The Crying the Auction has existed long before Auctioneers were known as “Knights of the Hammer” “Hustlers” or “Colonels. The term “crying” a sale followed shortly after the time when Roman soldiers thrust spears into the ground to signal the start of Auctions for the dispersal of the spoils of war.
An early term for an Auctioneer was an “Out-Crier.” To understand the origin of the Out Crier, we need to review his predecessor, the “Town Crier.”
It is believed that the first Town Criers were the Spartan Runners in the early Greek Empire. This position evolved as Europe developed.
As England colonized the world, the position of the Town Crier spread with it. Before the general populace could read, Town Criers brought the news to them, and served as spokesmen for the King. Town Criers were protected by law. “Don’t shoot the messenger” was a very real command; anything that was done to a Town Crier was deemed to be done to the King and was therefore a treasonable offense.
In addition to reading Royal proclamations and local bylaws, the Crier prevailed on market days, sometimes involved in the sale of damaged goods. It was Christmas in 1798, when the Chester Canal Co. sold some sugar damaged in their packet boat and this was to be advertised by the “bellman.” (Town Crier)
The similarities of both the Town Crier and the Out Crier are most evident. The bell was a very important tool for both the Town Crier and the Out-Crier to obtain the attention of the people and to gather a crowd. Most early Auctions were conducted in central locations such as the Town Square, central coffee houses and Inns. Posting announcements, broadsides and handbills were the trade mark of both Criers. A powerful voice directed to a primarily illiterate assemblage was an attribute of both.
The primary difference between the two Criers was the fact that the Auctioneer was not an official court or government position. However, it seems to me that the Auctioneers learned to copy much of what the Town Crier did in an effort to add importance and professionalism to their sales events.
The addition of the “Auction Hammer” or gavel to the use of the bell, added formality and a sense of finality to each and every Auction transaction. Hanging a red flag above the central location of the Auction also provided the image of an official event. Even the Auctioneers apparel was meant to elevate his position a notch above the common folk and give the illusion of importance.
It is still true today, that many auctions contain functions once used by the Town Crier. A court ordered foreclosure Auction sale may be conducted in the lobby of a municipal building with official public readings rendered in a clear loud voice prior to conducting the sale.
As the Out Crier evolved to be known as an Auctioneer “crying” techniques changed. Auctioneers transitioned to “Bid Calling” and perhaps a more rhythmic and refined “Chant” depending on their specialized markets of employment.
The 18thC Auctioneers of pictures (paintings) and books were very knowledgeable salesmen who very quickly described the positive attributes of what they were offering in their specialized fields to a primarily “dealer based” crowd. The country peddler Auctioneer who purchased his goods at a rapid fire wholesale auction on the docks of an American city, would bid call from his wagon at a much slower pace to his retail customers. He would take time to explain the fine attributes of his imported goods – get the highest price and distribute as much as possible to the crowd at that price.
Auctioneers of timber, standing grass, livestock and animal furs would sell very quickly to their educated buyers in a wholesale market. However, they were no match for speed in comparison to the Auctioneers selling perishable goods in a daily wholesale market. The auctioneers that were selling fresh fish, fruits & vegetables daily had to sell extremely fast and disperse the goods fast enough to get to a secondary market to be distributed to consumers by late morning on the same day.
So who is responsible for today’s rapid fire “dealer” market chant? It can’t be the automobile Auctioneers as their very first multi-vehicle dealer style auction wasn’t until 1938. However, the Automobile Auctioneers and Livestock Auctioneers certainly have developed fantastic bid calling chants.
I would credit the Tobacco Auctioneers for being the first group to truly combine speed, rhythm and clarity to quickly disperse their commodity to professional buyers in a wholesale market. These knowledgeable Auctioneers were responsible for properly allocating the pallets of tobacco leaves to the small group of professional buyers as they walked and sold in the warehouses of the American South. Eventually, the Tobacco Auctioneer’s rhythmic chants were used in radio marketing to millions of Americans by the American Tobacco Company (Founded 1896) ending with “Sold American.”
Crying any Auction to the general public will warrant a slower bid calling style, with perhaps more explanation of the items being sold. This is true of Real Estate, Benefit or Fund Raising Auctions, the sale of Antiques and Collectibles, as well as specialized commercial equipment.
Regardless of what an Auctioneer is selling, it is perhaps one of the few instances where “crying” is joyful.
But the industry is changing to online auctions. I must say online only is less man power, but I still like to out cry an auction.