The first auctions were not something you want to hear! According to Greek historic documents, the Greeks auctioned their daughters as wives, and it was infact illegal, to 'sell' or 'give' away your daughter to someone without her being auctioned. This was in 500 BC, but the history of auctioning might be stretching farther into history, but no one has any formal evidence of the actual origin of auctions. The highest bidder had the right on the 'wife' and in case the two did not get along well. The bidder would get his money back if the wife had not been 'tried' as yet! Speculation also has it that the advent of the ritual of dowry also started in this manner. The parents of not so good looking daughters often had to add some dowry in order to make the deal.
Marcus Aurelius is said to be one of the first emperors to auction real estate and other belongings, most of which were war plunder. Marcus was a Roman king and had looted a lot during his wartime forays; all that he had looted was of little use to him, so he auctioned the material in order to gain the maximum from it. The reason behind his auctioning of this stuff was also that he was unsure about the actual cost of many plundered items, and he thought it would be best if the public gathered at one place and bid their rates for items, so that he can get a fair price. In those days, the officer responsible for conducting the auctions was called the ‘Magister Auctionarium’, and he would drive a spear into the ground to mark the final sell off of an item, like the auction gavel we use now a days.
Auctions were a popular way of converting assets into cash in the eastern economies and in parts of Europe, but auctions came into the USA as late as the 1600, when the traders and explorers started hitting the coasts. They would auction anything, ranging from women, arms, horses, clothes and food items to complete armies. Auctioneering was considered to be the most efficient method to sell off just about anything.
Very few would know, but the settlement and development of North America is based on the early trade of Beaver fur, which was exchanged with other items the natives living here needed. Trader from Europe, who would arrange Trans continental voyages would take this fur to the coasts of Europe and would action this raw material there, which would be processed into finished items in Europe - Manchester mostly. Manufacturing of fur clothing and accessories at Manchester and surrounding area became so popular that Manchester came to be known as the cloth manufacturing capital of the world.
The practice of referring the head auctioneer as 'Colonel' came into practice because of many reasons. During the civil war era, colonels would auction war surplus and other items, kick starting the practice of calling the auctioneer a colonel. Even in distant history, we see that auctioneering was a major part of the life of military leaders and emperors. Auctioneers are also called 'Brothers'. With the dawning of the 1950s, owing to America’s emergence as a super power after the World War II, auctioneering was booming as a consequence of a boom in the price of real estate and the quality of living of the American People. Auctioneers were getting into the groove of money making, dressing up in hot suits, riding slick rides and having prompt contacts with personalities of power. Auction houses started developing into firms and they had also started establishing ties with other institutions such as banks, loan providers, hotels and travel operators, making auctioneering an industry by the 1960s. Today, auctioneering is an established industry all over the world, and the future of auctioneering lies in internet auctioneering. Websites display photographs of their items and the bid is conducted online, expanding the reach and the market of auctioneering business taking it to different levels.
In China, the reason why people take to auctioneering is simple. There is a scarcity of space, therefore, real estate prices are high, therefore, to rent or buy a shop to sell items is difficult. The solution? Well, auction your stuff at a public place amidst thousand of perspective buyers on a weekend, and continue with your regular job during the weekdays, starting two income streams for yourself. This is the modern face of Chinese auctioneering. The Chinese youth also prefers auctioning items on the internet, and have carved out a niche for them in this 94 million user’s strong market.
The Chinese have always been keen gamblers, and it shows in a very typical style of auctioneering that is known as the Chinese auction. Chinese auction is a mix of raffle and auction. Where many items are divided into different baskets. People present at the scene who want to participate and bid can bid by buying tickets. The more tickets that you buy increase your chances of 'winning' an item. The raffle for a particular item placed in a particular hat is drawn, and the item is handed over to the person in possession of the ticket at that moment. Someone who has one ticket might win the item over someone who had purchased a score of tickets. This element of doubt and fate introduces a sense of excitement in the Chinese Auctioneering style – a mix of gambling and investment!