John Yancey was raised in Southeast Kentucky, he said, where "we raised tobacco and would take tobacco to tobacco auctions. ... The auctioneers were regarded as some of the best."
One was Steve King, 'king of the auctioneers.' He was auctioneer for Lucky Strike Tobacco Co. People were sure that to be able to speak as fast as he did, he had an operation on his tongue. But he did not."
Yancey explained that "people not familiar with the auction business don't understand how you speak quickly and so people can understand you. It is a matter of practice and developing what they refer to as lingo. You've got to get comfortable with your voice and have some confidence. When I got out of Marine Corps in 1954 I was still rather shy and didn't have a lot of self-confidence." He worked for a St. Louis auctioneer as "the guy that carried the heavy stuff."
After completing a two-week auctioneering school in Mason City, Iowa, he was ready to launch his career. Once he begins an auction, Yancey can "stand and shout for five or six hours at a time," he said. "One time I went for 12 hours and never stopped. ... When I get in the zone, I'm in the zone. ... The adrenaline just flows and I keep on going. ... If I'm really pressing and the people do quick bids, I can sell up to a couple hundred items in an hour or more." However, 120 is a more logical number of items per hour, he added.
"The key to everyone's success is if they remain healthy and have a good supporting family. My wife and children have not enjoyed it quite as much as I have, but they have participated and supported me. And I have some people who have worked for me a long time. One lady has been a star performer - I call her Miss Mary. Mary Fohey has provided lunch service for us for over 20 years and will give me a little friendly advice once in awhile. ... I've really been blessed by having good people to help me."
Meets the second
generation at sales
The auction crowd has changed over the years, Yancey said. "People have a lot more information today. We have more diverse crowds than we used to. I have second generations now. It is not uncommon for people to say 'You remember my mom and dad.'
"One man's junk is another man's treasure," he said. "I like to think the auction business turns junk into treasure.
"The auction business has changed a lot in the last 30 years" since he began, Yancey said. "People want to be a little more comfortable now. They want to be inside in winter and have air conditioning in summertime. My long-time friend, the late Paul Parrish, and I had outside auctions at Market and Lindell on the parking lot. We got wet a few times and cold once in awhile. ... For all the years I have been in the business I can only remember one time having canceled an auction because of the bad weather. It was a farm sale, and it started snowing.
Page 2 of 2 - "You have a lot of young people who stop to buy necessary items for their home and a lot of people collecting things," he said. "People are more prone to want to hold onto a few things that have come from the family. There were a lot of handmade crocheted items (at the Jan. 12 sale), and one gentleman bought several of them." He told Yancey he bought them because his grandmother made most of them. People also buy many items to resell at antique booths or on the internet, he said. Reporting "the auction business has been good to me," Yancey said he appreciates his good customers and his good clients.
Recalling some of his largest auctions, he said, "I've had a sale once in awhile over a million dollars. One was a charity auction and a land auction. I've always sold for charities and I never charge anything for charities."
Through the years, while doing his auctions, Yancey has stayed busy with a variety of other positions. "I worked in the chamber of commence," he said. "I was president of the Jaycees and active in some other clubs," such as Kiwanis and Moose.
"I've really been fortunate," serving as Hannibal mayor, Marion County presiding commissioner and Hannibal city councilman. "I have had a great life. And I have a good wife and kids. ... I've been blessed in many, many ways and I'm thankful for it."