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JOHN GIBBS is a resident of Gays Mills, Wisconsin. He is an award-winning weekly columnist for the Crawford County Independent newspaper in Gays Mills, Wisconsin.

GAYS MILLS - One thing I miss during the pandemic is going to auctions.  Here are a few of my thoughts about auctions from a column I wrote in 2007.

I enjoy going to auctions. They have been a mainstay of rural life for many years. They are economic, mercenary and social occasions all rolled into one.

An auction is a mixed bag. It is an exciting way to shop, thrilling even. I don’t know about you, but that auctioneer’s chant just gets my heart racing. Come to think of it, maybe that’s the purpose of the rapid-fire “hubba-hubba-hubba” or whatever it is he  is saying, to give an urgency to the proceedings, and raise prices. Auctions can also be tinged with sadness, a bittersweet flavor, as the possessions of a lifetime, sometimes several lifetimes, are put up for sale to the highest bidders.

The first step in attending auctions is scoping out the auction bills for upcoming sales. An auction bill shows what will be on the sale. The bills are commonly printed in the ‘shopper’ type of weekly papers, but they also show up as posters in public places. The bills come out a week or two before an upcoming sale. People like to see what will be for sale and the bills help them decide if they want to attend a given sale. So when you get there, you know that everyone attending is either interested in buying something or in lending support to the sellers. My favorite kind of sale bill will say something like: “the sheds are full” or “too much to list here” or “this farm has been in the family for (a big number of) years and there has never been a sale on this farm.”  Those kind of comments hint at an interesting sale with lots of surprises.

It should come as no surprise that everyone at an auction sale is looking for a bargain. Good buys are a big part of the appeal of auctions. However, it pays to know the value of things you might buy. I’ve seen people buy a used hand tool, not of antique value or anything, and pay as much or even more than they could buy a new one for in town. As I am mentally tut-tut-ting such an unwary buyer, I need to be careful; I may overbid on the next item, causing eyebrows to raise and glances to be cast among other bidders, wondering why someone would pay such an outrageous price for whatever the item is.  

Here’s what’s fun: you spot a box of items on the hay wagon that’s serving as a stage for the auctioneer. The box has something in it that you want, let’s make it an obscure garden thing-a-ma-jig. Nobody’s bidding on it-but hold your fire. Don’t appear too eager.  Don’t twitch or itch. The auctioneer directs a helper to “put something else with it” to get people bidding. Another box of garage-shed-barn treasure is held up. Now you bid a dollar. Depending on the crowd, the size of the sale, the weather, and the auctioneer’s mood, you may, in the flash of an eye, own those two boxes.  What’s really fun is going through those boxes later to discover what this grab bag has in it. Chances are there are some treasures you can use, some to pass on to a friend, or items to stock your own yard sale. Maybe some of it will show up at your estate sale or auction when that time comes.

One thing I admire about auctioneers is the fact that they need to know, or appear to know, what everything is that they are selling. In most sheds and attics, there lurk some strange artifacts that would stump most people. Auctioneers must be able to name, explain, and promote some of the darndest things you ever saw. So if the “colonel, as many auctioneers are known, says it’s a left handed brake wrench for a 1947 Kaiser Frazier, then that’s what it is until someone corrects him. Caveat Emptor. Let the buyer beware.

More next week about auctions.  There’s just too much to list here.