6 Interesting Facts About Auctions

Ian Whittock | AuctionMany people like to attend auctions, but not everyone knows the fascinating history behind them. Here are a few interesting facts about auctions:

  • Auctions were used in the Roman Empire.

Auctions have been recorded as early as 500 B.C. The word “auction” comes from the Latin word for “I increase” or “I augment”. This makes sense because this is exactly what bidders do in auctions when they add to the previous bid.  The entire Roman Empire was put up for auction.

Many people get a thrill from big auctions, but this auction in 193 A.D. took big auctions to the next level. The Praetorian Guard killed emperor Pertinax and proceeded to offer the Roman Empire to the highest bidder. Didius Julianus bid 6,250 drachmas per guard, outbidding everyone else and causing a brief civil war. Two months later, Septimius Severus conquered Rome and Didius Julianus was beheaded.

  • The first-known auction house dates back 341 years.

The Stockholm Auction House in Sweden, founded in 1674, is the first known auction house in the world. The second-largest auction house, Sotheby’s, was founded in London in March 1744. The world’s largest auction house is also located in London and was founded by James Christie in 1766.

  • The violin that played as the Titanic sank was sold for $1.7 million.

One of the rarest historical artifacts that recently auctioned for a pretty penny was the violin that was purportedly played when the Titanic sank. People believe that it belonged to the ship’s bandmaster Wallace Hartley. It’s unsurprising that this artifact sold for a large sum of $1.7 million given that it was at the center of a key historical event, not to mention one that a hit movie was based upon.

  • A 65-year-old slice of Royal Wedding cake was auctioned off.

It’s hard to believe someone would buy an old piece of cake until you hear the origins of the cake. It was the fruit cake served at the wedding of Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh in 1947. Not long ago, PFC Auctions was able to sell this slice for $925.

  • Candles were used in early auctions.

During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, it was customary in some parts of England to have auctions by candlelight. When the candle went out, the auction was over. This technique was used to prevent people from knowing exactly when the auction would end and making a bid at the last second. The practice gained popularity.

In fact, Samuel Pepy’s diary from 1660 showed that there were two occasions on which the Admiralty sold surplus ships using candles. The diary entries also show that a highly successful bidder realized that the candle-wick always flares up slightly before expiring. The bidder would always shout his final and winning bid when he saw the wick flare up. Candle auctions lost popularity after Thomas Edison invented the lightbulb.

From interesting historical artifacts that have been sold to the processes used in early auctions, it is clear that auctions have a fascinating history. Next time you’re at an auction you can think back to some of these incredible facts.