Auctions: Silent or Cattle Rattle?

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for August 16, 2018, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            When my wife and I married, I was teaching at Wharton County Junior College in Wharton, Texas, and one of the first things she wanted to do was to attend a cattle auction at the Wharton Livestock Auction on Richmond Road. Her friend from New York had come down for a visit and neither the friend nor the wife had ever been to a cattle auction before.

            Like most auctions, the Wharton Livestock Auction employed an auctioneer whose chatter would lead the bidding war with a special kind of chant, known in the cattle business as “Cattle Rattle.” Other types of auctions, such as Antique Auctions, called this chant, “Bid Calling,” “Auction Chant,” or “the Auction Cry.” Whatever it’s called, it seems a little strange to a person unfamiliar with this kind of selling method.

            The auctioneer chants two numbers, repeating them over and over, the first number being the amount bid at the moment and the second number, the amount needed to become the highest bidder. The auctioneer throws in his own filler words, partly to intensify the rhythm of the chant and partly to rev up interest in the item. Each auctioneer develops his own style, and, of course, the “Cattle Rattle” style differs from the more refined bidding style of an auctioneer selling art works by famous artists, for example.

            We were told by our Wharton friends not to sit on the front row and not to move or wave our hands in any way, — otherwise we might end up buying a Brahma bull for $2,000. I think we did choose to sit on the front row, but we sat on our hands throughout the auction sale. However, we were told later that cattle buyers often made a bid with a nod or an eye blink. – no doubt an exaggeration.

            The second auction my wife and I attended in Wharton County was a church auction held in the East Bernard American Legion Hall. Although the volunteer auctioneer for the church sounded very similar to the “Cattle Rattle” of the auction barn, I could at least understand what he was saying. He had a remarkable gift for getting folks to bid higher and higher, reminding them they were contributing to the work of the Lord. I think the church auction was more unpredictable than the cattle auction, because I got the idea that at the Wharton Livestock sale, everybody had a preconceived idea how much each person was willing to bid. Over the years, we went to quite a few more church auctions in East Bernard.

            Growing up in Dime Box, I knew what a Cattle Rattle auction was like, but had never heard of a “Silent Auction” before the ladies at my church in Wallis began to hold one at our annual fund-raisers. In fact, I remember when we held the first Silent Auction nearly 30 years ago, I had to ask how this type of auction worked. The ladies worked it by putting out bidding sheets and pencils next to the auction items on long tables and setting a time limit of three hours. When the three hours was up, the last person to have written down an amount on the bidding sheet got the item. During the three hours, you could either eat the barbecue and desserts we sold and sit around and visit, or you could leave, and if you made the winning bid, we would call you by phone.

            While planning and doing the work of the church fund-raiser was a lot of work, the Silent Auction became the enjoyable part of the venue. Weeks and months prior to the Silent Auction, members would make cloth crafts, woodwork items, flower arrangements, canned pickles, homemade noodles, etc. The fun was in making the items to be auctioned, knowing that most folks were eager to bid on handmade stuff. Every year we looked forward to preparing our arts and crafts and food for the auction, and it was always exciting to see someone bid a nice amount of money on your creation. Not only that, but we had the satisfaction of knowing the money raised was going to mission projects like world hunger, disaster aid, etc.

            This year, our Fund Raiser and Silent Auction will be held September 9, 2018, at the KC Hall in Wallis, Texas. Hope you’ll stop by!


Ray Spitzenberger is a retired college speech and English teacher and a retired Lutheran pastor.


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