Amish Auctioneers: The Performers of Plain Society

What a neat video today.  Auctioneers have always fascinated me–their cadence of speech, command of a crowd, how they inject otherwise mundane transactions with excitement and immediacy.

And Amish auctioneers doubly so.  You’ll find no professional actors, musicians, or entertainers among Amish.  But I’ve often thought that auctioneers are the closest to “show business” the Amish get.

Getting up on stage, mic-ed up, all eyes on you while rapid-fire dealing off items seems somehow highly “un-Amish”.

Back in 2009, the Auction Network interviewed Willis Yoder, a Michigan Amish auctioneer (as in other states, Amish auctions in Michigan feature a range of items including quilts, hunting gear, and woodworking; read more on Michigan Amish furniture).  As you’ll see in the video, Willis is a mold-breaker in a number of ways.

The Amishman notes it hasn’t always been easy.  Amish auctioneers were frowned upon, and later accepted but restricted (“I love good sound…take my speaker away, it’s like taking my shoes off on auction day”).

But Amish love auctions, and Amish auctioneers are fairly common now–Willis estimates around 100.  Most mid-to-large communities will have at least one or two.

Very unusual interview, and one of my favorite in memory.  There’s a lot more that could be said, but for now, enjoy:

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    18 Comments

    1. Al in Ky.

      This reminded me of some of the Amish auctioneers at Dinky’s
      Auction Center near Montgomery, Indiana in Daviess County. There
      is a huge auction there almost every Friday night of the year.
      Hundreds of people attend each auction. There are as many as
      ten auction rings selling guns, dishes, pigs, chickens, produce,
      etc. There are several Amish auctioneers as well as non-Amish.
      One thing that is very interesting in observing the Amish auctioneers is that they seem to know the general auction value
      of many things Amish people in their community would never use.
      If you are ever in the western Indiana, eastern Illinois, north
      central Kentucky area, it is well worth the extra miles to attend
      an auction at Dinky’s to get a new experience of Amish life.
      There is always a group selling lots of good food to eat — most
      groups are Amish churches or schools.
      On another point — were the women riding horseback in the video
      Amish women? Their clothing looked more like Old Order or
      conservative Mennonite. I

    2. Bilingual auction

      Al ditto on Dinky’s. I remember how popular it was among Amish from my time in Daviess County. The place to be on Friday nights.

      Interesting observation on Amish auctioneers knowing values of non-Amish goods. And on that point it’s clear that Willis is very tuned in to his diverse customers and crowds.

      I liked the part where he demonstrates how he can simultaneously auction chant in English and Pennsylvania Dutch. This is really a talent and I also think it takes a certain personality type. Obviously Willis is not crowd or camera-shy!

      Good observation on the women on horseback (and funny that we just had this topic). No those were not Amish women and by the patterned dresses probably a Plain Mennonite group.

    3. Elin

      elliha.blogspot.com

      What a lovely clip! Is he old order Amish? I mean, don’t most Amish shy away from appearing on the screen like this? The clips I have seen of Amish people have been when they have talked sitting in the dark or only filmed with their face not shown. Well, he seems like such a lovely person and I liked hearing him talk about his life and his job.

    4. Lowell

      Interestingly the Kalona Iowa Old Order Amish don’t allow their members to be auctioneers. We had several young Amish men in the community who had great calls and were highly sought after as auctioneers and the church leaders put a stop to their auctioning.

      Thanks for sharing a great piece.

    5. Richard

      Update from thursdays post: Leacock quarry.

      Just a quick update on thursday post from Lancaster online:
      Those for or against the expansion of a quarry in Upper Leacock Township will have to wait at least until next month for an answer.

      The township’s board of supervisors voted 2 to 1 to table a request by Talmage Partners of Malvern to rezone 59 acres immediately south of the existing 70-acre quarry from agriculture to quarry. The land is currently farmland. Richard. http://www.Amishstorys.com

    6. Karen Lange

      Interesting

      Thanks for posting this! I found it interesting and informative.

    7. Bob Rosier

      Very interesting….thanks for posting. There was an auction in the Big Valley a few weeks ago when I was there (Wednesday at Belleville). They probably have it every Wednesday. Plan a trip if you have never been…..lovely country.

    8. Ann

      I liked the video it was amazing how he did it in english and german at the same time

    9. Glad everyone is enjoying this. It is a longer clip but I think quite well-done. Lot of good info in there about auctions in general.

      Willis does not seem typical when talking about winning the state auctioneer’s championship, and also the comment at the end along the lines of being proud also seemed quite un-Amish. I think he would get some criticism for that. Not to mention it’s not common for this kind of an on-camera, “full-frontal” interview to happen. It’s not surprising that auctioneers would be among the most progressive since they deal with the public very often.

      Elin, he is a horse-and-buggy, plain clothes wearing Amishman, but to be honest I am not sure if he is Old Order or New Order…The community I believe is Clare, home of a well-known large auction.

      Lowell that is interesting about Kalona. Especially since they are fairly progressive on other matters like technology.

      Bob I saw you had mentioned that auction…sounds like you went at the right time. I’ve seen Big Valley in winter and summer and don’t know which visit I enjoyed more.

      Richard thanks for sharing the result on the quarry issue. The comments on that post have been great.

      1. Amy

        I live near the Clare Amish community and they are New Order. Much more progressive than the Old Order communities in Stanwood and Blanchard areas south of us. Myself and my family are not Amish, but have many friends that are. We love the community and the lifestyle.

    10. Marlene

      Bilingual

      His simultaneous bilingual auctioneering is amazing! There is no better way to spend a Saturday afternoon than at an auction!

    11. Kathy Rowe

      Very interesting video, Erik. It would be an experience to attend one of his auctions and listen to him in both languages. You always have such good topics!

      1. Following a dream

        Kathy, it makes me really glad to know you think so. The humble Amish answer would be that it’s not me but the material I’m working with. So I’m going to go with that one 🙂

        Willis is a pretty remarkable and talented fellow. What I liked is that you can really see he enjoys what he does.

        Also, he talks about following a dream–which sort of dispels the idea that Amish are universally pigeonholed into little compartments and occupations.

        True, choices are more limited, but when you grow up in an Amish environment, I think it’s more likely you’ll develop a passion for things you know–like auctioning, or welding, or fabrics–rather than things you don’t.

        So you are likely to lack interest in those choices lying outside your realm, really rendering the fact of whether or not you can pursue them irrelevant.

        It’s the same reason I have zero passion for Asian cooking, sculpting, or tinkering on engines.

        Well, I did grow up in a family of accountants, but that just goes to show you you don’t always absorb the passions of those around you 🙂

    12. Dr._K

      Amish Auctions

      I have had the pleasure of attending auctions in Strasburg PA during quilting and mud sales. I would specify for my employer the days and times and take off for the same. I was never disappointed. Yes, you find yourself in a sea of Amish and yes, you get caught up with a good auctioneer. I have been at them when they were 10 to 20 below zero and some not as cold. Great stuff was had; and having been to them, I was able to establish through contacts a relationship with one fellow who was able to secure for me, through an auction, a beloved quilt awaiting a proper quilt hangar, as it remains folded in a box in my closet. There are ways to find out when auctions are held, and for those who’ve never been, I can’t recommend more highly a more enjoyable activity in which one can spend a day and empty a bank account.

      1. Dr. K, with some of those quilt prices, “empty” is the right verb!

    13. Slightly-handled-Order-man

      I admire auctioneers. This guy seems rather neat, and the story where he was asked by his elders, community and family to do his job without a speaker system, wow. I can’t imagine that being done without a speaker system. But like he said, they have been doing auctions for centuries and before the modern era people probably did that sort of calling without speaker systems, sometimes I would imagine with bull horns or whatever.
      Very neat, I admire mister Yoder for what he does and how he is able to keep the integrity of his faith too.

    14. Rhea

      When I’m in Homerville, Ohio, I always go to the auction. There, they have English auctioneers even though it is the Amish who selling their products.

    15. Amy

      I live near the Clare Amish community and they are New Order. Much more progressive than the southern Stanwood and Blanchard communities. We are not Amish ourselves, but have many friends who are. We love the community and the lifestyle.