Female auctioneer sells memories

Monday, June 3, 2002

Claueda Barks picked up a packet, described the World War II-era coins inside and then seamlessly slid into the familiar auctioneer's "chant."

"I was nervous," said Barks, who switched careers during the 1990s from being a retail merchant to "selling memories," via the auction block. "I've been an auctioneer seven years. I still get a little nervous when I pick up the mike."

But Barks has never looked back.

Barks and her husband, Bob, own and operate Barks Auction Service, along Interstate 55 near the 99-mile marker.

Barks earned her title as colonel in 1995 when she graduated from auctioneer school in Nashville, Tenn.

"I was the only woman in my auctioneering class," she said.

Nationally, about one of every 100 auctioneers is a woman.

Barks has been invited to speak at the National Auctioneer Association in Orlando, Fla., this year, where she will discuss operating a small auction business.

"My brother, Garry Moran, started the auction barn several years ago with two friends," Barks said.

"My husband and I would go out there and help out. We didn't mean to get in the business, but we ended up buying my brother out."

After buying the auction barn, Claueda Barks left the calling -- or the staccato chanting that auctioneers voice to encourage bidding -- to a certified auctioneer hired on for that purpose. She took on many of the behind-the-scenes duties such as placing advertisements, scheduling estate sales and clerking, or recording bids during those estate sales and during the regular sales conducted two nights per week at the auction barn.

"Our auctioneer, who has been with us for a number of years, had been encouraging me to enroll in auctioneer school and I'd mentioned it to my daughter a couple of times," said Barks. "My daughter lives near the Nashville Auction School, and she just enrolled me one day and then called and said, 'I've enrolled you.'"

'A gentleman's business'

The school was two weeks of jam-packed days of learning. One of the first things Barks learned about the auction business is that it's not a woman's business.

"I was in a class of 13 -- 12 gentlemen and myself," she said. "It's definitely a gentleman's business, and while they encouraged me, the instructors told me from the start that women don't make it in this business."

Not to be discouraged, Barks takes her business seriously.

"A dealer of antiques once told me to take seriously what you sell, because as an auctioneer you have people's lifetime work in your hands," Barks said. "I didn't understand at the time what he meant."

Barks told her story of 'The Button Tin," which she also shared at a state auctioneering seminar.

"It points out the business of auctioneering memories," said Barks, who told of a visit to a woman's home to arrange an auction, and finding an old tin filled with buttons.

The tin was stashed in the closet of a bedroom, said Barks. Inside the tin were buttons of every color and shape.

"This white button with a scrap of red flannel was from Grandpa's Union suit," said the woman. It was itchy, but warm, said the lady.

"The satin button came from my wedding dress. And, here is the baby button off my first-born's infant dress. Typhoid fever was bad one year. The angels came and took her when she was only 2 years-old."

The woman went through each button, lost in each memory. Then she closed the old tin and quietly handed it to Barks.

"Here," she said. "Sell my buttons to the highest bidder."

"I drove away feeling enriched," Barks said, "thanking God for the wonderful profession he allowed me to be in."

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