Story: Life of an Auctioneer: Auctioneers discuss what they learned about the profession and the region by selling what’s left (05/04/22)
Auctioneer Chester Seyer auctions off items at an auction in the Fruitland area while Kristi Seyer works alongside him March 5, 2022. Chester has been an auctioneer since 2001.
Photo by John Stringer
You can tell a lot about a person, a region, a culture, by what people leave behind.
It’s something Charley and Verla Mangels, Chester and Kristi Seyer, and Brenda and Mark Kern know well. The group, along with Mary Seyer and Theresa Seyer, and in the past, LR and Janet Brandes, work together as Seyer Auctioneering, and they are, in a sense, cultural anthropologists who observe and tell stories about the people of Perry, Cape Girardeau and Bollinger counties.
It is a profession that has been transmitted by apprenticeship; Chester can trace the auctioneers he and his family members learned about two generations before him.
Auctioneer Charley Mangels examines a piece of farm equipment while taking a break from auctioning during a sale in Fruitland March 5, 2022. Charley has been an auctioneer since the 1970s.
Photo by John Stringer
Charley has been in the business the longest: it was through an invitation from Chester’s father, Andrew Seyer, that he first got involved in the 1970s. auctioned at the age of 16 and became half of Schlimpert and Seyer Auctioneering with auctioneer Clarence Schlimpert in 1967. Charley learned to be an auctioneer, his wife Verla Mangels says, by singing an auction song at auction.
Chester learned the trade from his father, who told him to start the auction when he was younger; It wasn’t until 2001 that Chester decided to take it seriously, went to auctioneer school and started auctioning. After the death of his father, other family members, friends and neighbors have also been part of the business over the years.
Mark grew up going to estate sales with his parents; he says he has always loved auctioning and recently graduated from auctioneer school. When Chester gave him the opportunity to work with Seyer Auctioneering, he took it. He says he loves everything about the process.
“When you have good products and they bid, you can sell all day, never needing a break,” says Chester. “But when you beg and beg, it wears you out.”
Some of the coolest items they sold include a potato fork which fetched $17, although the next day Charley says he had to “beg” for $1 for a brand new one during a another auction. They once sold three cartons of eggs from Bob Schnurbusch’s store in Old Appleton for $900. They also sold a baptismal font from an Oak Ridge Baptist church.
Participants pay for items they bid on and won at an auction in Fruitland on March 5, 2022. Auctioneer Charley Mangels says when he auctions he encourages people to bid on items while joking with them.
Photo by John Stringer
Kristi, who handles clerks, cashiers, makes lists, takes pictures of items, posts the photos online and handles billing, says one of her favorite stories is when a piece of pottery sold for a dollar and the buyer thought he had gotten a good deal on a prestigious piece of pottery, showing it off to many people present. It turns out that the piece was made by the estate owner’s son, in art class.
“Everyone says, ‘Do you know the value of everything?’ To me, it’s just numbers, because it’s worth what a willing soul is willing to give,” says Chester. “You hold [an item] high, the public will tell you if you have something good. The value of it.
The best sellers, says Chester, are for two-story homes in rural areas because often the owners of such homes were conservative and didn’t throw anything away. He says city auctions don’t usually have as many antiques because when people moved from the countryside to the city, they threw away their old possessions that were worth something today. Charley also mentions that often if a couple doesn’t have children, their possessions will be fine.
When reviewing someone’s belongings before a sale, “you have to look at everything,” says Brenda, who handles clerks, cashiers and holds items in place during sales. She says they once held a sale where they found nearly $3,000 in cash stuffed into the fingers of a pair of gloves in a cigar box. Chester adds that this is especially true for people who lived through the Great Depression.
An auctioneer must know how to read people’s body language.
“There are two very good signs [that someone is going to bid]”, says Charly. “Women and men are different: if there’s a wagon over there and a woman has her eye on something, you know she’s a prospect. agriculture, if he’s digging in his pocket to make sure he can pull out his number, he’s a prospect. He checks that he has his number handy before this article appears.
Auctioneer Charley Mangels walks through the farm machinery area while taking a break from bidding during an auction in the Fruitland area on March 5, 2022. He says he made himself many good friends at sales for over five decades as an auctioneer.
Photo by John Stringer
It also helps, Charley says, encourage people while he’s auctioning, joking with them to get them to bid. It’s up to the auctioneer to choose who to choose to open the auction, then it’s the other person’s turn to bid; there shouldn’t be two people on a deal at the same time, says Chester.
When no one is bidding, the person holding items should strategically look at other items on the wagon and find something to put with that might garner a starting bid. There is also a method to auction off the items on the wagons, saving the best items that will fetch the most money for the middle of the sale. Chester says they process around 80 items per hour, and the person holding the items plays a huge role in how fast the auction goes: they have to have the next item up like the one before it’s sold so that the auctioneer can feed on energy. It takes about an hour to sell a shipment of items, Chester says, and they try to end each auction by 4 p.m.
One of the hardest parts, says Chester, is during sales when it’s hard to get people to bid.
“You go through someone’s business, a lifetime of collecting…[in]one day we get rid of what they’ve collected over their lifetime,” says Chester.
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Brenda says it’s a sad experience.
“It’s something like you know that [item] was their pride and joy, they collected that, and then we try to sell it, and you can’t get a dollar for that,” she says.
Ultimately, it’s an act of trust for a family to ask them to sell their loved one’s possessions, Chester says. In the process, Charley, whom Chester describes as “the best opening auctioneer around”, says he makes “a lot of good friends”.
“It makes you feel good when you’re done [a sale] if the family feels like you did a good job for them,” he says.
Each auctioneer has a different stamina; Charley says he can ride for two to three hours before his words lose sharpness. Through everything they learn about the people and the region from the things they sell and every word he speaks in the course of his job as an auctioneer, Chester uses one word to describe the profession : share.
“Every auction is different,” he says.
“It’s an experience,” admits Charley.