You may find Part 1 HERE.
One thing we should assume in sales of household goods, meaning furniture, portraits, silver, etc., is this was an activity of the wealthier tradesmen, the gentry, and the aristocracy. After all, who wished to purchase items from the poor? And what auction house would think of taking on anything not worth the time to sell it? The most important items being offered were furniture, books (yes, books because few were mass produced at the time), household goods, silver plate, paintings, musical instruments, tapestries, porcelain, jewelry, pottery and earthen ware, Persian rugs, items brought in from other countries, such as wall hangings, suits of armor, carriages, and even a few “oddities,”as in stuffed animals. However, the sales were not limited to the house itself. Often, we might also find sales involving livestock.
Unlike in today’s auction house sales, those of the Georgiana era also listed the reason the items were being sold. Therefore, the sales catalogues might offer a bit of gossip for the community. The catalogue might tell a person if the owner of the items had known bankruptcy or whether he meant to use the income to pay debts. One might also learn if the person meant to invest in a new capital gain venture. Or he might require the funds to establish a legacy for his minor children or he might be what we now refer to as “downsizing” and moving to a different residence. Or perhaps a family death called for a change of circumstances. The listing of the “reason for the sale” presented the activity a sense of being “legitimate” and not some sort of scam. The sales items were as listed, and those conducting the sales were respectable members of the community, who held a reputation for honesty and fairness.
One other thing to consider is this was no yard sale experience where the owner of said item lists it for $10 and the potential customer haggles and gets the price down to $2 before walking away with a bargain. In these sales, the goods offered retained their value, perhaps even going for more than what was expected if more than one person wished to purchase it.
Those wishing to sell, especially in the shires, generally, turned to one of the tradesmen in the community to conduct the auctions. More often than not, the gentry and the aristocracy chose someone from one of the London auction houses. These “professional” auction houses, unlike those in the shires who mostly survived by word of mouth for their “advertising,” placed adverts in the newspapers of the day. Catalogues of the items available where made available in the larger municipalities at places such as coaching inns.
The first step in selling the goods was to create a flyer that displayed the name of the auctioneer (indicating the sale was legitimate), the owner of the items, and then a listing of the more important or larger items to be included in the sale. The catalogues themselves presented the potential buyer with not only the particular items up for bidding, but also the location of the item within the house itself, meaning the room. The catalogue also contained the “order” in which the items would be sold, and this did not always mean all the items in one room were addressed before moving on to another room. The descriptions of each item were carefully crafted to entice the buyers into purchasing pieces they made not have initially meant to add to their households. We all understand the “impulse buy” in today’s society. Trust me, this is not a new concept.
The idea of advertising to draw in the most sales is also not a new concept. As I am writing this piece, I just purchased several items for my grandchildren’s Christmas on Amazon Prime Days. (Yes, I am one of those who customarily has a large portion of my Christmas shopping completed by September. Yes, I am a Virgo. Yes, I am a bit weird about some things. Enough said.) We all know something of when is the best time to purchase linens, televisions, cars, etc. Those who ran these auctions also knew a great deal about when to offer which items. Obviously, the more prestigious items were held for last, much as we see at modern-day auctions. Those who produced the catalogues also were very particular in their choice of words. We all know the temptation for descriptors such as “one-of-a-kind,” “elegance,” “value,” “cultured,” but also words such as “antique” (not for furniture, that did not happen until mid 1800s) but perhaps for armor) or “genteel” or even the names of countries, such as “Persian” rug. These house sales brought commercialism to the country house and used it as a commercial space. In many ways, such still remains, but the house’s history is now the sales point. All around the world, houses of historical importance are restored to their glory days and opened to the public for tours, where we might look again upon a life none of us will every know.