Auctioneering's ancient history

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Sep 13, 2013
by WLJ

According to the National Auctioneers Association (NAA), auctions have touched almost every century, every industry and every nationality and they date back so far in history, that no one really knows for sure how they started or who started them.

According to an auction history piece put together by NAA, records handed down from ancient Greek scribes document auctions occurring as far back as 500 B.C.

At that time, women were auctioned off as wives. And, in fact, it was considered illegal to allow a daughter to be “sold” outside the auction method.

A “descending” method was used for these auctions, starting with a high price and going lower until the first person to bid was the purchaser, as long as the minimum price set by the seller was met. The buyer could get a return of money if he and his new spouse did not get along well, but unlike a horse, maidens could not be “tried” before auction.

Women with special beauty were subject to the most vigorous bidding and the prices paid were high. Owners of the less attractive women had to add dowries or other monetary offers in order to make the sale.

In Rome, Italy, around the time of Christ, auctions were popular for family estates and to sell war plunder. Roman Emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius sold family furniture at auctions, for months, to satisfy debts.

Roman soldiers sold war plunder at auction. The licensed auctioneer, called “Magister Auctionarium,” drove a spear into the ground to start the auction. Today we use an auction gavel.

American auctions date back to the Pilgrims’ arrival on America’s Eastern Shores in the 1600s and continued in popularity during colonization with the sale of crops, imports, clapboard, livestock, tools, tobacco, slaves and even entire farms. Selling at auction was the fastest and most efficient means to convert assets into cash.

Auctioneering began to make great strides 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 the public, auctioneers began to have links to banks, attorneys, accountants, the court system and government agencies.

During the 1990s, technology was finding its way into the auction business. Auctioneers were using computers, fax machines, cell phones and other technology to make their businesses run faster and more smoothly. Some auctioneers began taking photographs of small auction items and projecting them onto big screens so the crowds could get a closer look at the merchandise.

Auctions burst into cyberspace in the middle of the decade. The ever flourishing eBay was launched in 1995 and would go on to become an “online leader” in the bidding business.

Many auctioneers today offer both live and online auctions to meet the needs of customers near and far. Technology allows buyers to participate in the sale without even being there.

The future of auctioneering

Over the years auctioneering has progressed and changed, and today it remains more popular than ever. Most everything thinkable has been sold by the auction method of marketing: antiques, household items, automobiles, land, livestock, homes, designer dresses, business equipment, and more. And thanks to professional organizations like the National Auctioneers Association, auctioneers are privy to countless educational opportunities that help them to keep up on the latest technology and learn new business traits. They network with other auctioneers to exchange ideas and to find ways to continue to meet the growing needs of the American public.

Auctioneers today are working to earn specialty designations such as Graduate Personal Property Appraiser (GPPA), Accredited Auctioneer Real Estate (AARE), Certified Auctioneers Institute (CAI) and Certified Estate Specialist (CES). (Tell about any designations you have or classes you have taken.) NAA auctioneers are also bound by a code of ethics that protects consumers against fraud and unfair business practices.

To read and learn more about auction history, visit http://www.auctioneers.org/. — National Auctioneers Association

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