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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Jane Squires, September 21, 2002. Interview R-0192. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

The mechanics of the tobacco auction

Squires describes some of the mechanics of auctioning tobacco and changes in the sale process. When Squires began as an auctioneer, the sale went to the highest bidder; later, companies bid for pounds of tobacco at predetermined prices, abiding by rules that prevented them from dramatically increasing or decreasing their poundage from year to year.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Jane Squires, September 21, 2002. Interview R-0192. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
That's something I'd definitely like to talk with you about, but let's go back a little bit to when you decide to go into the auction business, and learning how to auction tobacco. Now you said the chant wasn't any problem?
JANE SQUIRES:
The chant wasn't a problem. Now you know you have to be licensed in most states to sell anything. I don't know if you have to be licensed in North Carolina, to sell tobacco, but you do in South Carolina. So I had to go to Columbia and take the exam, which is a general auctioneering exam. Has nothing to do with tobacco, but you do have to be licensed. I got that behind me and then followed Paige Roberts, who I was sitting beside earlier, one season. And then got a job next season. The mechanics of the sale were so different then, than they are now. Now it's, pretty much, just a ration situation. Then, with ten or eleven, twelve or thirteen buyers, it was a true auction system, for a while. And then I got into it and three or four years later it became a ration situation.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
When did you start?
JANE SQUIRES:
[19]89.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Tell me about the mechanics of the sale when you started.
JANE SQUIRES:
When I started, all of the manufactures were represented as well as about eight dealers. So you had a full line-up. A lot of the companies that have merged now, from Dibrell Brothers, DIMON, Austin and all of them have all gone together as Dimon, D-I-M-O-N. And back then it was three or four divisions of that company. Mechanic wise, I wanted to make sure that I knew how to . . . . . . because situations arise on a sale so quickly. It's not like selling an antique or this book bag. You're selling this and you're asking for the next highest increment. In tobacco, you're calling the number that you have, that was different for me. But the speed of the sale, I really liked. I think that's why it fell into my lap so easily.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Well, the mechanics if the sale, at one time you said it went to the highest bidder?
JANE SQUIRES:
Right.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Then it became a "ration system?"
JANE SQUIRES:
Yeah, it became a short crop, pound wise and there wasn't enough to go around. You'd have to divide it up between the companies. Usually on a three-year average, it got to be more like a math situation as opposed to "a dollar more gets it ever time situation." Which is what an auction usually is. Tobacco was all bringing the same price for years, see, in the early nineties, up until the mid-nineties, per pound, all the buyers would have the same price.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
So you'd have the same guys bidding the same price?
JANE SQUIRES:
And you'd have to divide it up according— on a three year average of what they bought in previous years. And I've worked for people in Kentucky, for six years that I had to be within a percent of – you had a hundred percent to work with. One company, say got forty, one [company] got eight, one got four, one got two. And you had to be within a half to a percent. So it was a real challenge for me at first. But then I learned how to do that as well. Completely different situation from when I first started in the late eighties