Auctions are big business – in the sale of property from homes to automobiles to antiques. Quite sophisticated in today’s society, with auction software taking the selling method online, auctions have a long history dating back many centuries.
The first reported auctions took place in silent auction donation ideas 500BC, as described by an ancient Greek scribe named Herodotus. Contrary to the more common selling method for goods of haggling or having a fixed set price, the auction (from Latin meaning “I increase”) was the method used to sell women. Women were auctioned off as wives, and it was even considered to be illegal for a man to sell his daughter into marriage outside of the auction method. A descending method of bidding was adopted, where a high price was set on each woman and incrementally lowered until a purchaser bid. The woman was sold to this buyer providing the minimum price set (usually by her father) was met. A buyer could return the woman and get his money refunded if they did not get along, however there was no “trying before buying” allowed. Beautiful women attracted very high prices; owners of women considered to be unattractive had to sweeten the deal by adding dowries, etc.
In Rome, at the time of Christ, auctions were a popular way to sell war plunder and to liquidate property and family estates. It’s believed these auctions were held in the ascending fashion. The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius satisfied his debts by selling family furniture at auction. Roman soldiers also sold war plunder at auction. Slaves who were captured as “spoils of war” were also sold at auction. The Roman auctioneer was referred to as “Magister Auctionarium” and, like today’s auctioneers start proceedings with a gavel, the Roman counterpart speared the ground – referred to as “selling under the spear”.
In AD193, the entire Roman Empire was put to auction by the Praetorian Guard, who had assassinated the emperor. This resulted in a brief civil war until Rome was again conquered.
There is also evidence to suggest Buddhist monks in ancient China funded the building of their temples by auctioning off the possessions of deceased monks.
Auctioning seems to have fallen from favour from the fall of the Roman Empire until about 1595, when reference was made in the Oxford English Dictionary. In the late 1600s, artworks were auctioned in taverns and coffeehouses throughout London. The famous English auction houses, Sotheby’s and Christie’s, were established in 1744 and 1766 respectively.
In America, auction was introduced by the Pilgrims to sell a large range of necessary items, as the fastest way to liquidate assets. It was later the most common method employed to sell slaves, as well as goods seized by armies during the Civil War. Auctions began also to be used in the Netherlands in 1887 to sell fresh produce, and German fisherman resorted to auction to sell their catch.