of war plunder
• Today, Auctioneers are commonly referred to as “Colonel”
• Auctions schools start to open in America
• The Jones’ National School of Auctioneering and Oratory is believed to be the first American auction school
During the Great Depression auctioneers traveled the country to liquidate the estates of farmers whose farms had failed because of drought and bank foreclosures.
• The sale of goods and real estate by the auction method of marketing was booming
• The need for real estate and personal property to be sold faster than the private market moved auctions to the forefront and the modern auction business was born
• Auctioneers began to be linked to banks, attorneys, accountants, the court system, and government agencies to liquidate property, seized assets and surplus property
• The live auction industry continues to grow in the United States and if it can be sold, its been sold at auction.
• In 2002, the auction industry sold $195.3 billion in goods and services. In 2008, $268.5 billion was sold at auction!
• The fastest growing sector of the live auction industry is real estate. Residential real estate is the fastest with total gross sales increasing 47.7% between 2003-2008.
• The largest sector is automobile auctions with $83.1 billion sold in 2008.
• Today’s auctioneer uses a variety of media (i.e. print, billboards, Internet) to reach both buyers and sellers
• With the launch of eBay in 1995, auctions have flourished both live and online
• Auctioneers today use the Internet to both market their auctions, as well as host live, streaming video of auctions where bidders can bid from their computers
Entertainment & Auctions
• In addition to advances in technology and popularity of eBay, auctions are also gaining popularity in mainstream media
• Popular television programs like Pawn Stars, Antique Roadshow, Cash in the Attic, Bargain Hunt, Houses Under the Hammer and Flip That House have both entertained and educated consumers about the many benefits of buying and selling at auction