My great-uncle Arthur VanAusdall was a clerk for a local auctioneer, and my immediate family routinely attended farm auctions to buy equipment and tools, socialize with the other attendees, and pay respects to the seller(s).
My father knew all the local auctioneers well, including Horace “Jr.” Kramer, John Kramer, Harry Hudson (pictured,) Harry “Jake” Campbell, Dave Kessler, Jim Kottyan and others.
Harry was a veteran of World War II, a farmer, and livestock auctioneer working a number of livestock consignment auctions in Ohio and Indiana. And he lived only a short bike-ride from our farm in Preble County.
However, when we attended an auction where my father didn’t know the auctioneer well, or even at all, my father would look to see if he could find the auctioneer (usually a fairly easy task) and then ask him:
- “Good morning ‘Colonel!’ Where you giving out numbers?”
Why did my father refer to an auctioneer as “Colonel?” Probably because his father did before him and his father before him, etc.
Yet, how did all this get started?
- Have you ever heard an auctioneer referred to as “Colonel?” It’s a fairly common practice, especially at auction schools across the country. This came about during the Civil War era, a time when auctions were beginning to flourish.
- History has it that the art of auctioneering was a common practice for Civil War Colonels who regularly auctioned off the spoils of war and surplus. However, only officers of the Colonel rank could conduct them, spawning the use of the term “Colonel” by many auctioneers still today.
- A short historical narrative from one of the top auction schools details this process: “As the Civil War progressed, many troop battalions made a practice of seizing property of land owners and merchants as they marched. Contraband would be collected and carried to a favorable area, then the Colonel or commanding officer would sell the goods at public sale.
- Even after the Civil War, military Colonels traveled to sell surplus goods and seized goods. Auctioneers followed some of the same trails and dressed similar to army Colonels to such an extent that the public began to recognize auctioneers as “Colonel.”
Is the term “Colonel” still used today? To some extent, and in more rural areas of the United States, some still refer to an auctioneer — generically — as “Colonel.” Additionally, some auctioneers still refer to themselves as “Colonel.”
Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, CAI, AARE has been an auctioneer and certified appraiser for over 30 years. His company’s auctions are located at: Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, Keller Williams Auctions and Goodwill Columbus Car Auction. His Facebook page is: www.facebook.com/mbauctioneer. He serves as Adjunct Faculty at Columbus State Community College and is Executive Director of The Ohio Auction School.