Top: Real estate style sign advertising the site of a country auction in Chatham County North Carolina. Country Auctions take place at the homeplace or farm of a person or family whose belongings are to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. The personal property is usually that of someone recently deceased, or moving into a long term care facility. The auctioneer is hired to advertise the sale, catalogue the items, and conduct business on auction day, a Saturday morning.
Everything, with the exclusion of a few items immediate family have been allowed to hold out and keep, are sold. Farm implements, tools, clothes, appliances, furniture. Also all the little posessions and knick knacks one acquires over a lifetime: china, books, toys, postcards, clothes, newspapers depicting monumental events in history. Over years of attending auctions, I have seen sold family photographs, a man’s first prosthetic arm given to him by the U.S. miltary after he lost his in World War II, and old lingerie (“vintage” according to the boisterous auctioneer).
I once bought a family Bible at a country auction in North Carolina. Someone at the auction familiar with the family in the area whose items were being auctioned admired the Bible, sat down next to me, and asked if she could look at the book for a minute. She found a few family pictures in the Bible, pulled them out, and announced she was going to give them to an extended member of the family she thought might like to have them. My face went blood red. Besides the woman having a poor set of manners (had she thought of asking me if she could remove the pictures of the Bible I now owned?), I felt she hadn’t thought the whole scenario out very well. If a family did not value a Bible that had been carried by their relatives for the last 65 years, what were a couple of snapshots going to mean to their selfish being?
Middle: A gentleman with a beard holds his numbered card up in the air, signifying his bid to the auctioneer, or one of the assistants whom also observes bids in the audience and call out . A third auction employee works from a laptop computer or clipboard, recording each sale; the item, final price, and bidder number. A ruled space on the back of the card allows the bidder to record his or her purchases.
Part of an auctioneer’s craft is his or her ability to sight bids from the audience of 30-300 people crowded around a podium, or in the case of the above picture, the disc cultivator (a tractor implement) the man wanted to purchase. Roughly a third of attendees, newcomers or people with few hang-ups in life, just lift their card high above their head like a child raising their hand in class.
The majority of bidders can’t seem to follow this simple guideline. Some still utilize the numbered card, keeping it in their front pants pocket until an item comes up for bid they have their eyes on. With a hand on the card in their pocket, they will just ease the top of the card out of the pocket, hoping to get the auctioneer’s attention. In doing so, they twist their torso and cross their legs, giving bystanders the appearance the bidder really needs to pee.
Others, commonly older men dressed in farm attire, employ no card at all. Instead they will wink at the auctioneer, or stamp their foot, or raise one finger quickly, as if they were swatting at a bug.
Bottom: Unopened packages of Baquacil, a swimming pool care product that promises “crystal clear water with no irritated eyes.” Boxes and boxes of Bacquacil were auctioned, at a dollar or two a box, a small percentage of the retail price. The product, stored in a barn on the farm, point to a previous occupation to supplement farm income.
When similar items are sold at auction (think 6 dining room tables, 17 old Coca-Cola bottles, 3 push lawnmowers in questionable operating condition, etc.) the auctioneer will usually call the word “choice” at the top of his lungs before he starts the song for bids. The high bidder realizes he or she is calling a price for one item, and has the choice or purchasing one to all of the items at the highest price. If a person wins the bid at $12 on a Coca-Cola bottle, he can take 1 bottle, 17 bottles, or any number in between at the $12 a bottle bid. If he chooses all, bidding takes place on a new item. If he cherry-picks the bottles, selecting 10, a new round ofbidding would start on the 7 remaining Coca-Cola bottles.