Q: How did you get started as an auctioneer?
A: I was seventeen years old. Members of my church owned an auction and I started as a runner. I would do heavy lifting, carry furniture for them. The owner heard me mimicking him and so he gave me some exercises and I started doing ten to fifteen minutes at the auction and then up to an hour or so. By the time I was twenty or twenty-one, I was doing seven auctions a month in the state of New Jersey.
Q: What kind of exercises did he give you?
A: Things like counting numbers, five to a hundred by increments of five. You do it forwards and then backwards. Backwards is where it can get tricky. Then there were tongue twisters, you know, like [insert very long and fast-spoken tongue twister of words starting with “B” here]. He wrote them down for me. Then you also have the singing chant, filler words that don’t necessarily make any sense. Like “who’s gonna be who’s gonna be” or “who wants to be who wants to be.” You get the rhythm.
Q: How long did it take you to become really good?
A: About two years.
Q: Were you ever nervous about messing up?
A: The first time I was anxious, I had butterflies. But I never really had a hard time with it.
Q: I read that you won an award?
A: I won a bid-calling contest through NJSSA, New Jersey State Society of Auctioneers, in 1999. It was a fundraiser auction. About twenty people competed. You sell for about five minutes each and they judge you on clarity, personality, chant, things like that.
Q: How does the auction work? Is there ever a chance of missing when someone bids on an item?
A: People get bid cards and raise their hands to bid. Do we ever miss hands? It’s possible. And people get upset, especially if they’ve been sitting there for hours. But I think we do pretty well. We sell about 2,500 items a night, which is about 150-250 per hour, or three items a minute.
Q: Who are the people who come to the auctions?
A: The audience is about 60 percent dealers and 40 percent general public and collectors. We get people from all over—we’ve had phone bidders from Hawaii and the UK. We advertise in the trade publications and the web has definitely helped us.
Q: How did you gain knowledge about the merchandise you sell?
A: My strength is the hands-on knowledge I’ve had. I also have a big library full of books, but the books usually state the prices a lot higher. For example, a Hummel can be $300-$400 in a book and at the auction you usually get around $85-100. You can read every book in the world but the reality is it’s based on what someone will pay for it.
Q: Do you watch the Antiques Roadshow on PBS?
A: Yes, and most of the prices they show on there are true. The thing is, the items they show are only a few of the probably 10,000 objects that have gone through that room. We’ve sold things for $36,000 or $50,000, but the majority are between $50 and $100. A lot of the things out there are reproductions. Something will originally be made in the 1700s and then reproductions were made in the 1800s, 1900s, and today. The reproductions are less valuable.
Q: So you have your own business now?
A: Yes. I was twenty-one when I ran my first auction. That was about eight years ago. I run my own auction once a month. I have two other auctioneers to help with breaks, but mostly I do it straight through, and usually we are running two auctions at the same time. Each auction is usually one large estate, about thirty partial estates, and thirty to forty antique dealers.
Q: What are some of the more expensive things you’ve auctioned? You said you sold something for $36,000?
A: It was a pair of urns—brass and mixed metal urns. They were six feet tall and we pulled them from a scrap yard in Hightstown [NJ]. They went to a dealer in New York City. When I first saw them I had estimated $2-$4,000 for the pair. I didn’t know how valuable they were going to be. In general though, if you sell one thing over $10,000 a year you’re doing well.
Q: Where do you hold your auctions?
A: In Somerset, at the Ukrainian Cultural Center.
Q: If you see something you like, are you allowed to buy it?
A: I do bid on it. I used to save a lot more than I do now. I’m still interested in Hungarian porcelain or things to do with gambling, like poker chipsŠ
Q: What do you think makes a good auctioneer?
A: It takes a special person. There are some auctions when we don’t make a penny, and others where we make plenty. Sometimes the audience can beat you up and keep the prices low.
Q: Would you recommend this job to others?
A: Yes. It’s like a big treasure hunt—it’s very unpredictable. I enjoy the hunt, going to people’s homes and looking at what they have. And I feel like we’re helping the community, too. Sometimes the people have lost a loved one, and we work on commission, so the more they make, the more we make.