La Vente aux Chandelles

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This page is based on an article in the 1947 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise

Controlling an auction sale by means of a burning candle is an old French custom, and it is still used today in parts of Normandy (and other regions of France) by notaires conducting sales of land.

There is a record of a 16th century Vente aux Chandelles in Jersey in an Act of the Royal Court ordering the sale by auction of the ship Michel Ricart. The auction was ordered to be held in three stages, at St Helier and St Aubin.

"1591 - L'An mille V cs IIII xx onze le troisieme jour de Juillet. Justice ordonne que trois bannies seront faites de la navire appelé le Michel Ricart assavoir - une ce present Samedy à la ville de St Helier, l'autre Mardy au hable de St Aubin avec inventoires des biens et utencilles diceluy et Vendredy suyvant avec pleinez execution et vente diceluy au plus offrant et dernier encherisseur à dix heures du matin a quatre doigts de chandelle a la suitte d'Helier Messervy et ses consors pretendans droict en icelle et d'Edouard bagguès"

It is not clear quite how the three-stage sale would have worked, but the process of vente aux chandelles itself involved placing three small candles about three centimetres high on a piece of wood about ten centimetres long. The auctioneer invites bids and when it appears that no more are likely to be made he lights the three candles. If no other bids are made before all three have gone out the sale is concluded.

If a further bid is made while the candles are burning, the process is repeated, with three more candles being lit.

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