The history of Auctions dates back to 500 B.C. There are accounts of the Babylonians holding annual auctions of women for marriage. The auction would begin with the woman considered most beautiful and continue to the least. This was considered the only legal means of selling a daughter.

During the Roman Empire auctions were often used to liquidate the confiscated property of debtors. Even the emperor Marcus Aurelius held an auction lasting for months, selling household furniture to pay off debts.

Auctions were often held after military victories. Typically a spear would be driven into the ground where the spoils of war lay and the auction would be conducted. Prisoners of war were taken back to the forum and auctioned off as slaves. The proceeds of these auctions were used to fund the military.

However, the most important Roman auction occurred in 193A.D. After killing the emperor Pertinax, the Praetorian Guard auctioned off the entire Roman Empire to Didius Julianus who paid 6,250 drachmas per guard, about $27.46 USD. Only two months later, Didius was beheaded when Septimius Severus conqured Rome.

The European Middle Ages, under King Henry V11 of England saw rise to some of the earliest auction laws, including auction licenses.

During the 15th century (1600’s) the taverns and coffee houses of Great Britian were beginning to hold auctions selling art and other collectible items. These auctions were held daily, and catalogs were printed to announce available items. Such Auction catalogs are still printed and distributed before auctions of rare or collectible items today. Announcements of sales devoted to land appeared in the London Evening Post in 1739.

Stockholm Auction House holds the title as the oldest auction house in the world. However the most well known firms are Sotheby’s which was established in 1744 and Christie’s, founded in 1766.

Auctions in America

Auctions in America began as soon as the Pilgrims‘ arrival on the eastern seaboard in the 1600s. With the colonization of America, the auction process quickly became the accepted manner of selling merchandise. Furs, clapboard, tobacco, corn, and other necessities were often sold through this way. As the country continued to develop, settlers on the western frontier bought and sold their land, crops and other items of necessity, including animals, lumber, horses, debt, credit and, unfortunately, slaves at auction.

During the American civil war, taking from the Romans, goods seized by armies were sold at auction. However, only officers of the Colonel rank could conduct them. That is why many auctioneers today still use the moniker ´Colonel´ today. Other names of auctioneers include “Knights of the Hammer,” and “Brothers”.” The tools of these auctioneers included the Colonel style hat, a cane, bell, hammer or gavel, and a red flag. The flag, often boasting advertising, was placed above where the auctioneer would sell on the day of the auction.

Started by, Cary M. Jones, The Jones’ National School of Auctioneering and Oratory, is believed to be the first school devoted to the art of auction. Although many auctioneers of the time did not believe this was a skill that could be taught, the early 1900’s saw rise to many more schools focused on the art of auction.

After World War II the sale of goods and real estate was booming. There was a need in certain cases to move real estate and personal property faster than the private market would allow. Thus, the modern day auction business was born. Auctioneers were now businessmen who dressed in suits and ties. They began to nurture the business and raise the reputation of auctioneers. Besides links to the public, auctioneers began to have links to banks, attorneys, accountants, the court system and government agencies. Auction was now a respectable means of sale.

The last two major changes that occurred in auction history were in the dot com era which saw rise to online auctions . This was followed by technology that allows buyers to bid online in a live auction.

Auctions have been around for a long time and for good reason. They were and remain an excellent way to quickly move excess merchandise and to turn physical assets in liquid capital. Jay Sugarman Online’s Underground Blog: The History of Auctions

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