Prior to the seventeenth century, the few auctions that were held were sporadic. That being said, auctions have a long history, dating back and recorded as early as 500 B.C. Herodotus was a Greek historian who was born in Halicarnassus in the Persian Empire (modern-day Bodrum, Turkey) also referred to as the father of history, claimed auctions of women for wives were held annually.
The word “auction” is derived from the Latin augeō which means “I increase” or “I augment”.
The auctions would begin with the most beautiful women first and end with the less desirable, in that era, it was illegal to sell a daughter via any other method.
During the roman empire, roman soldiers would drive a spear into the ground after a battle to dictate the items around it were to be auctioned off at a later date as spoils of war, slaves taken in this matter later on during the period would be sold at an auction at the forum featuring the spear sign, the proceeds of which would be designated funds for upcoming war campaigns.
The wars waged by ancient Rome were in constant need of funds and occasionally full campaigns crumbled for lack of funding so new and innovative ways to gather funding were always being considered. In this case very unfortunate for the victims of Rome’s conquests
Romans also used auctions to liquidate the assets of debtors, the most famous of whom was Marcus Aurelius who sold so much of his furniture that the sales lasted for months! However not even the mighty Marcus Aurelius could match the auctions held in 193 A.D, when the Praetorian Guard killed emperor Pertinax and offered up Rome to the highest bidder which turned out to be Didius Julianus with a winning bid of 6,250 drachmas per guard, was beheaded just two months later by Septimius Severus when he conquered Rome.Perhaps this use of auctioning and the resulting horrors were what led to the popularity of the practice in Europe until the late seventeenth-early eighteenth centuries.
Auctions were never very widespread anywhere else in the world during this period.Although were seen in random parts of Asia.
A resurrection of the auction industry came with the auction by candle , whereas the auction would only last as long as the candle still burned, this was in part to discourage last second bids, sometimes alternatively a footrace method would be used in place of the candle.These auctions unlike were generally used for the sale of goods and leaseholds.
There have been very many variations of the auction throughout history, including Multiunit auctions ,All-pay auction, Bidding fee auction, Combinatorial auction, Generalized second-price auction, and Generalized first-price auction as well as Unique bid auctions, No-reserve auction, Reverse auction and Walrasian auction to name a few.
The Admiralty also used to auction ships in this manner.
As auctioning enjoyed its rebirth, so came the birth of auction houses fueled by the increasing popularity of auctioning artwork. Artwork and the arts, in general, being the equivalent of television during this period some entrepreneurs saw an opening for a vast and expansive empire to be built, thus came the birthing of auction houses some of which are still around today.
The first to be established was Stockholm Auction House, founded by Baron Claes Rålamb in 1674. Its services have been used by clients like Sweden’s King Charles XI, who sold some hunting rifles for 900 silver coins, Sweden’s King Gustav III, who acquired Rembrandt’s painting entitled Kitchen Maid.
Auction chant (also known as “bid calling”, “the auction cry”, “the cattle rattle”, or simply “auctioneering”) is a rhythmic repetition of numbers and “filler words” spoken by auctioneers in the process of conducting an auction. The chant consists of at least the current price and the asking price to outbid. Auctioneers typically develop their own style, and competitions are held to judge them. Outside of auctions, the chant has been the subject of music and used in commercials and film.
Sotheby’s, currently the world’s second-largest auction house, was founded in London on 11 March 1744, got its start when Samuel Baker presided over the sale of a vast collection of rare books from the library of an acquaintance. Christie’s, now the world’s largest auction house, founded by James Christie in 1766 in London and published its first auction catalog in 1766, although newspaper advertisements of Christie’s sales dating from 1759 have been found.
After this point auctions were widely held in many different locations including taverns and coffeehouses and have only gained ground in their popularity.
During the American civil war goods seized by armies were sold at auction by the Colonel of the division. This is why some auctioneers today are referred to as “colonel”
The dawn of the internet age has brought the evolution of the auction industry like it has so very many other aspects of our lives. An industry worth more than $268.4 billion in 2009 is now estimated at $394bn and growing, thus becoming one of the biggest industries on earth with the fastest growing sectors being agricultural, machinery, and equipment auctions and residential real estate auctions.
While the traditional in house auctions are still enjoying vast popularity and use a variation of in-house and telephone bidding, a growing number of innovative auction house owners are banding together to form online auction networks and taking their craft to the internet, forming a very competitive and lucrative business model.The other benefit to this is that smaller operators tend to get to places and treasures corporate industry operators don’t. It also opens the auction house doors to audiences that are unable to attend live auctions, such as the elderly, disabled and those lacking transportation or spare time, as well as opens a new faster international market, whereas goods previously only available mostly to domestic bidders can now be bid on and shipped internationally with much greater ease.
Where is the future of the auction industry heading? Well, I envision a joint evolution of the old and the new… Imagine if you will be sitting in your office on a break or in your home, you slip on your VR helmet, switch on and instantly you are in a virtual reality auction house or a real auction house. Sense o vision has been created and you can now see, smell and touch the auction, voice recognition technology allows you to bid with your voice or by nodding or raising your hand.
Sample software allows you to feel what your items various textures feel like, you can even smell the old leather smell on that circa 18th-century civil war pistol holster you are bidding on. 360° view technology allows you to move the object with your hands and see all of its features, a heart monitor transfers audio to your headset as the final moments of the bidding you are participating in draws near to increase the sensory experience of a real auction and “SOLD”!! Virtual bidder#777 from Virginia U.S.A is this items, new owner” is proclaimed by the auctioneer. Ok, some of that may be a ways off yet but look at the advances being made now and how far the industry has come 😉