If you’ve ever participated in an auction, whether you were trying to outbid other billionaires for a Ming dynasty era vase at a premier auction house (like Christie’s, Southeby’s or Anotherby’s) or you were attempting to score an authentic REO Speedwagon concert shirt on eBay, you know the thrill of the bidding process. It’s no wonder that the practice of auctioning off items (and, er, humans) goes back thousands and thousands of years. Join us as we take a tour through the long and storied history of amazing auction activity through the ages.
Some of the earliest auctions on record occurred in the land of Greece, circa 500 B.C. Up for bidding were not togas, laurel leaves and baklava, but rather potential brides. Yes, lovely and chaste ladies were all the rage in the first auction incarnations. The method used was essentially the inverse of how we bid on things today: a peak price began the auction, and was lowered until someone shouted out that they wanted that wife at that great price. Typically, the nicer the lass’s figure, the greater the figure earned. The good news was that if the newly formed couple ran into any “irreconcilable differences,” the purchaser could return his bride for a full cash refund.
A little later down the line, the Romans (right around the time of the original “Yeezus”), would auction off estates and the copious spoils of war. Soldiers would often host what were massive tag sales, with all of their purloined and plundered products from around the globe. Bidders eager to snatch up Egyptian jewelry, tapestries and asps would compete for the stolen goods. To commence each auction, a dude called the “Magister Auctionarium” would thrust a spear into the earth. This would eventually evolve into the smashing of the gavel that we use today (and the slicing of the air with a light saber, that we will surely use someday).
We’re Comin’ To America
Along with Thanksgiving and small pox blankets, the Pilgrims introduced something very cool to 1600’s America: auctions. Yes, the capotain headed, buckle shoed voyagers from Europe loved themselves a good ole new-world auction! Corn (or maize) crops, farm animals, tools, wagons, plots of land all went up on the chopping block. One of biggest fan favs, though, was the lush and luxurious fur of the bountiful beaver. Unanimously sought after beaver pelts were routinely shipped back to the “old world,” where they were auctioned off there as well. See, you just couldn’t find good beaver coats in Europe, and the chilly people there would bid their very last Euros on these exotic trappings.
Let’s Keep it Civil
Auctions steadily gained popularity in the United States and saw a real surge during the tumultuous days of the Civil War. During the lengthy national skirmish, colonels (from both sides) would host auctions, to sell off the items and land that they had acquired in battle. Since the military is all about order and rank, only colonels could lead the auctions. Their naturally commanding voices helped the process run smoothly. So, if you’ve ever wondered why modern day auctioneers were christened with the sobriquet “colonels,” there’s your answer (not because they strikingly resemble Colonel Sanders, as many people once believed).
At the turn of the 20th century, the ‘art of the auction’ began to fully become recognized. Official auction schools were springing up across the country (the first recorded one, the “Jones’ National School of Auctioneering and Oratory,” was founded in Davenport, Iowa – and likely the very reason why Davenport, Iowa remains one of the hottest international vacation destinations to this very day). At these schools, the “colonels,” or “Knights of the Hammer” (presumedly called this because they were now routinely whacking their gavels tither and thither), were taught not only about the intricacies of fine goods and the complicated legalities of real estate, but also how to project their voices. Since auctions took place outdoors in front of huge (often sweaty and inebriated) crowds, the auctioneers really needed to belt out those numbers.
This is depressing…
Auctions were moving along nicely until that whole stock market crash thing on ’29. While some foreclosed acres of land were auctioned off here and there, the practice as a whole came to a screeching halt (as no one was really buying anything). Dust Bowl be damned, loud-mouthed colonels held strong, refusing to let the tradition of yelling-out-prices-really-fast die out. Once the country truly rebounded, after WW2, the auction was able to see a significant comeback.
As the USA really came back into it’s own during the middle of the century, the need for auctions increased dramatically. People were selling off all manner of personal property, and wanted to do so faster than they could with traditional sales methods. Enter the colonel. Auctions were a way for individuals to get higher and higher prices for their belongings and real estate, all over the course of a couple of heart-thumping hours. Long gone were the days of the militarily garbed officer yelling over crowds; the modern auctioneer was transformed into a dapper chap in fancy duds, with a sophisticated disposition. Auction houses began to take higher and higher commission from sales conducted under their roofs, as the items passing hands skyrocketed in value.
Welcome to the Information Age
As technology has developed exponentially over time, the auction biz has seen bursts of unbridled efficiency as well. Aside from the innovative feature of having a small item (like a mythical monkey’s paw or a Beanie Baby) that is up for bidding projected on to an epically huge screen at live events, there’s another fascinating means of conducting auctions. It’s called the “internet.” In this wondrous, ethereal place, people can bid on delightful things in Osaka from the comfort of their homes in Helsinki. Arguably, the single greatest achievement in all of recorded auction history is occurring right this very moment. Yes, that’s right: the transparent, open online bidding platform created by Diamond Lighthouse! Here, people who wish to sell their diamond jewelry for an insanely high profit can do so, without the hassle of trying to find a buyer who will pay what their jewelry is actually worth. Our network of vetted and trusted diamond buyers place bids on your diamond jewelry, all competing to outbid each other – and the best part? You are the colonel. You are completely in control as you get to decide which offer you ultimately accept, if any. Find out more on how you too can become an instrumental part of glorious American history (and get paid).