Up for auction today is one brand-new Wonder of the Day! Who’ll start the bidding? Can we get an opening bid of $1? Do we hear $2? Great! Now what about $5? Sold!

Have you ever been to an auction or watched a television show about auctions? Buying things at an auction is quite a bit different than buying things at a store. Prices can vary widely and escalate quickly in the heat of the auction.

Some people love auctions because they can get rare items or good deals, but it’s also a lot of fun to listen to the auctioneer! Not only do auctioneers speak very quickly, they do so in a way that’s entertaining…even if you’re not involved in the auction.

Auctions have been around for thousands of years. No one knows for sure when the first auction took place, but historians believe the first auctions may have occurred in ancient Greece as long ago as 500 B.C.

During an auction, goods are offered for sale to the highest bidder. That means there’s no set price. Unless the seller sets a certain minimum price to sell an item (called a reserve price), the item will be sold to whoever is willing to pay the most for it.

The word auction comes from the Latin word augeō, which means “I increase.” That describes the auction bidding price perfectly! Each new bid must be an increase over the previous bid. Once bids stop coming in, the item is sold to the current highest bidder.

Auctions are conducted by fast talkers called auctioneers. From time to time, you may hear auctioneers referred to as “colonels.” This is a nickname that has stuck around from the early days of auctioneering, when military colonels during the Civil War would auction off items collected from battlefields.

That fast, repetitious chant you hear during an auction is called the auction chant, bid calling or sometimes just auctioneering. It consists of two dollar amounts (the current bid and a suggested next bid) with filler words in between.

A typical auction chant might go something like, “Five dollar bid, now ten, will you give me ten? Ten dollar bid, now twenty, will you give me twenty?” The chant goes on like this until the auctioneer believes a winning bid has been reached. The process usually ends with the auctioneer saying something like, “Going once…going twice…sold!”

Auctioneering was once thought of as just a natural talent. Auctioneering schools now teach bid calling, though. Anyone — including you! — can be an auctioneer. Most auctioneers develop their own unique styles of bid calling. The one thing most auctioneers have in common, though, is the ability to speak quickly and keep things entertaining.

Today, the largest auction house in the world is Christie’s, which opened in 1766. The world’s second-largest auction house, Sotheby’s, got started in 1744. These two auction houses are famous for auctioning rare works of art for millions of dollars!

Many auctions today don’t take place at an auction house, though. Thanks to the Internet and popular auction sites, like eBay, it’s possible to offer your own items up for auction to the highest bidder. That old CD you never listen to any more? You never know who around the world might want to buy it!

87 Join the Discussion

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    • It’s one big guess, but we can’t wait to find out, Ryleigh! Our hint for tomorrow’s Wonder is: You may want to bring along a bathing suit to enjoy tomorrow’s Wonder of the Day! :)

  1. I’m back! I knew a lot about today’s wonder because my dad goes to a lot of auctions and watches a lot of auction shows. I really enjoyed today’s wonder because I think it’s cool that auctions have been going on that long!

    I think tomorrows wonder will be about swimming or oceans.
    P.S. loved the video!

    • Welcome back Wondergirl101! We’re so glad you’re here! We hope you learned something new about auctions– you can share this information with your dad! We are so glad you shared your guess for tomorrow– thanks so much Wonder Friend! :)

  2. I like today’s wonder this reminds me of a show called storage wars. I have guesses for tomorrow .

    -about swimming in the olympics

    -or pools

    • Great job, Cailyn! That’s a great connection to today’s fast talking Wonder! We hope to see you tomorrow for more WONDERing! :)

    • Your friends’s brother might enjoy today’s fast talking Wonder, Blakeleigh! Thanks for sharing your comment with us, Wonder Friend! :)

    • Great question, Ryleigh! :) We bet you can do some WONDERing of your own about the origin of the auction and those talented auctioneers! :)

  3. Room 5 liked this wonder we liked how it taught us to auction- Sarah won she was good!!! We liked the videos they were funny. They were talking really fast.

    • Way to go Wonder Friends in Room 5! We bet Sarah would be a great auctioneer in the future if that’s what she wants to do! :)

      Thanks for sharing your comment and we’re glad that today’s Wonder put a big smile on each of your faces! :)

  4. I liked today’s wonder my dad, me, and my big brother watch a show called storage wars and it’s a guy who talks really fast I think tomorrow’s going to be about oceans, pools, and lakes.

    • WOW, what a SUPER connection to today’s Wonder, Kamron! We had another friend mention the television show Storage Wars, too! We bet you’ve heard a lot of different auctioneers in many situations on that show. Thanks for sharing your SUPER comment and also for letting us know that your WONDERful guesses are! See you tomorrow! :)

    • Wow, what a great idea for a Wonder, Coyotes87! We think we’ll have to go back to Greek and Egyptian letters to learn more about that Wonder– how exciting! Great work! :)

    • Have you ever heard of or seen an auction, Coyotes87? Auctioneers, the person who conducts the auction, is usually a very fast talker! Check out our Wonder video and read about speedy speakers! We bet you’ll be very impressed! :)

    • It’s pretty amazing to listen to, isn’t it Kadija? We think it would take a great deal of practice to become a fast-talking professional! :)

  5. I once was an auctioneer, I sold a table made in 1976, a TV that was 3 feet wide, and a couch that was made in 1890. I’m just kidding, the couch was made somewhere when my parents were born, the TV was the size of a box, and the table was made when I was born and I didn’t sell them, I threw them away. But, I could have made a fortune by selling that stuff. :-( :-( :-P

    • He he, we liked your imaginative story, Carlos A! We bet you could have been a great salesperson– all those pieces of furniture sounded unique! We Wonder if you have ever donated clothing or pieces of furniture instead of getting rid of them? Of course, they would need to be gently used and in decent shape, but it’s a great way to help others! :)

  6. Hey wonderopolis I see what you wrote to me I was waiting for you to respond and I have been to an auction oh I almost forgot thanks for the answer to my QUESTION. Well bye and please respond!!!!!!!!

    • We’re glad you enjoyed our Wonder conversation, Coyotes87! We are so happy that our fast talking auction Wonder was one of your favorites! :)

    • That’s a great question, Coyotes87! We don’t have any owners at Wonderopolis, but we are just a group of Wonder Friends who enjoy learning and sharing! We think you’re part of the Wonderopolis family! :)

    • Great point, Coyotes87! We have Wonder Friends, here at Wonderopolis, who are happy to respond to all the cool comments we receive! We count on you and all of our Wonder Friends to inspire the Wonder, ask questions and tell us what you learned from Wonderopolis! It’s fun to be a part of the team with you! :)

  7. I loved the video for today’s wonder. My family and I have been watching the show Storage Wars. Why do they have to talk so fast? Thank you and can’t wait for next times wonder!

    • Wohoo, we bet you hear a lot of great auctioneers in that show, Andrea! We are amazed at how fast they can talk! Phew! Thanks for visiting us today! :)

  8. Me of course, see:
    himynameisbobwhat’syournameohwaitit’swonderopilousisoforgotohfunnywelligottogonowsoihopedyouenjoyedthismessage.

    ta da

  9. I think that the article was very educational and interesting. I learned a lot of facts, per example that auctions were first seen in ancient Greece.

    • We’re so happy to hear that you learned so much from our Wonder about auctioneers, Amanda! Lots of fast-talking people, PHEW! Thanks for sharing what you learned today! Have a great one! :)

    • Hey Wonder Friend Jay, thanks for all the comments! We are glad you have been wondering about fast-talking people! We hope you practice your auctioneer skills! Thanks for being a great Wonder Friend!! :)

  10. That reminds me of a TV show called the Storage Wars because the would make an auction and they talk TOO fast. Still making WONDERful questions. :)

    • What a great connection to our auctioneer Wonder, Shalize! That TV show features LOTS of auctioneers and other fast-talking folks! We are so happy you’ve been WONDERing about speedy sayings and superfasttalkers! PHEW! :)

      • Hey there, Karen, that sounds like an awesome project! What a fun way to get your mouthmovingasfastaspossible! Phew, that was a mouthful! :)

        We know it takes lots of practice to speak as fast as auctioneers, but we hope you have a great, fun time trying it out for your school project! Tell us how it goes, Karen! :)

        • Thank you I will be filming it tomorrow I’ll tell you how it went after! And thanks for asking I really appreciate it!

  11. HAHA wonderopolis is sososo funny. I love this website we started this after winter break. I wish we had started this when we first started school! :)

    • Hey Shalize, thanks for WONDERing with us! We think it’s awesome that you’re here now– that’s what matters! We’ve got all our Wonders available to you, so you can Wonder with us from the very beginning! Thanks for sharing your comment, Shalize! We are glad to have a Wonder Friend like you! :)

      • Thanks for being an awesome Wonder Friend, Mandy! We are so excited about all the cool connections that you and Karen have made to this Wonder! It sounds like your school project is a fun one. Congrats– you did a great job setting your TV! Tell us more about how you sold it! :)

    • You are getting us so excited for your TV sales project, Karen! We bet you will do a fantastic job, and we love reading the comments between you and Mandy! Wonder Friends, you are doing a SUPER job of supporting one another! Way to go! :)

  12. I filmed it yesterday it was great! I had to redo it a couple time because I was talking slightly slower than a normal auctioneer! I wrote a script down and practiced it a couple times but then I got the hang of it and the speed!

    • Way to go, Karen, we bet you did a fantastic job completing your project! It sure does take a lot of practice to speak clearly AND fast at the same time- phew! It can be tiring, too! We’re glad to hear that you practiced and are getting the hang of it– and you sold your TV! Nice work! :)

      • Thank you!

        P.S: Not to mention but I love to go on wonderopolis! There is always something new everyday, not like different websites that don’t renew it! Your website is the best organisation website I’ve seen so far!

  13. One thing I always love about a good website is that the creator is always replying to the comments! It is totally a good way to connect the readers… in this case wonder friends! And if you don’t reply you will still have so many wonder friends!

    • We are so happy to Wonder with the friends we make here– our Wonder Friends! It’s lots of fun to read comments and respond to them, too! Everyone’s comments matter and we like to respond to all of them! Thank you for sharing yours today, Karen, and we look forward to WONDERing with you in the future! :)

        • WOOHOO, you make us smile, Karen! Thanks for coming back to Wonder with us! Have you checked out the cool summer camp we’ve got going on here at Wonderopolis? It’s a free, virtual camp called Camp What-A-Wonder… we hope you’ll check it out! http://wonderopolis.org/camp/ :)

    • Great question, Karen! One of the coolest things about Camp What-A-Wonder is that it takes place right here, online, at Wonderopolis! No matter where you are, whether it’s in the United States, New Zealand or Belgium, you can Wonder with us online! Our virtual camp is available to WONDERers of all ages and it’s lots of fun to Wonder as a family, too! We can’t wait to read your comments about camp! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Who talks the fastest?
  • What is an auction?
  • Can anyone be an auctioneer?

Wonder Gallery

AuctionVimeo Video

Try It Out

Ready to hold your own auction? First, you might want to learn a bit about the basics of bid calling if you want to be an auctioneer. Just jump online and watch Auctioneer for some tips for beginners.

Once you have the basics of bid calling down, come up with something to auction. You can do a fake auction for your friends and family members, if you want, but it’s always more fun to auction something real.

How about your services washing the car, walking the dog, mowing the lawn or cleaning the house? Now those services might get some serious bids from your audience! Have fun and use your newly-learned auctioneering skills to get the most for your services!

Still Wondering

Find out how online auction sites have transformed the sale of ancient artifacts in Science NetLinks’ Online Antiquities Science Update.

Wonder What’s Next?

You may want to bring along a bathing suit to enjoy tomorrow’s Wonder of the Day!

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