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The poetry of capitalism


  • Sean Cayton

In his documentary How Much Wood Could a Woodchuck Chuck?, the great Bavarian filmmaker Werner Herzog describes the cattle auctioneer's hypnotic chant as "the pure poetry of capitalism." Indeed, the nimble numerical syllabics and verbal turbulence of the auctioneer would make any Eminem envious and turn the most rabid hippie into a hedonistic consumer.

Tad Bickley was so taken with the siren-call of auctioneering that he bought Ross Auction (Colorado's oldest auction house) in 1998 after his avid 25-year antiquing hobby finally got the best of him.

"What starts out as a hobby becomes a passion and pretty soon you've got a house full of stuff!" said Bickley, who wasn't content selling, buying and trading his collectibles in the often-inflated retail antique market.

"An auction is the best method of marketing antiques and collecting because bidders keep each other honest." And besides that, says Bickley, auctions are a lot more social, and you always have the chance of getting a great bargain.

Though the verbal gymnastics of the auctioneer are often the most dazzling to buyers and outside observers, the true art of the auction, says Bickley, is "the mental part."

"The chant becomes fairly automatic once you've learned how to count and let the filler words bounce off the roof of your mouth. The hard part is always knowing who you're selling to, keeping the crowd entertained, and having a lot of product knowledge."

Above all, Bickley believes an auction should be a good time.

"I've made a lot more money doing other things, but I've never had more fun."

-- story by Noel Black

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