Although many people enjoy going to auctions, not everyone is aware of their fascinating past. Here are a few intriguing auction-related facts: 


Roman Empire utilized auctions frequently. 

There are records of auctions dating back to 500 B.C. The Latin root of the word “auction” means “I increase” or “I augment.” This makes sense because adding to an existing bid in an auction is exactly what bidders do. The Roman Empire as a whole was up for auction. 


Major auctions are exciting for many people, but this one in 193 A.D. elevated big auctions to a new level. Emperor Pertinax was assassinated by the Praetorian Guard, who then sold the Roman Empire to the highest bidder. A brief civil war was started by Didius Julianus’ outbid of everyone else by bidding 6,250 drachmas for each guard. Didius Julianus was executed two months after the conquest of Rome by Septimius Severus. 


The first auction house was established over 300 years ago. 

The earliest documented auction house in history was established in Sweden’s Stockholm in 1674. In March 1744, Sotheby’s, the second-largest auction house, was established in London. James Christie started the biggest auction house in the world in 1766, and it is also based in London. 


The violin that played as the Titanic sank was auctioned off recently for over $1.5 million. 

The violin allegedly played when the Titanic sank recently sold at auction for a hefty price, making it one of the most expensive and rare historical relics ever. It is thought to have belonged to Wallace Hartley, the ship’s bandmaster. Given that this relic was at the center of a significant historical event and the basis for a successful motion picture, it is not unexpected that it sold for a high price of $1.7 million. 


A 65-year-old royal wedding cake piece was sold at auction. 

Until you learn the cake’s history, it’s difficult to imagine someone would purchase a slice of old cake. The fruit cake was the one served at the 1947 nuptials of Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh. This slice was recently sold by PFC Auctions for $925. 


Early auctions were conducted with candles. 

Some regions of England held their auctions by candlelight during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The auction ended when the candle went out. This method was developed to stop anyone from anticipating when the auction would conclude and placing a bid right before it did. The technique grew in acceptance. 


In reality, two times when the Admiralty sold extra ships were documented in Samuel Pepy’s diary from 1660. Additionally, the journal entries reveal that a very successful bidder understood that the candle wick always flares up just before it goes out. When he noticed the wick start to flare up, the bidder would always announce his final and winning offer. After Thomas Edison created the lightbulb, candle auctions became less common. 

Taking a step back in time – the First Auctions Records left behind by Greek scribes from antiquity describe auctions taking place as early as 500 B.C. At that time, spouses were sold at auction. In fact, allowing a daughter to be “sold” outside of an auction was frowned upon. 


As long as the minimum price stated by the seller was satisfied, these auctions followed a “descending” process, starting with a high price and falling lower until the first person to bid was the buyer. Although maidens could not be “tested” before auction like horses might, the buyer may get his money back if he and his new bride did not get along. 


Women of exceptional beauty were subject to the heaviest bidding, and large prices were paid. In order to sell the less desirable ladies, their owners had to include dowries or other financial incentives. 


Around the time of Christ, auctions were a common way to settle family estates and sell loot from battles in Rome, Italy. Marcus Aurelius, a Roman emperor and philosopher, spent months auctioning off family furniture to pay off debts. 


Roman troops auctioned off their military booty. The sale was initiated by the authorized auctioneer, “Magister Auctionarium,” by driving a spear into the ground. We now employ an auction gavel. 


America hosts auctions – American auctions have been around since the Pilgrims first settled on the country’s Eastern Shores in the 1600s. During colonial times, crops, imports, wood, animals, tools, tobacco, slaves, and even entire farms were sold in auctions. The quickest and most effective way to turn assets into cash was to sell them at auction. 


Civil War Period – Have you ever heard the term “Colonel” used to describe an auctioneer? Particularly at auction schools around the nation, it’s a rather typical practice. This happened during the American Civil War, when auctions were just starting to take off. 


According to history, Civil War Colonels who often auctioned off the spoils of war and surplus were skilled in the art of auctioneering. However, since they could only be conducted by officers of the Colonel level, many auctioneers still refer to themselves as “Colonels” today. 


This procedure is described in the following brief historical account from one of the best auction schools: “As the Civil War developed, several military battalions made it a practice to seize property of land owners and merchants as they marched. The Colonel or commanding officer would gather the contraband and transport it to a convenient location where he would then sell it to the general population. Military Colonels continued to travel to market captured and surplus commodities even after the Civil War. The people started to mistakenly identify auctioneers as army Colonels since they frequently traveled the same paths and dressed similarly. 


Inauguration of auction schools – In America, many auction schools began to operate in the early 1900s. It was thought that The Jones’ National School of Auctioneering and Oratory was the first. Carey M. Jones, an auctioneer, founded it in Davenport, Iowa. The school advertised “qualified instructors teaching general merchandise, real estate, and fine stock auctioneering” during the inaugural term. At the time, though, a lot of auctioneers didn’t think an auctioneer could be “trained.” They held the opinion that auctioneering was a skill you were born with. 


Decade of Great Depression – The auction business continued to expand up until 1929’s Great Depression. Some auctioneers traversed the nation selling the estates of farmers whose farms had collapsed due to bank foreclosures and drought. The terrible economic environment caused the auction method to deteriorate, and it did not recover until after World War II. 


The 1950s After World War II, the auction industry started to advance significantly. Real estate and product sales were soaring. In some circumstances, it was necessary to shift real estate and personal goods more quickly than the private market would permit. The current auction industry was therefore established. The new breed of auctioneers wore suits and ties and were professional guys. They started to grow the company and improve the status of auctioneers. Aside from the general public, auctioneers started to have connections with banks, lawyers, accountants, the court system, and government organizations. 


It is evident that auctions have a fascinating history, from remarkable historical artifacts that have been auctioned to the procedures utilized in early auctions. Consider some of these astounding facts the next time you attend an auction.


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