By: Gov Auctions | 30 October 2012

A Short History of Auctioneering

Auctions can provide a simple, quick and easy way to buy or sell just about anything, so it is little wonder they have been a popular fixture in human societies for thousands of years. The following is a short history of auctioneering throughout recorded human history.

Ancient Greece

The earliest recorded evidence of auctioneering was in 500 BC when Herodotus reported auctions taking place in what was Ancient Greece. The auctions he reported saw women auctioned in order to be married.

The Roman Empire

Auctions were used quite extensively throughout the Roman Empire, and the process was known as “atrium auctionarium”. These auctions primarily involved the selling of estate goods and property, however Roman soldiers also commonly auctioned off items they had acquired in battle.

UK art auctions

The 16th and 17th centuries in England saw the auctioning of art become a regular occurrence in bars, coffee houses and taverns, and these auctions would help pave the way for larger and more organised art auctions in years to come.

The great auction houses

The 18th century saw the emergence of two of the greatest auction houses in history, with Sotheby’s starting out in 1744 and Christie’s in 1766. These two great establishments have auctioned off every type of product imaginable and both remain thriving auction houses to this day.

North American auctions

Auctions became commonplace in North America during the 18th and 19th centuries, and while the items sold included everything from real estate to furniture, the most infamous auctions involved the selling of slaves. It wasn’t until 1865 that the Thirteenth Amendment permanently abolished slavery in the United States that the practice of auctioning off slaves in North America finally come to an end.

Home auctions

In the 1960s and ‘70s, home auctions become an extremely popular way to buy or sell a home, particularly in places such as Australia, the United States, Canada and much of Europe. Auctions for other items were common in this period as well, with car auctions especially starting to increase in popularity, but no other auction could challenge the popularity of home auctions at this time.

Government auctions

In the last 20 years, governments all over the world have started to realise the value of auctions, especially when it comes to selling off items that are being replaced, downsized or that have been seized for some reason or other. You can buy anything from jewellery to furniture, cars, boats and property at a government auction, and there are often some fantastic deals to be found.

Online auctions

Thanks to the power of the Internet, nowadays auctions are easier than ever, with a huge variety of online auction sites making it easy to buy or sell anything from sporting equipment to vehicles. The problem with early online auctions was that you needed to stay by your computer to avoid being outbid, but with mobile devices making life so much easier these days, you can now bid on those online auctions from wherever you are.