Through the Lens: Chant of the Auctioneer
Over forty years ago I met a young man who could put the energizer bunny to shame. I’ll bet he woke up laughing and talking wanting to take on the day with a heart full of joy. That was a long time ago and he now has grown into a man. And still, he is energetic and always has a smile when I talk with him. His name is Terry Cozart, a lifetime friend and auctioneer.
The art of auctioneering may be the first mass offering of a product for sale. The word auction is first found over four hundred years ago in the dictionary. Two of the biggest auction houses today are, Sotheby’s and Christie’s. Both were started in the 18th century. Throughout history the auction business has sold most every product one can imagine. From a boat load of fresh caught fish to million-dollar paintings.
Terry explained, auctions are a funny thing, sometimes the crowd will be in a bidding frenzy. Everything that comes up for sale is quickly taken. And on those occasions when the crowd is slow to start, it is up to the auctioneer to get the people in the mood to buy. Most all these skills he learned from his dad. He explained when he was young, he practiced his chant driving down the road selling everything from electric poles to cattle in the fields.
The first time he went before a crowd of bidders was in Paden City. His dad called him up in front of the crowd and told the group of people to be patient. He then announced to the gathering, “This was going to be his son’s first attempt to sell something worthwhile.” He handed him a bed pan to sell. Terry looked at him with skepticism and a bit of fear. His dad said, “It’s a flowerpot for the porch.” Terry did his best and sold the odd flowerpot. He then quickly exited, leaving the auction and bidders behind as he drove away in his truck, his dad finished the auction.
Terry asked his dad how he learned to sell items. His dad said practice your numbers and develop your own chant. He wanted Terry to get a feel for the chant of the words. Terry and his dad, Tex, never attended auctioneering school, it was not required when they started. Back in the day you had to take a rigorous two-hour exam to get a West Virginia auctioneer’s license. There is also a requirement to have eight hours of continuing education every year to maintain your license.
That first experience with his dad and the bed pan flowerpot set him on the path to becoming a professional auctioneer. His first auction was in 1985. He worked alongside his dad until 1999 when his father decided to semi-retire to his farm. Since then, he has sold most everything you can imagine. During his career, he has worked over 800 auctions.
His dad told him long ago a piece of advice that has served him well over his career. When you offer an item for sale, people want to know something about it. Tell them a ten-minute story in ten seconds. He has followed that piece of advice to this day.
I asked, what are the most popular items he auctions for sale? He explained that guns are the most prolific thing in this area people like to buy. Gun auctions draw big crowds. He explained the process of selling guns has changed greatly over the last three decades. For Terry to offer guns for sale, he must possess a Federal Firearms License (FFL). Every gun sold must be checked and the purchaser must also go through a back ground check at the time of the auction.
Before talking with Terry, I had not realized the preparations it takes to put on an auction. All the items must be checked over and evaluated. Sometimes things can be offered simply as they are. While other smaller items need to be gathered into boxes and sold as a unit. I asked, what were some of the most unusual items he has sold. He told me he once sold two caskets at a farm auction in Tyler County. He explained it was not unusual years ago, if someone died in the deep freeze of winter, the body would be placed in the casket and covered with hay in the barn. With the spring thaw, the person would be given a proper burial in the ground. Terry never said if it took six men to carry them away. Another odd item was a box of glass eyes, along with the tools used to work with them. He chuckled as he said, “the blue ones sold first.” Having blue eyes myself, I can see why.
I asked if the people selling are always in agreement with the bids they receive on their items. He grinned as he explained, “People have told me that their parents couch is almost brand new, even though it is fifteen years old. They will tell me that no one ever sat on it and that gave it great value. Another item that sells well are antique advertising crocks and silver dollars. A lot of people treasure them for private collections even though they may not have the monetary value some hope for.
I asked Terry about the future of his business along with the auctioneering trade. He explained today he does about eight to ten auctions a year, with an expected gross sales of $15,000 each. Auctions today require the auctioneer to be insured and bonded. Events have to be advertised in advance to make sure buyers are going to be present. Gun sales require computers to be tied into the ATF to complete necessary background checks. Bigger sales require more people to help get items up on stage to sell. Terry needs people working the computers to collect money and perform the background checks. As the licensed auctioneer, he has a good deal of cost in the event even before it takes place. All these costs come out of his commission and client expenses.
Terry explained that the auction business is changing. In today’s world a lot of auctions are online. People have more options for selling their products all over the country. He believes for the foreseeable future, in person auctions will continue. If for no other reason than the excitement of the crowd bidding on a simple flowerpot, even if it is only a bed pan.
I asked him what he will remember about the auction business when he retires. He hesitated before responding, “The auctions I worked with my dad”. He beams a big smile when he told me that both he and his dad are in the West Virginia Hall of Fame for Auctioneers. A career that began with a $2.00 flower pot has stretched over a lifetime, as I enjoyed talking with Terry Cozart, Through the Lens.