The history of auctions is unclear. They date back for centuries and nobody really nows when or where the first auction took place. Some of the first records of auctions date back to 500 BC in Ancient Greece, where men would auction of their daughters as wives. The type of bidding used then seems to be the opposite of what we know now. The highest price for the item would be named, and then the price would continually decrease until people started bidding. The item would then go to the first bidder.

Auctions continued throughout Europe during the time of the Roman Empire. The most common items that were auctioned were family estates and items obtained in war. Some of the traditions from the Roman auctions can still be seen in our auctions today. For example, the auction gavel we use to signify the start of the auction is a replacement for a roman spear that used to be driven into the ground.

Auctions were brought to America from Europe in the 1600s with the arrival of the pilgrims on the Mayflower. It continued to be practiced by colonists in order to sell and obtain farming equipment.

In America, auctions continued into the Civil War period, where they became increasingly popular. Colonels who obtained land in war raids would hold their own auctions to receive money for these estates and other forms of plunder. This is why the auction leader today is often referred to as the “colonel”.

One wonders what the earlier settlers would make of all the different types of auctions that are held in the 21st century. In additional to commodities auctions, antique, wine, and real estate auctions, livestock, thoroughbred horses and other livestock auctions, debt auctions and auto actions, among many other types, there are also auctions, both online and at events used to raise money for all sorts of charities and events.

My daughter’s high school in conjunction with an online jewelry store held a private fund raising auction centered around their sterling silver jewelry and their cubic zirconia rings designs. People signed into a special page online, perused the available jewelry to be auctioned and then placed their offers. I was impressed by the variety of the jewelry offered, especially the cubic zirconia rings with sterling silver. Knowing the gemstones were cubic zirconia, a synthetic gemstone with properties that made them look like diamonds, didn’t deter from their dazzling designs. However, I knew the prices of such rings were much more moderate than if the rings had actual diamonds in the settings. Just like in ebay auctions, participants could see bids come in online and then raise their bids accordingly. It was a fun fund raising event that brought in a significant amount of money for the school.

April 21, 2010

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