Auction comes from the rootword "auction" which literally means "increase". Auctions have existed for centuries. You might be pleasantly surprised by earlier forms and descriptions of auctions. The section below on the history of auctions can probably satisfy some of your historical curiosities. Auctions are especially useful when selling a commodity of undetermined value. One example might be a work of art, which different people would value differently; a personal collector looking at the work as just another piece for his collection may value it differently from a state museum curator who thinks the work is of great importance and quality. An auction could serve to ensure that the artwork goes to the person who values it the most.