Auctions: How Did We Get Here

16th May 2017

Gregsons have been around for a while and we’re good at what we do, but we’d be stretching the truth a bit if we said we invented auctions. That honour goes back a couple of thousand years at least.

Even so, a lot of things have changed for auctioneers and valuers since we first opened our doors back in 1929. Our auction practices have moved with the times as people’s buying habits change, including the addition of online and simulcast auctions in recent years.

First, a little history…

The idea of auctions actually goes back way before the first auction house was established in 1674 in Sweden. That auctioneer, Stockholms Auktionsverk, borrowed the original idea from the ancient Greeks.

Auctioning property and items was pretty common practice millennia ago with the first mention of auctions going back to the Greek historian Herodotus in 500 BC. Later the Romans popularised the idea to the point where in 193 AD the entire Roman Empire was put up for auction after it was sacked. Imagine bidding on that!

The Greeks auctioned all sorts of things but probably never imagined empires on the block, let alone today’s car auctions or online catalogues.

Modern auctions

Nowadays the practice is used to sell an almost endless range of goods, property, and used equipment (but no empires unfortunately). There are vehicle auctions, jewellery auctions, computer and phone auctions, furniture and haberdashery auctions…the list goes on.

The bidding process has also diversified over the years and there are now a few different auction styles:

English auctions

These are the “going, going, gone” style you are familiar with if you have been to an auction in Perth or bid in a Gregsons online auction. It’s competitive and the highest bid wins – pretty simple, right?

Dutch auctions

For some reason the Dutch decided to do things upside-down by starting with an excessively high price and slowly coming down until an acceptable bid is reached.

Sealed auctions

Also known as “blind auctions”, sealed bids are submitted simultaneously so nobody knows what each other are bidding and the highest bid wins. A common variation, the Vickrey auction, uses the same process but the price paid is the second-highest bid.

Online auctions

A revolution for auctioneers, valuers, and bidders came in 1995 with the introduction of online auctions. Onsale were the first company to make a business from online auctions that year, with eBay coming online shortly after.

What makes online auctions so popular is they allow buyers to browse and bid from the comfort of their armchair and place bids on multiple items at once across a whole range of categories. People with disabilities or living in other countries now have unbridled access to auctions in Perth and around the world.

Online auctions have continued to grow in popularity, with sites like eBay making money solely as an intermediary between buyer and seller. Those Roman Empire auctioneers probably didn’t have pop-up ads to compete with!

How we got here

Gregsons started out back in 1929 on King St with William “WG” Gregson selling surplus war blankets to the general public. Nearly 100 years later Gregsons has grown to become one of the largest auction houses in Perth.

A while ago we took the leap to go online and the response from our bidders both regular and new has been incredible. Our simulcast auctions, which are live both online and in our Perth auction house, provide an important link for people who can’t attend an auction in person for whatever reason.

Auctions have a fascinating history. A diverse range of items and property have been bought and sold over the centuries, and like most cultural practices auctions have grown and changed with the times and tastes. Who knows what the next few centuries will bring – holographic auctions, virtual reality inspections, or driverless vehicle auctions might not be too far away.