I had never done an auction before 1997, but I had seen dozens of them. Since 1980 I had been going to science fiction conventions where I learned from some of the best -- folks like Phil Foglio and the late Joe Mayhew. These men were not professional auctioneers, and of course by "professional" I mean those auctioneers who babble out numbers at high speed and point to people who twitch an eyelid. Let's face it -- that's just boring. No, Phil and Joe and their cohorts put on a lively show that kept the audience laughing. They would laugh so hard, in fact, that their brains would flood with oxygen and they would get delirious, and then they would bid outrageous amounts on just about anything.
"There is a 1975 Chevy Impala with Maryland tags in the parking lot with its lights..."
"Four hundred dollars!"
"Four hundred and five!"
The auctions were all done by voice. No babbled numbers that nobody could understand, no twitching eyebrows. And they were fun! The art auction was always the highlight of the convention for me. The auctioneers knew how to work the audience. They kept things moving and kept people laughing, and they made tons of money.
I never figured that I'd be the one at the podium, until Anthrocon's first convention in Albany in 1997. An individual with an axe to grind decided to sabotage the art auction by luring the auctioneer away. It caused something of a fluster, as you can imagine. With the auctioneer nowhere to be found, a gallant staff member tried to take over. The poor chap was as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs, and the first four items really did not do well.
I felt badly for him and for the con, so I stood up and said, "Can I try doing one?"
He gave me the podium, and I thought to myself, "OK. What would Phil Foglio do right now?" I did it, and it was a hit. The staffer who'd turned the podium over begged me to do the rest, so I did.
That was how it started. Before long I was being asked to conduct auctions for other conventions. Even some local charities invited me to run their fundraiser auctions for them. I got a terrific thrill when Wolf Park in Indiana invited me to come out and conduct their annual auction for them. "We'll even let you play with the wolves," they said. How could I turn that down?
I confess that I've gotten some sneers from "professional" auctioneers who have seen me in action. They don't bother me, though. If it is "unprofessional" to let the audience have fun while still keeping the bids high, then I guess I'm just not in their league. At least in my auctions, nobody ever falls asleep!