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!