An auction is a process of buying and selling goods or services by offering them up for bid, taking bids, and then selling the item to the highest bidder. In economic theory, an auction may refer to any mechanism or set of trading rules for exchange.
|Auction Room, Christie's, circa 1808.||Artemis, Ancient Greek marble sculpture. In 2007, a Roman-era bronze sculpture of "Artemis and the Stag" was sold at Sotheby's in New York for US$28.6 million, by far exceeding its estimates and at the time setting the new record as the most expensive sculpture as well as work from antiquity ever sold at auction.||An 18th-century Chinese meiping porcelain vase. Porcelain has long been a staple at art sales. In 2005, a 14th-century Chinese porcelain piece was sold by the Christie's for £16 million. It set a world auction record for any ceramic work of art|
For most of history, auctions have been a relatively uncommon way to negotiate the exchange of goods and commodities. In practice, both haggling and sale by set-price have been significantly more common. Indeed, before the seventeenth century the few auctions that were held were sporadic and infrequent.
Nonetheless, auctions have a long history, having been recorded as early as 500 B.C. According to Herodotus, in Babylon auctions of women for marriage were held annually. The auctions began with the woman the auctioneer considered to be the most beautiful and progressed to the least. It was considered illegal to allow a daughter to be sold outside of the auction method.
During the Roman Empire, following military victory, Roman soldiers would often drive a spear into the ground around which the spoils of war were left, to be auctioned off. Later slaves, often captured as the "spoils of war", were auctioned in the forum under the sign of the spear, with the proceeds of sale going towards the war effort.
The Romans also used auctions to liquidate the assets of debtors whose property had been confiscated. For example, Marcus Aurelius sold household furniture to pay off debts, the sales lasting for months. One of the most significant historical auctions occurred in the year 193 A.D. when the entire Roman Empire was put on the auction block by the Praetorian Guard. On March 23 The Praetorian Guard first killed emperor Pertinax, then offered the empire to the highest bidder. Didius Julianus outbid everyone else for the price of 6,250 drachmas per guard, an act that initiated a brief civil war. Didius was then beheaded two months later when Septimius Severus conquered Rome.
In some parts of England during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries auction by candle was used for the sale of goods and leaseholds. This auction began by lighting a candle after which bids were offered in ascending order until the candle spluttered out. The high bid at the time the candle extinguished itself won the auction.
During the end of the 18th century, soon after the French Revolution, auctions came to be held in taverns and coffeehouses to sell art. Such auctions were held daily, and catalogs were printed to announce available items. Such Auction catalogs are frequently printed and distributed before auctions of rare or collectible items. In some cases these catalogs were elaborate works of art themselves, containing considerable detail about the items being auctioned.
Sotheby's, now the world's second-largest auction house, held its first auction in 1744. Christie's, now the world's largest auction house, was established around 1766. Other early auction houses that are still in operation include Dorotheum (1707), Mallams (1788), Bonhams (1793), Phillips de Pury & Company (1796), Freeman's (1805) and Lyon & Turnbull (1826).
The development of the internet, however, has led to a significant rise in the use of auctions as auctioneers can solicit bids via the internet from a wide range of buyers in a much wider range of commodities than was previously practical.
In 2008, the National Auctioneers Association reported that the gross revenue of the auction industry for that year was approximately $268.4 billion, with the fastest growing sectors being agricultural, machinery, and equipment auctions and residential real estate auctions.
|Tuna auction at the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo||Fish auction in Honolulu, Hawaii|
- English auction, also known as an open ascending price auction. This type of auction is arguably the most common form of auction in use today. Participants bid openly against one another, with each subsequent bid required to be higher than the previous bid. An auctioneer may announce prices, bidders may call out their bids themselves (or have a proxy call out a bid on their behalf), or bids may be submitted electronically with the highest current bid publicly displayed. In some cases a maximum bid might be left with the auctioneer, who may bid on behalf of the bidder according to the bidder's instructions. The auction ends when no participant is willing to bid further, at which point the highest bidder pays their bid. Alternatively, if the seller has set a minimum sale price in advance (the 'reserve' price) and the final bid does not reach that price the item remains unsold. Sometimes the auctioneer sets a minimum amount by which the next bid must exceed the current highest bid. The most significant distinguishing factor of this auction type is that the current highest bid is always available to potential bidders. The English auction is commonly used for selling goods, most prominently antiques and artwork, but also secondhand goods and real estate.
- Dutch auction also known as an open descending price auction. In the traditional Dutch auction the auctioneer begins with a high asking price which is lowered until some participant is willing to accept the auctioneer's price. The winning participant pays the last announced price. The Dutch auction is named for its best known example, the Dutch tulip auctions. ("Dutch auction" is also sometimes used to describe online auctions where several identical goods are sold simultaneously to an equal number of high bidders.) In addition to cut flower sales in the Netherlands, Dutch auctions have also been used for perishable commodities such as fish and tobacco. The Dutch auction is not widely used.
- Sealed first-price auction, also known as a first-price sealed-bid auction (FPSB). In this type of auction all bidders simultaneously submit sealed bids so that no bidder knows the bid of any other participant. The highest bidder pays the price they submitted. This type of auction is distinct from the English auction, in that bidders can only submit one bid each. Furthermore, as bidders cannot see the bids of other participants they cannot adjust their own bids accordingly. This kind of bid produces the same outcome as Dutch auction. What are effectively sealed first-price auctions are commonly called tendering for procurement by companies and organisations, particularly for government contracts and auctions for mining leases.
- Vickrey auction, also known as a sealed-bid second-price auction. This is identical to the sealed first-price auction except that the winning bidder pays the second-highest bid rather than his or her own. In some ways this is similar to the proxy bidding system used by the Internet auction site eBay, where a participant who has bid more than any other bidder pays the current highest bid plus the current bidding increment, rather than the actual amount of their bid. Although extremely important in auction theory, in practice Vickrey auctions are rarely used.
- Multiunit auctions sell more than one identical item at the same time, rather than having separate auctions for each. This type can be further classified as a uniform price auction or a discriminatory price auction.
- All-pay auction is an auction in which all bidders must pay their bids regardless of whether they win. The highest bidder wins the item. All-pay auctions are primarily of academic interest, and may be used to model lobbying or bribery (bids are political contributions) or competitions such as a running race.
- Auction by the candle. A type of auction, used in England for selling ships, in which the highest bid laid on the table by the time a burning candle goes out wins.
- Bidding fee auction, also known as a penny auction, often requires that each participant must pay a fixed price to place each bid, typically one penny (hence the name) higher than the current bid. When an auction's time expires, the highest bidder wins the item and must pay a final bid price. Examples are Madbid, QuiBids.com, Beezid, Dealdash or Sweepola.  Unlike in a conventional auction, the final price is typically very much lower than the value of the item, but all bidders (not just the winner) will have paid for each bid placed; the winner will buy the item at a very low price (plus price of right-to-bids used), all the losers will have paid, and the seller will typically receive significantly more than the value of the item.
- Buyout auction is an auction with an additional set price (the 'buyout' price) that any bidder can accept at any time during the auction, thereby immediately ending the auction and winning the item. If no bidder chooses to utilize the buyout option before the end of bidding the highest bidder wins and pays their bid. Buyout options can be either temporary or permanent. In a temporary-buyout auction the option to buy out the auction is not available after the first bid is placed. In a permanent-buyout auction the buyout option remains available throughout the entire auction until the close of bidding. The buyout price can either remain the same throughout the entire auction, or vary throughout according to rules or simply as decided by the seller.
- Combinatorial auction is any auction for the simultaneous sale of more than one item where bidders can place bids on an "all-or-nothing" basis on "packages" rather than just individual items. That is, a bidder can specify that he or she will pay for items A and B, but only if he or she gets both. In combinatorial auctions, determining the winning bidder(s) can be a complex process where even the bidder with the highest individual bid is not guaranteed to win. For example, in an auction with four items (W, X, Y and Z), if Bidder A offers $50 for items W & Y, Bidder B offers $30 for items W & X, Bidder C offers $5 for items X & Z and Bidder D offers $30 for items Y & Z, the winners will be Bidders B & D while Bidder A misses out because the combined bids of Bidders B & D is higher ($60) than for Bidders A and C ($55).
- Generalized second-price auction
- Japanese auction is a variation of the English auction. When the bidding starts no new bidders can join, and each bidder must continue to bid each round or drop out. It has similarities to the ante in Poker.
- Lloyd's syndicate auction.
- Mystery auction is a type of auction where bidders bid for boxes or envelopes containing various items, usually on the hope that the items will be humorous, interesting, or valuable. In the early days of eBay's popularity, sellers began promoting boxes or packages of random and usually low-value items not worth selling by themselves.
- No-reserve auction (NR), also known as an absolute auction, is an auction in which the item for sale will be sold regardless of price. From the seller's perspective, advertising an auction as having no reserve price can be desirable because it potentially attracts a greater number of bidders due to the possibility of a bargain. If more bidders attend the auction, a higher price might ultimately be achieved because of heightened competition from bidders. This contrasts with a reserve auction, where the item for sale may not be sold if the final bid is not high enough to satisfy the seller. In practice, an auction advertised as "absolute" or "no-reserve" may nonetheless still not sell to the highest bidder on the day, for example, if the seller withdraws the item from the auction or extends the auction period indefinitely, although these practices may be restricted by law in some jurisdictions or under the terms of sale available from the auctioneer.
- Reserve auction is an auction where the item for sale may not be sold if the final bid is not high enough to satisfy the seller; that is, the seller reserves the right to accept or reject the highest bid. In these cases a set 'reserve' price known to the auctioneer, but not necessarily to the bidders, may have been set, below which the item may not be sold. The reserve price may be fixed or discretionary. In the latter case, the decision to accept a bid is deferred to the auctioneer, who may accept a bid that is marginally below it. A reserve auction is safer for the seller than a no-reserve auction as they are not required to accept a low bid, but this could result in a lower final price if less interest is generated in the sale.
- Reverse auction is a type of auction in which the roles of the buyer and the seller are reversed, with the primary objective to drive purchase prices downward. While ordinary auctions provide suppliers the opportunity to find the best price among interested buyers, reverse auctions give buyers a chance to find the lowest-price supplier. During a reverse auction, suppliers may submit multiple offers, usually as a response to competing suppliers’ offers, bidding down the price of a good or service to the lowest price they are willing to receive. By revealing the competing bids in real time to every participating supplier, reverse auctions promote “information transparency”. This, coupled with the dynamic bidding process, improves the chances of reaching the fair market value of the item. The reverse auction is widely used by corporations, state and local Governments, and other organizations. The uses are vast and include services as well as goods. 
- Senior auction is a variation on the all-pay auction, and has a defined loser in addition to the winner. The top two bidders must pay their full final bid amounts, and only the highest wins the auction. The intent is to make the high bidders bid above their upper limits. In the final rounds of bidding, when the current losing party has hit their maximum bid, they are encouraged to bid over their maximum (seen as a small loss) to avoid losing their maximum bid with no return (a very large loss).
- Silent auction is a variant of the English auction in which bids are written on a sheet of paper. At the predetermined end of the auction, the highest listed bidder wins the item. This auction is often used in charity events, with many items auctioned simultaneously and "closed" at a common finish time. The auction is "silent" in that there is no auctioneer selling individual items, the bidders writing their bids on a bidding sheet often left on a table near the item. At charity auctions, bid sheets usually have a fixed starting amount, predetermined bid increments, and a "guaranteed bid" amount which works the same as a "buy now" amount. Other variations of this type of auction may include sealed bids. The highest bidder pays the price he or she submitted.
- Top-up auction is a variation on the all-pay auction, primarily used for charity events. Losing bidders must pay the difference between their bid and the next lowest bid. The winning bidder pays the amount bid for the item, without top-up.
- Walrasian auction or Walrasian tâtonnement is an auction in which the auctioneer takes bids from both buyers and sellers in a market of multiple goods. The auctioneer progressively either raises or drops the current proposed price depending on the bids of both buyers and sellers, the auction concluding when supply and demand exactly balance. As a high price tends to dampen demand while a low price tends to increase demand, in theory there is a particular price somewhere in the middle where supply and demand will match.
- Other auctions: Other auction types also exist, such as Simultaneous Ascending Auction
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