One of the questions I’m most often asked is, “Why do auctioneers talk fast?” It’s a question I’m glad to answer – even though nobody is 100 percent sure what the correct answer is.
The National Auctioneers Association made a serious effort to investigate the history of the cadence. It discovered public auctions have been around since well before the nation’s founding, but became very common during the Civil War when military officers unloaded seized property to the highest bidder. That’s why today’s auctioneers sometimes bear the title “Colonel.” But, there’s no evidence that the men of the Blue and Gray used today’s fast-talking style.
It’s speculated that in the mid-1800s tobacco auctioneers, still known as some of the most skilled practitioners, might have developed the style when the public leaf auctions spread from Virginia into other states after the Civil War.
The fast-talking auctioneer is a uniquely American tradition.
The people who work at the largest auction houses in the world, Christie’s and Sotheby’s, employ a more restrained British style of auctioneering. In the United Kingdom, many auctioneers don’t solicit specific bids at all, instead declaring the price and asking for “advances on the current bid.” Buyers are expected to know the predetermined bid increments.
So, although we may never know how or where the fast-talking component of the auction began, we can all agree it makes an auction more exciting – even if we can’t always keep up with every word being said.