Auction (Lat. auctio, the act of increasing), a public sale, whereat persons openly compete, the property being sold to him who will give the most for it. In Holland, and at what are called Dutch auctions elsewhere, this process is reversed, the seller naming a price beyond the value of his goods, which is gradually lowered until some one closes with the offer. Rome, so far as is known, invented the auction, which was at first held for the sale of military spoils among the soldiers behind a spear stuck in the ground, whence it was called audio sub hasia (under the spear), or subhastatio. The signal of the spear was afterward put up at all sorts of auctions, and the name was re - tained long after the signal was disused. After the death of Pertinax, A. D. 193, the praetorian guards put up the Roman empire at auction, which, after a number of bids by Sulpician and Didius Julianus, the sole competitors, was knocked down to the latter for (5,250 drachms (about $1,000) to each soldier. - In England sales "by the candle" or "by the inch of candle," which are still occasionally advertised, derive their name from an ancient practice of measuring the time within which the biddings must be completed by a candle, the highest bidder at the moment the inch burns out becoming the purchaser.
The minimum price at which the owner was willing to part with his property was sometimes put under a candlestick - "candie-stick biddings;" and in the north of England still occur sales where the bidders do not know each other's offers - "dumb biddings." - In point of law, the auctioneer is the seller's agent, and as such has a special property in the goods, a lien upon them or upon the purchase money, where he is authorized to receive it, for his commission, the auction duty, and the charges of the sale. If he exceed his authority, or refuse to give the name of his principal, he renders himself personally liable. In sales of real estate he is usually authorized to receive the deposit, but not the residue of the purchase money. The conditions of sale and the plans and description of the property, if printed or written, control the oral statements of the auctioneer. Slight inaccuracies of description do not, but substantial ones do avoid the sale. A bid at an auction may be retracted before the hammer is down, and, in cases where a written entry is required to complete the sale, before that is made. For a bid is only an offer, which does not bind either party until assented to. Fraud upon either side avoids the sale.
The employment of bidders by the owner is or is not illegal, according as circumstances tend to show bad or good faith. To employ them in order to prevent a sacrifice by buying in the property is, except where the sale is advertised as being "without reserve," allowable; but it is a fraud to use them for the purpose of enhancing the price through a fictitious competition. On the other hand, the sale is void if the purchaser prevails upon others to desist from bidding by appeals to their sympathy or false representations.