Gerald Lamkin walks away with a couple paintings he bid on at a recent W. A. Smith auction. Photo provided.

The Secret Behind the Quick Auctioneer Talk

Submitted 2 years ago
Created by
Katy Savage

The talk so fast that it sounds like a foreign language.

Their language is a steady rhythmic cadence of numbers that takes skill to master.It's  how auctioneer Bill Smith sells up to $1 million worth of antiques, jewelry, furniture and other possessions in the matter of hours.

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"The whole idea around auctioneering is to create a sense of urgency,” said Smith, the owner of W.A. Smith Auctions who has been selling since he was a teenager. "That’s why everything’s going fast.”

The chant of an auctioneer is as old as Biblical times and it takes so much practice to get right that there are schools and universities that teach it.

Reppert School of Auctioneering owner Melissa Davis compared auctioneering to performing. 

Davis lives in Indiana and warms up her vocal cords before she sells like a singer would before going on stage. Davis prepares with tongue twisters and number drills—counting up to 100 and back down in five and 10 increments.

“There is a methodology to it,” she said.

Davis teaches her students to say filler words between numbers. The faster the words, the better. Davis, says “Woody bid?” as filler words instead of, “Would you bid?” 

“It makes the chant more smooth and rhythmic,”  said Davis.

The chant is meant to be exciting.

That’s what Gerarld Lamkin, a dentist from Maryland, likes about attending auctions—"the rush," he said.

Lamkin stood from his chair at Smith’s auction last Sunday in Plainfield, New Hampshire to bid on a 20th century oil painting of a man and woman staring out a window. 

The sale was over in 30 seconds.

“400 now, 400 straight away, four and a quarter, four and a half, 475, 500, 500 straight away, five and a quarter now, " the auctioneer said, rapidly last Sunday. "Five and a half, five and a half’s there, 575, six now, 600’s there, six and a quarter, sir?

“Sold your way—600," the auctioneer said, pointing to Lamkin, who was relieved the price didn’t go above $600.

Lamkin walked away with two paintings he wanted last Sunday.

Lamkin buys paintings to add to his personal collection, which his wife says fills their 1790 house in Delaware. Lamkin also buys paintings to for his dentist office. 
“He can’t help it, he’s a paint-a-holic,” his wife, Melanie said. “He’s really attracted to color."
The Lamkins have a second home in Springfield, Vermont and attend Smith's auctions when they can.
Mary Fraser, who owns Fraser Antiques in Chester, used to feel the same about early American pieces. 
She used to attend every one of Smith’s auctions with her husband, who died in 2015.
"If my heart’s beating like at rip hammer, I know that’s something I really want,” said Fraser.
Learning the language of auctioneering is a skill. 
Smith knows what price to start an item, how to get people to jump in and how to connect to the people in the room.
“You’re trying to point out the characteristics of an item while you’re selling it,” said Smith.
For Smith, the chant came natural.
He learned it from his father, who was also an auctioneer. Smith never practiced before his father surprised him one day and told him to take over a sale at age 17. 
Now Smith hosts 35 auctions a year, grossing $50,000 to $1 million per sale.
The chant is his livelihood. 


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