Farm Auction

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An auctioneer soliciting bids at a farm auction. 
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A collection of tools bought at bargain prices.
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An old but perfectly useable cider press.
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Assorted home furnishings acquired at auction.
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Above all, auctions are social events. 

“SOLD” bellowed the auctioneer, “to the man in the blue
jacket for $4.00. And that, sir, is one fine

I was the guy in the blue jacket, and I’m glad to say that
the item I purchased was a pretty fair buy. For my
$4.00 I got a used–but perfectly
serviceable–pitchfork, a quality tool that
would have cost me $15 to $18 in a store.

And there’s no reason why anyone else couldn’t duplicate
(or better) my luck. The next time you decide to buy almost
any kind of homestead equipment–whether it be a set of
dishes, a cook stove, a rocking chair, or a pickup
truck–try visiting a local farm auction. You
might well latch on to a really first-rate bargain.

Over the past year, by simply raising a hand or cocking an
eyebrow so the auctioneer could see it, members of my
family have purchased two large rugs, three pitchforks, an
axe, an oak pie safe, two chests of drawers, a chair, an
oak table, six boxes of canning jars, a lamp, and a scythe
… and not one of our finds cost us more than $5.00!

Furthermore, while it’s true that all merchandise was
secondhand (some of it even required quite a bit of fixing
up), everything we’ve purchased has been potentially
usable. And when you consider that we paid much less than
half the retail price for each item, you’ll understand why
I feel that a farm auction can be a shopper’s paradise. In
addition, spending a day matching wits with other bidders
(and with the auctioneer) is far more entertaining
than huddling in front of the TV … and the chili dogs
and made-from-scratch pecan pies served up by the
church ladies who run the refreshment stand are (nearly) as
good as my wife’s home cooking.

If f you don’t know what you’re doing, however, you can
drive away from your first farm auction with a truckload of
trash, and you might even pay more for an old article than
you would to purchase the same item new in a store. Also,
there’s a real danger of catching “auction fever”–an
uncontrollable urge to pay too much for something you don’t
really want or need–as a result of getting caught up
in the excitement of the moment.

Fear not, though, because I’m a veteran auctiongoer (who’s
already made all of those
mistakes!). I’ve decided to share some of my
hard-earned knowledge by explaining auction terminology, and by listing a
selection of hints that’ll help the novice bargain hunter
keep a tight grip his or her pocketbook and go home with a
bonanza of budget-priced goodies.

Mastering Auction Lingo

Make most organized activities, auctions have a peculiar set
of terms that the beginner should become acquainted with.
(“Auction” itself is derived from the Latin word
auctionem, a process which Roman soldiers
bought captured booty on the battlefield by topping to each
other’s offers for the plunder.) Once you’ve cracked the
code, you’ll be able to follow the action with a minimum
of fuss.

A bid is the amount that you offer to pay for the
merchandise. Increments are the jumps in
price–there’s usually a minimum–by which that
sum increases. Opening the bid refers to the sum
at which the offers start, and just how high that initial
bid should be is often a source of great debate among
auction buffs. Some folks prefer to open low, hoping
that–with luck–buyer interest will be minimal
and they’ll waltz away with the object for a song. Other
people–especially those who are really keen on owning a
particular item–will start a little high with
the intent of discouraging rival buyers. Still another
group believes it’s most effective not to bid at all until
the action slows down. You’ll just have to work out your
personal auction strategy as you gain experience.

A lot is a number of pieces that are sold as a
unit, such as a set of dishes or a matched pair of chairs.
Knocked down is the auctioneer’s term for “sold”:
for example, “That table was knocked down at $15.” A
reserve is the lowest price that can be accepted
for an article. While most farm auctions will not include a
great number of reserve items, an expensive piece of farm
machinery or the like may have a reserve price. A
conscientious auctioneer will generally tell you whether
that condition exists before the bidding starts. As is is
self-explanatory: It means that you’re buying the object
nicks, cracks, burnt-out motor, and all.

Many auctions assign buyer’s numbers. To obtain
one, you simply register with the event’s secretary, and he
or she will give you a card with a number that’s recorded
each time you bid on an item. This practice simplifies
bookkeeping, since the secretary can then run a tab for
your purchases, and you can settle up your bill when you
leave. Buyer’s numbers also provide bidders with a certain

Helpful Hints for Penny Pinchers

While you’re learning “auctionese,” you’ll also be gaining
assurance in your ability to recognize, and bid on,
bargains. My auctioneer friend, Colonel Archie Ringgenberg,
and I have compiled a list of tips that’ll help a novice
avoid misunderstandings and expensive mistakes.

[1] Read the sale bills–which are ads in local
newspapers, or flyers that describe the merchandise being
offered–before the auction. By doing so, you’ll know which
things you’re interested in and be able to check their
retail prices. At the same time, you should note the terms
of the sale and work out your own financial arrangements.
Many auctions demand cash, and others will accept checks
drawn only on local banks, before you can remove your

[2] Thoroughly inspect any merchandise you want to bid on
prior to the opening of the auction. Arrive early enough
(or attend the preview day if the goods are exhibited to
the public beforehand) to pore over the loot. You should,
for example, plug in electrical appliances to see if they
work, crank the handles of mechanical item to make
sure the gears aren’t frozen, and check bureaus or
chests for missing or mismatched pulls.

[3] Make a list of the items you want and stick to it
to avoid compulsive buying. Many auctions place convenient
little numbered stickers on each article or lot, and these
are announced as the objects are put up for sale. Jot down
the numbers of any goods you’re interested in,
with a brief description of each and–this point is
crucial–the maximum you’re willing to pay for
the privilege of owning it. (My buddy Colonel Arch is such a
master at getting his auction crowds to relax that most folks don’t
even notice the pain as their money wings its way out of
their wallets!)

[4] Find out what an object’s worth. If you’ve done your
homework, you won’t get so carried away that you pay more
for a broken-handled pitchfork than you would for a new
one. On the other hand, don’t let the fact that an article
is used affect your judgment. You can find real bargains in
merchandise whose only fault is that its owner no longer
needs it. Keep in mind the old adage: One person’s trash is
another’s treasure.

[5] Know how you’re bidding. Suppose there are four chairs in
a row: Is the auctioneer selling them one at a time or four
at once? If the sale is announced as one money, you’re bidding
on all four chairs. Times the money means, on the, other
hand, that you’re bidding the price of one chair, and if
the lot is knocked down to you, you’ll get all four chairs at four times your final bid. Choice chairs means that your
winning bid with buy you first pick among the four. (Most
auctioneers will then let you–or anyone else in the
audience–take any or all the remaining chairs for
the same price. If there’s no interest, the bidding starts anew.)

[6] Be sure you understand the spiel. While a good
auctioneer chants or sing songs, he or she is telling you
what’s being sold and how, plus both the current bid and
the price that’s being sought. Listen carefully until you’re
certain you’re following the action. It’s a shock, for
instance, to find out you bought a hammer for $12.50 when
you thought the bid was $2.50.

[7] Stop the show if you have a question. If you don’t
know which box of nails for example, is being sold–or
if you thought you were offering $10 for all four chairs
and it’s a “times the money” –halt the proceedings and
explain. An honest auctioneer will either go back to the previous
bidder in such a case or open the bidding again.

[8] Secure your goods. As soon as the auctioneer says
“sold” and hands over the merchandise, it’s your
responsibility. One of the biggest problems at auctions
is thievery. Be forewarned: Watch your loot or lock it up.

[9] If you go with friends, stay together and
decide–in advance–who’ll do the bidding on
which items. Despite the fact that we understand this rule,
my wife and I invariably bid against each other, at least
once during each auction. It can be pretty embarrassing to
realize that the “stubborn pest” in the back who keeps
topping your offer is your spouse.

[10] Watch your hands. You’ve likely heard the horror
stories about auctiongoerswho were waving at
friends and suddenly found themselves the proud owners of,
for instance, a moosehead. While some such tales are so old
they ought to have whiskers, it is probably safest to
control your hand movements until an auctioneer becomes
familiar with your bidding mannerisms.

[11] Drive a truck. As I mentioned before, your new
property is your responsibility. Auction sites often
aren’t equipped to hold the merchandise until you can pick
it up. If you have plenty of room to stash and transport
your goods, you’ll also avoid paying hauling charges, which
can add considerably to your “bargain” prices (it’s a good idea, too, to pack along a couple of folding
chairs in the pickup before you set out just in case
there’s no seating available when you get to the sale

[12] Enjoy the show. Sample the refreshments and chuckle
over the jokes. Above all, relax and don’t allow
yourself to get so uptight that you bid against someone
just to keep him or her from obtaining an item you can’t
use anyway.

Farm auctions are far more than just means of selling
merchandise. They’re social gatherings complete with
hot coffee, chili dogs, homemade pies, and friendly
conversation. There’s no better place to spend a leisurely
day in the country–or to get an education in old time
comparative shopping–than at a rural auction. And,
while you’re learning, you just may walk away with
the “bargain of a lifetime”!

EDITOR’S NOTE: If Randy Kidd’s tips for the novice
bargain hunter have whetted your appetite for farm sales,
you’ll want to read
Auction! The Guide to Bidding,
Buying, Bargaining, Selling, Exhibiting, & Making a
Profit by William C. Ketchum, Jr.