Read CHAPTER XXIII of Twenty Years of Hus'ling , free online book, by J. P. Johnston, on


My success as an auctioneer was assured from the result of my first sale. I soon learned that it required only hard study and close application to make it a profitable business.

I did not give up my furniture polish, but as soon as possible bought an extra suit of clothes, a silk hat and a wig with which to change my appearance from a polish-vender to an auctioneer. I would peddle from house to house during the day in a dark suit and Derby hat, with my hair clipped close to my head, while in the evening I would appear on the auction-wagon attired in a flashy, plaid suit, a blonde wig and silk hat. In no instance was my identity ever discovered.

We used to have a great deal of sport at the hotels, where I invariably registered and represented myself as a polish vender, and never intimated that I was connected with the auction party.

As soon as the time drew near to open the sale I would go to my room, dress for the occasion and suddenly appear at the hotel office ready for business; and as soon as the wagon was driven to the door ready for the parade, I would climb in and perform my part of the programme.

It was usually a query with hotel clerks and porters, who the auctioneer could be and where he slept and took his meals.

My reason for thus disguising myself was to satisfy my employer, who feared that the polish business would in some degree injure the auction sales.

I made auctioneering my constant study, jotting down every saying that suggested itself to me, and giving it a great deal of thought at odd times. In the morning, at noon, and while walking from house to house I conjured up all sorts of expressions.

Consequently I manufactured a large variety of comical descriptive talk on all lines of goods we handled, besides an endless variety of funny sayings and jokes with which to hold and entertain my audiences.

By reading a good deal and carefully listening to every thing that was said in my presence I was constantly catching on to something new which I combined with something original. I very soon found myself not only rated equal to the average auctioneer, but almost invariably on my daily trips selling polish I would be asked if I “had heard that auctioneer the night before,” and then would follow the highest commendation of his ability.

This of course had a tendency to elevate me in my own estimation, and was no doubt a motive power to urge me on to success. But under the circumstances of not daring to make my identity known, I was unable to share in the glory that my egotism would naturally crave for.

I became satisfied, at any rate, that I had “struck my gait,” and at once became wrapped up soul and body in the business.

In a few weeks my employer suggested that we let the musicians go, as he was convinced that I was able to entertain my audiences sufficiently without them. I agreed with him and we very soon learned that our sales were better than with them.

The music seemed to divide the attention of the people, besides suggesting more pleasure than business.

My commission was increased from five to seven per cent. as soon as this fact was demonstrated.

Before quitting the business I was successful in acquiring a general line of talk on suspenders, shoe-laces, combs, brushes, handkerchiefs, hose, pocket-knives, razors, pencils, pins, stationery, towels, table-cloths, and in fact everything belonging to this line of goods, together with an endless variety of jokes and sayings used during and immediately after each sale.

My sales were made on what is termed the down-hill plan, or Dutch Auction, instead of to the highest bidder, as is common in selling farm implements and stock. I would first describe the quality of the article for sale, and after placing its price as high as it usually sold at, would then run it down to our lowest bottom price, and as soon as a sale was made, proceed to duplicate and sell off as many of them as possible in a single run; and then introduce something else.

To give the reader a more definite knowledge of the manner of conducting this business and describing the goods, I will give an illustration on one or two articles, including a few sayings frequently used between sales. It should be borne in mind that as soon as I opened my sale I began talking at lightning speed, and talked incessantly from that moment till its final close, which usually lasted two to four hours. I have talked six hours, incessantly, but it is very exhausting and wearing, and could not be kept up.

To hold the people and keep them buying, it was necessary to entertain them with a variety of talk. Whenever a sale was made, I would cry out at the top of my voice:

“Sold again;” and would not lose a chance then to add some joke or saying that would be likely to amuse the crowd, before offering another lot.

I will now illustrate a sale on “Soap:”

“My friends, the next article I will offer for your inspection is
the homa jona, radical, tragical, incomprehensible compound extract
of the double-distilled rute-te-tute toilet soap.

T-a-l-k about your astronomical calculation and scientific investigation, but the man who invented this soap, studied for one hundred years. As he d-o-v-e into the deep, d-a-r-k mysteries of chemical analysis, he solved the problem that n-o man born could be an honest Christian without the use of soap.

“Take a smell of it, gentlemen, eat a cake of it, and if you don’t like it, spit it out. I’ll guarantee it to remove tar, pitch, paint, oil or varnish from your clothing; it will remove stains from your conscience, pimples from your face, dandruff from your head, and whiskey from your stomach; it will enamel your teeth, strengthen your nerves, purify your blood, curl your hair, relax your muscles and put a smile on your face an inch and-a-half thick; time will never wear it away; it’s a sure cure for bald heads, scald heads, bloody noses, chapped hands, or dirty feet.

“Now, gentlemen, I have here an extra fine toilet soap that you can’t buy in your city for less than ten cents a cake. But I’m here my friends, to give you bargains.” (Then counting them out, one cake at a time):

“I’ll give you one cake for ten, two for twenty, three of ’em for thirty, four for forty, five for fifty and six for sixty cents. Yes, you lucky cusses, I’ll see if there’s a God in Israel. Here, I’ll wrap them up for fifty-five fifty forty-five forty thirty-five, thirty. There! I hope never to see my Mary Ann or the back of my neck if a quarter of a dollar don’t buy the whole lot. Remember, twenty-five cents; two dimes and-a-half will neither make nor break you, buy you a farm, set you up in business or take you out of the poor-house.

“Is there a gentleman in the crowd now who will take this lot for
twenty-five cents?”

(When some one cries out, Ill take em,")

“Take ’em, I should think you would take ’em. I took ’em, too; but I took ’em when the man was asleep, or I never could sell ’em for the money. Will it make any difference to you, sir, if I give you six more cakes in the bargain? (throwing in six more.) All right, my friends.

“You can’t give in vain to a good cause. Remember, ’God loveth a cheerful giver.’ Now gentlemen, who’ll have the next, last, and only remaining lot for the money? Here’s one, another makes two, one more are three, another makes four, one more are five and one are six, and six more added make another dozen, the only remaining lot for the money. And sold again.

“Not sold, but morally and Christianly given away; where Christians dwell blessings freely flow; I’m here to dispense blessings with a free and liberal hand. Ah, you lucky sinners, I have just one more lot the last and only remaining one. Who’ll have it? And sold again. The fountains of joy still come rushing along, the deeper we go the sweeter we get and the next song will be a dance. Well, dog my riggin’, if here ain’t another dozen cakes. And who’ll take them along for the same money? Sold again! Not sold, but given away. He that giveth to the poor lendeth to the Lord and when he dies he’ll go to Georgetown by the short-line.

“Well, there, gentlemen, I’ve soaped you to death. The next article I’ll call your attention to is a fine Eagle rubber-tipped pencil with the lead running all the way through it and half way back again, and a pencil you can’t buy in the regular way for less than ten cents. Now, gentlemen, after sharpening this pencil to a fine point, I propose to give you a specimen of my penmanship. I presume I’m the finest penman who ever visited your city.

“And I will wager one hundred dollars to fifty that I can beat any man in your town writing two different and distinct hands.” (Then hold up a piece of paper or paste-board and commence writing on it.)

“You will notice, my friends, that I write one hand that no man in the world can read but myself, and another hand that myself nor any other man can read. Now, gentlemen, I’m going to supply the wants of yourself and family, and all your relatives.” (Then picking them up one at a time, and exposing them to view):

“Here is one for dad and one for mam,
Two for the cook and the hired man,
One for your daughter and one for your son.
As true as I tell you, I have only begun.
For there is one for your wife and one for yourself;
I’ll give you another to lay on the shelf.
Here’s one for your sister and one for your brother,
For fear they’ll need three I’ll throw in another.
Here is one for your uncle and one for your aunt.
I would give them another, but I know that I can’t,
For there’s just two left for grandfather and grandmother.
If you’ll take them along and make me no bother,
You may have the whole lot for a quarter of a dollar.

“And who’ll have the entire lot for the money?

“And sold right here. This gentleman takes them. I should think he would take ’em. Any man that wouldn’t take ’em, wouldn’t take sugar at a cent a pound. He’d want to taste off the top, taste from the bottom and eat out the middle and then he’d swear it wasn’t sugar. And who’ll have the next, last, and only remaining lot for the money? And sold again. Luck is a fortune gentlemen. The man that is here to-night is bound to be a winner. And who’ll have the next lot for the money?”

The foregoing will give the reader a slight idea of the variety of talk that it was necessary for me to keep conjuring up and manufacturing in order to entertain my buyers, and to continually spring something new on them.