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Title: Oral History Interview with Edward Stephenson, September 21, 2002. Interview R-0193. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Electronic Edition.
Author: Stephenson, Edward, interviewee
Interview conducted by Mansfield, William
Funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this interview.
Text encoded by Jennifer Joyner
Sound recordings digitized by Aaron Smithers Southern Folklife Collection
First edition, 2007
Size of electronic edition: 152 Kb
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
2007.
© This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text.
The electronic edition is a part of the UNC-Chapel Hill digital library, Documenting the American South.
Languages used in the text: English
Revision history:
2007-00-00, Celine Noel, Wanda Gunther, and Kristin Martin revised TEIHeader and created catalog record for the electronic edition.
2007-11-02, Jennifer Joyner finished TEI-conformant encoding and final proofing.
Source(s):
Title of recording: Oral History Interview with Edward Stephenson, September 21, 2002. Interview R-0193. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series R. Special Research Projects. Southern Oral History Program Collection (R-0193)
Author: William Mansfield
Title of transcript: Oral History Interview with Edward Stephenson, September 21, 2002. Interview R-0193. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series R. Special Research Projects. Southern Oral History Program Collection (R-0193)
Author: Edward Stephenson
Description: 135 Mb
Description: 29 p.
Note: Interview conducted on September 21, 2002, by William Mansfield; recorded in Durham, North Carolina.
Note: Transcribed by William Mansfield.
Note: Forms part of: Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Series R. Special Research Projects, Manuscripts Department, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Note: Original transcript on deposit at the Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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Interview with Edward Stephenson, September 21, 2002.
Interview R-0193. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Stephenson, Edward, interviewee


Interview Participants

    EDWARD STEPHENSON, interviewee
    WILLIAM MANSFIELD, interviewer

[TAPE 1, SIDE A]


Page 1
[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
I always put a label on the tape by saying, this is Bill Mansfield interviewing Mr. Edward Stephenson at the Duke Homestead Tobacco Museum, Tobacco Auctioneers' Reunion, on September 21, 2002. And Mr. Stephenson we always get people to start out by stating their name and telling us when they were born and where they were born. So let her go.
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
My name is William Edward Stephenson. I was born in Smithfield, North Carolina, April 17, 1952.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Okay. Tell me a little bit about your family background. I think you said your father had a warehouse?
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Actually my father was a tobacco auctioneer for 42 years. He had nine Brothers. Of the nine brothers they were all in the tobacco warehouse business together, in one shape form or fashion, being a ticket marker, auctioneer, or tobacco warehouseman. They all worked together, actually called Stephenson Brothers. [They] operated in Georgia, Florida, North Carolina and Tennessee.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
In my experience it seems like tobacco auctioneering runs in families.
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Oh yeah, most definitely.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
What was your dad's name?
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Albert Ray Stephenson.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
What got you into being an auctioneer? How'd you get started?
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Well, as I said, my father was a tobacco auctioneer, and when he went to work, where I went to work with him, I went to a tobacco warehouse. Of course when he got ready to go to work in the morning he was practicing auctioneering in the shower and I heard it day and night, seven days a week. It was a part of my life. When I went to work with him, when into the warehouse working, when I got old enough to work, I wanted to be an auctioneer but more than that, it was just a job I was just expected to do. It wasn't really forced on me, but it's just like a bricklayer's son, I was an auctioneer's son, a warehouseman's son and just . . . . . . When I got old enough that's what I started doing. When I got old enough to get paid for it I started doing it for a living. Since then most of them, all of them, but one of my uncles [has passed on]. My daddy's passed on. My mother also. And we just kind of took up where they left off, and [we] went on with it. And now I'm operating my own warehouse and auctioning my own sale. I'm just carrying on my family tradition.

Page 2
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Well, why did you decide go into auctioneering as opposed to managing the warehouse, or ticket marking, or . . . Why was it auctioneering?
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Well, I just wanted to . . . I was fascinated with tobacco auctioneering. I just thought it was the neatest thing. I always thought my father, and my other uncle, the late Snoxie Stephenson, who I was named after, I just felt like it was what I wanted to do. And felt like it was what I should do. And I just pursue it with everything I had. That's what I always wanted to be.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
When you say you were fascinated by it, what was it that appealed to you about auctioneering?
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Well, it was flamboyant. Seemed like everyone was, you know the auctioneer was kind of like the star. The better you could do it, the better job you could get. And, quite frankly, it was a very good paying job. And it wasn't a real strenuous job, like splitting wood or anything. It was just something that I though would be a neat way to make a living. And also carry on my family tradition.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Well, you say, the better you can do it, what makes a good auctioneer?
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
A lot of things. Most auctioneers, I don't know how many you've interviewed, but most (if not all of them) I'm going to venture to say, that all of them think they're the best. I think 90% of auctioneering is the nerve to do it. Or maybe 75% anyway. But you've got to be able to carry a sale. –When I say carry a sale, I mean start it. Anyone can sell a row, like we did today, a row up and down. But a good auctioneer will have to sell four top five hundred thousand pounds a day. When all the hoopla's gone after the first two rows, and all the media is gone and the sales and you're into the "meat" of the sale an auctioneer has to go on and carry sale to the last row. Not two rows, but 30 rows.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Describe what you mean when you say, "carry the sale."
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
You have to keep it going, you have to keep the buyers attentive. You have to pay attention to the buyers and catch their bids and you have to keep the flow going. You can't sell one and stop, like selling cars, you know? Or at an estate auction, you sell this table and then say, Okay, next item." Or cars, you sell a car and then, "next car." A tobacco auction, you sell a pile and just continues. A good auctioneer starts at one end of the row and never stops until he gets to the other end of the row and turns and comes back. He don't stop and go, you keep going. You keep the flow of the sale going. And, in turn, the buyers have to be on their toes, looking at this

Page 3
pile and ready to sell the next pile. You have to keep good harmony with them. Keep everybody happy. To the best of your ability, keep everybody in a good mood. And keep everything going.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Tell me how you learned to be an auctioneer.
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
I learned it the hard way. When I was about 17 years old, one day . . . I kept wanting to sell and wanting to sell. Of course the way I learned was I started out unloading trucks and I worked my way up to handing tickets. And handing tickets you're with the auctioneer all day, every day. Even though you're not selling. I watched and looked and then I got my chance to try it one day. And I did it, I sold two rows and then I sold four rows and then I'd sell six rows and eventually I got my own sale and here we are in 2002.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
You started unloading trucks and then turning tickets . . .
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Right, you just don't walk up and . . . I started at the very bottom of the scale. When I was a kid I sold lemonade, boiled peanuts. Then I got old enough to really work, to where you could get paid. You know, used to be it was all manual. You'd walk one pile [of tobacco] at a time to the floor with a buggy. Of course we've graduated up to a whole lot more mechanized way now. But just being there and then I got in the sale, maybe got to start placing the tickets [on a pile of tobacco]. And then I actually got into the sale, behind the auctioneer, handing the tickets to the ticket marker. And was in there then. And watched enough to where I thought I was capable of doing it I got a chance to sell a row and the rest is history.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Everybody seems to focus on the chant, that the auctioneer has, what's the most important part of selling tobacco?
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
I'd say the most important part of selling tobacco would be catching the bids and at the same time getting into a rhythm where you sell it and move on to the next pile. Rather than trying to . . . You know if you stand there they'll keep bidding, but you got to be fast enough to where they're bidding one penny at the time, if they bid a time or two and they know you're going to go ahead and sell it, they'll go ahead and put their top dollar to it and you sell it and go on. But I'd say the most important part of the auctioneer would be catching the bid, knocking the pile, selling that one and immediately moving to the next one. Not stopping, keeping your rhythm from pile to pile to pile to pile. Instead of a hacky form of stop-go, stop-go, stop-go. Keep going. It's not really how fast you get to the other end of the row, you just get a good rhythm, kind of like a sewing machine, you know [makes

Page 4
rhythmic sewing machine-like noises.] Or maybe a two cylinder motor [makes motor noises]
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
When you got that chant to sell a couple of piles, was it a couple of piles or a whole row?
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
No, it was what we call a round. A round is one row down and one row up.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Okay.
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
So I got to sell a round.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Had you been practicing on a chant before that?
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Oh yeah. I'd be . . . We raised tobacco also and I'd put two pieces of tape on a tractor tire and as it flipped over, you know as you're going through the field. I'd be driving the tractor in the field and put a piece of tape, here and on the other half of the tire another piece of tape and as it came over I would knock them. You know, [chants] 75Reynolds! 75 American! And I got my chant going that way. And I'd sell stalks of tobacco, as you're going down the truck row. Sell light poles riding down the highway. Mostly just watching my daddy and my uncles.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
How did they help you in selling tobacco?
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Certainly they encouraged me and told me I was the best that's ever been. [Laughter] They gave me my first chance, basically. Of course they would school me, tell me when I was right and wrong, different things. Just schooled me through. And I had a lot of buyers that helped me. The buyers can hurt you and help you also. You know, it's just like any new job. If you get along with the people they can help you or hurt you. They can make it hard on you or easy on you. A lot of the old timers took me under their wing and helped me along. They didn't really chastise me real bad, when I was getting started. They encouraged, and helped me and was real, maybe more vivid with their bids, where I could really see them, hold up a five and a four and a two, where I could really see it. Of course the honeymoon doesn't last for ever but that was a great help to me.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
So they made it easy for you to see their bids?
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Yeah, they just helped me along and encouraged me. They knew I was green and didn't know what I was doing but they didn't treat me that way, so much. They wanted me to [succeed] also. They wanted me to do good, and they didn't want to discourage me. So as I said a while ago,

Page 5
90% is the nerve to do it. Maybe if I had got in the first row and they had said, Ah, you can't do it. You're missing the bids. You can't do it. You just won't never make it! They never told me that. You did good. Keep trying. Come back tomorrow. I want you to sell some more. Maybe next time. My daddy would tell me to tone down and not start out at such a high pitch, because it strains you too bad.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
So he helped you with your chanting?
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
He taught me to get my voice to a more relaxed feeling. Instead of starting out [on] too high of a note. If you strain yourself you're going to give out. And he taught me how to breathe and rest yourself and he taught me how to get along with people.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
What did he teach you about that?
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
He taught me that you could "catch more flies with sugar than you can [with] salt. And again, he also taught me to be honest and to try and be as polite as you could to somebody. But also "stand your ground." You know? If you're right, you're right. If you're wrong, try to correct it and don't make the mistake over and over and over. I remember coming home, one day, I told my daddy, I said, Daddy, I sold tobacco today and I didn't make a mistake all day. He said, Well you didn't do a damn thing then. I said What do you mean? He said If you went all day, son and didn't make a mistake, something is wrong. I wanted to impress him, you know? And he said That's impossible. You don't go all day and not make a mistake. Don't tell me that. Just tell me you made one and corrected it and you know what not to do now.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
What are some of the mistakes that you make when you're out there?
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Well you can, for instance, what is that right there? [Holds up fingers as if bidding on tobacco.]
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
You're holding up two fingers.
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Why is it not eleven?
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Well —
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
You have to know. It's just something you have to learn. That's a zero. [Holds up hand in buyers signal]
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
A clinched fist?

Page 6
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
It's a zero. Each buyer has his own trait, his own way [of bidding] that you've got to learn. Each buyer has a different style of buying, just like each auctioneer has his own style of selling. If you and I follow [the sale] every day for twelve weeks, for thirty years together you might never even move your face and be bidding.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
How they . . .
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Just look at me, just never take my eyes off of you.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
So like, if you're selling that pile of tobacco there and you put out price and you look at me. If I return your gaze . . .
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Maybe that's your way of bidding. It could [be] a simple nod.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
What if I want to boost the price?
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Just never take your eyes off of me. When you take your eyes off, you quit. I had one buyer as long as he was looking at you he was bidding and he'd tell you that. I don't care if it goes to $5.00 a pound, I'm looking at you. When I get through I'll turn my eyes. And missing somebody, you know, eyesight. You know . . . This thing has changed so dramatically. Used to I'd have twelve buyers, now I've got, like four.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
That's a big difference.
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Used to, your peripheral vision on twelve or fourteen people, you know, if you're not sharp, this man, number twelve down here, you miss him. You don't see him, that's a bad mistake. Another mistake is getting so fast that you get too fast and actually leave your ticket marker. That's one thing my daddy told me not to do. Don't ever leave your ticket marker. You know what I mean? Get five piles up the row . . . If you leave your ticket marker and he doesn't get it on the ticket, then it doesn't do any good. Don't leave your ticket marker. Stay with him. It's not really how fast you. Just get a good pace and a good smooth rhythm and sell tobacco.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
How do you keep up with the buyers and the ticket marker? Seems like your head would moving all over.
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Well, he should be right with you. You got this peripheral vision and you just glance back. You got to glance back and watch him and the buyers and also listen to your sales started.

Page 7
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Man! Sounds like a pretty intense and involved operation.
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
It can be. It is. It's not as easy as it looks.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Or sounds as the case may be.
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Right. A lot of people can go through the motions. But there's a lot of really nice flamboyant sounding auctioneers that maybe really don't catch bids that good. Mr. Jimmy Joliff, he could roll it out. He'd never miss one [a bid]. He could catch them all but never lose his chant. He could just keep rolling it out and go from pile to pile. He was amazing. He was just a natural. Some days you have it better than others, by the way. That's just like any job I guess. Some days you just seem like you got it and some days you just ain't got it. You know?
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
[Laughter] I've got those.
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Some days my tongue is just real loose and some days it just don't roll out like it normally does. But, it's probably one of the greatest jobs a man can have, as far as fun and having a good time. It's not as fun as it used to be. I hate to be the one to . . . I mean if we'd had twenty years ago, I would tell you I had the greatest job in the world. And I still do, but it is not as fun as it one time was. It's not as . . . Used to be it was a big circus atmosphere. Everybody was at the warehouse. You was there selling and you had your whole family. You was there waiting to get your check to go to town to buy your kids new clothes. Go pay your oil bill. Go to town and you had money to spend! The peanut man was there and the lemonade man [was there] and music! People would go. And when some people'd go they'd stay in town a couple of days. Maybe get there, say on Tuesday afternoon, stay all night and unload their tobacco and sell it the next day. Shop in town and get home Wednesday night. So it was . . . Now, a lot of our farmers don't even see their tobacco sold and we mail them a check.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
When do you think the farmers' attendance to the sale started dropping off?
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Well, number one, farmers now, it's not uncommon for them to have a hundred or two hundred acres of tobacco. But also they've got three or four hundred acres of potatoes. They might have five hundred head of hogs. They might have eight hundred acres of cotton and, in the winter time, might drive an oil truck.

Page 8
There is a whole lot more for them to do now, because tobacco doesn't reach as far as it did, you know? A farmer can't just go now and stay away from the farm for a couple of days, just to sell tobacco. Now they bale it up in 850 pound bales and bring 20,000 pounds to the warehouse and unload it in twenty minutes. Their help carries the tobacco and he never goes. Tells me, Edward look after it. I sell it and send it and mail his check.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
As an auctioneer, if you've not got the farmer there, how does that affect your sales? I mean the way you sell tobacco? The way you auction it?
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Mine, none. Actually, I would feel more responsible, if he's not there. Most of them have enough confidence in my or my people at the warehouse. Or most of them, if you can't be there, you pretty much know what the market price is and if it is bring a $1.60 and I send you a check and it brings$1.20 you're going to say, Hey! What's going on? But most of them . . . hey, I don't mean most of them don't come. There's still a lot of them that come but most of them just say, Edward look after it. And they know, if it doesn't do right . . . I treat it just like it was mine. I raise it also and if it doesn't do what the market price is, I reject it. They have the confidence in me to look after it for them. And sometimes that works real good and sometimes, maybe it don't. But I have to make the call.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
But you talked earlier about how it was kind of like a circus and the auctioneer was the . . .
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
He was the main attraction.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
So I was just wondering, if the audience . . . if there's a big crowd of people there, you know the farmers are there, how does that affect your presentation when you're selling the tobacco?
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Well, if you've got a pretty young lady standing there, you're going to show off. I have seen farmers bring their young beautiful daughters and stand them with their tobacco. And say Hey boys look at this beautiful young lady. Here's her tobacco. And you got a buyer that's maybe going to show off a little bit. He might give a few more bucks for it, just to show off. Those days are pretty much gone. Tobacco now is really bought by price grading. Used to American [Tobacco] only had three or four grades: One, Two, Three, Four or Five or something. A One was a lug and a Two was maybe a cutter. But now, tobacco is graded basically according to price. A $1.90 is a Number One, $1.75 is a Number Two. It's really price graded. So I don't know now, buying tobacco if you have to be that terribly good judge of tobacco, just grade it by price.

Page 9
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
You said the farmers don't come, they don't bring their daughters, do you have any sense about when that stopped? What year would that have been?
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
I'm going to say it pretty much started fifteen, twenty years ago. I don't Know if that's totally correct but . . . In the 70's and the 80's it started not being uncommon for people to have a hundred [or] two hundred acres. Before that your family farm had twenty acres of tobacco, fifteen sows, fifty acres of corn, to feed the hogs, a big garden. And now, it's not uncommon for people to have a couple of hundred acres of tobacco, a thousand acres of cotton, or something like that. And they really don't have time to come [to the warehouse]. Of course young people, I wouldn't think there were that many young people, now that would really be raring and jumping up and down to get into the tobacco business. Obviously, if I were a senior in high school I don't know . . . There are kids that are trying to farm but they got to . . . I mean which would you rather be, a tobacco farmer or a . . .
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Computer programmer.
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Right, or a landscape architect. Or a plumber. Heck, it's not uncommon for plumbers, now, to make two hundred thousand a year. Or electricians or home builders. So that's a sad part of it also. Maybe our young people just don't see the history in it, or the future in it. And of course, kids now are taught, from the day that they get in school, that tobacco is a drug.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
The health . . .
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Yeah, the health issue. Of course that's a no brainer. I don't argue with anybody, obviously tobacco is not good for you. But neither was that big plate of barbecue I ate out there today.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
It's just like anything else, too much of anything is not good for you.
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
I don't know, when the companies, when they were making cigarettes, and started out I don't think that they meant for people to smoke three or four packs a day. But they can't stop them. If a man wants to smoke three packs , you know . . .
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
It's their choice.
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
That's right, but the way it's marketed is probably the biggest change in the last three or four years. But prior to that, the growers started getting bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger. And the small farmers started getting less and less and less.

Page 10
And of course people started renting their tobacco. Maybe you'd my farm. If you were a farmer maybe you'd rent everybody's farm on my road and tend all their tobacco. So there's one man tending five people's tobacco. So there's five [farmers] out , but they's still one man tending it.. So that's one thing that's started out. And people could start renting their poundage. Make [they are] getting on up in age they could rent their poundage for fifty cents a pound. They get their rent in January and don't even have to plant their tobacco. So that changed it also. People started renting it out and that type of thing. And then people got real mechanized. Where instead of having ten people help you walk the ground and pick it, you know walking, they invented the self-propelled harvester. And they invented the bulk barn. The mechanization changed it greatly also.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Yeah, it's not nearly as labor intensive as it one time was.
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
No, uh-uh.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Getting back to when you were learning, your dad helped you with the chant, to get your voice so you could carry it without straining and be heard, did he help you with learning how to catch the bids and how to keep people happy on the sales?
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Well, he taught me that . . . as I said, it was better to keep a good relationship with your buyer. If you and I are going to be on sale all day, we need to try to get along. The happier and more better relationship we got the more you are going to try to make the sale flow. Where as, if I'm not very nice to you or try and give you a hard time or curse you, or whatever, you're not going to be as apt to help me, or . . . Help me when I say, Hey, this is my buddy here. Can you help him with his tobacco? Well you know, Naw, I can't. He might not say that, but if me and you are on a . . . have a good working relationship and I ask you to help me you probably will.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
That's an interesting point. What do you do to cultivate a good relationship with the buyer. It's a broad question so . . .
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Well, you know, they have their supervisor that comes in too. They have a supervisor that comes in and monitors them.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
The "circuit riders?"
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Yeah. Obviously, when he comes in you want to make you look good. Like, if your circuit rider comes in, I don't want to miss your bid and I want to make sure you get plenty of tobacco. Now when he leaves it's different, you know. But when he's there, I want to make you look

Page 11
good. 'Cause we want to get him in and out and gone. You don't want him gnawing on you, saying, Hey you missed this. Why come he's not giving you . . . Why aren't you buying 30%? What's wrong? I want to make you look good when your circuit rider comes in. If I do that, we'll be okay. And in return you can make my day a whole lot easier too.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
How can I do that?
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Instead of bidding, say they started at 85 and somebody says [in a tone of voice expressing drudgery he chants] 86, 87, 88, 89, 90, 91, 92 . . .. . . .. Well, if he starts at 85 and somebody says 86 and you've got 90 on it, you can just go ahead and throw and save me all that work, from 84, 5,6, 8, 9, 90. from 86 you can just say 90. You can make it hard on me also. You can drag it out, a penny at the time. You can work me to death if you want to.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Does that ever happen, where they just sort of work you to death out of spite?
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Yeah. I've had it to happen. But a good warehouseman will protect you there. The warehouse can also bid and if sees they're trying to pull it back the warehouse can buy it also. A good warehouseman will protect his auctioneer.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Well, you own your own warehouse but you also auction tobacco, so you auction in your own warehouse, I guess?
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Yes.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
How does that complicate . . .
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
I have a sales leader. Someone that starts the sale.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Okay.
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
But, I don't see . . . It's no different than . . . When I started auctioneering I'd sell for five different concerns a day. And I didn't work any harder at your warehouse than I did the one down the street. My job was to sell it as high as I could, you know? And try and help the farmer. I never really . . . I felt like I was working for the farmer all the time. Even though if I worked in your warehouse, you were paying me. But still I felt obligated to the farmer to try and get the most money for it. That was another thing my daddy taught me. Always try to get the most money you can for the farmer. 'Cause when the farmer does good we all do good. When the farmer doesn't do too good, don't any of us do to good. That's if you live in a tobacco town like Smithfield [NC]. When

Page 12
the farmer did good, everybody did good. The oil-man, the fertilizer-man, the drygoods-man, the car-man, the tire-man, the tractor-man. Everybody did good when the farmer did good.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
You talked about cultivating a good relationship the tobacco buyer, what do you do to cultivate a relationship with the farmer?
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Well, you treat him honest. You tell him the truth and you treat him the same as you do the next farmer. In other words you don't let . . . you don't let, in other words you try to tell him the truth and be fair and level with everyone. You know some people . . . at one time when we used to have to book tobacco. There would be so much tobacco that we actually had to say, You can't bring but 5,000 pounds. You know, depending on how much . . . And you would have to be fair to everyone. Instead of letting you sell, I had to say, One can only sell once [a week], just like your neighbor there. You can only sell once. If I told you, you can't sell but once and then you saw your neighbor come by three times that week you're going to come to me and say, Hey! You told me I could only sell once. Why is John selling three times? You don't want to do that. You don't want to tell him a lie. You want to let him know that when he leaves his tobacco there, that you're going to try and get every dime for it that you can. 'Cause if you're on commission, obviously, the more the farmer makes the more you make. So I would say being honest to him and fair. You know, straight across the board with everyone, the same way. There are some people that would, if they could sell everyday, they would sell and don't give a flip if you sell or not. But you don't want that to be. When I tell you what you can bring, I want you to be confident that I'm being as fair with you as your neighbor or anyone else.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
A lot of people, when they hear the auctioneer, they literally hear him and don't really realize all that is going on in selling tobacco. So if you could, and this would be for the historic record, kind of describe, as best you can, what you do when you sell tobacco. Start from when you get to the warehouse to when the sales are completed for the day.
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Are you talking about the auctioneer?
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Yes, as the auctioneer.
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
You know what time your sale is. And of course this is 2002 and things have changed, but let's go back a few years, to when there were, say seven warehouses in Smithfield, and two sets of buyers. That means there would be two sales going on at one time and there'd be seven warehouses.

Page 13
I might sell at your warehouse at 9:00. I might sell your competitor's warehouse at 11:00 and might sell at the other one 2:00. So I'd have to be at the sale, say I had a 9:00 sale I'd have to be there at 8:30 or a quarter to nine. By [then] the graders would be grading it. And then I would just to be at the first pile at 9:00, ready to sell tobacco. Of course the sales leader starts the sale. He starts the first one at, say $1.95 and I say, $1.95. If I don't get a response I say, $1.94. If I don't get a response, $1.93. Then someone bids [$1.] 92 [ And I say] R. J. Reynolds. And then there's the next pile. [$1.] 95!
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
If somebody bids 92 do you try to see if anybody else would want to get it a little higher?
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Well, if the warehouseman starts it at 95 and if no one doesn't say 96, if they sign 96, then you can look for 97, 98 or 99. But if you say 95 and you back up 94, 93, 92, the first one that bids 92 it's his pile of tobacco.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Okay.
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Getting back to what I telling you about awhile ago, about working you to death, you can let it fall back to 95, 4, 3, 2, 89, 88, 87. And then they go 88, 89, 90 and back up again.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Oh man.
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
I mean they can work you to death.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Do you have to do any kind of homework before you get to the sale? What do you do to prepare yourself for the sale?
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
I always though it was a good idea to be real familiar with the government grades. Whatever the government grade was. They change yearly and I would always study those and know what the support [price] was on an X4F [tobacco grade] or a B4F. I'd always like to know who my buyers were. Know them by name and where they were from and a little bit of something about them, if I could. I always kind of like to know, as best I could, what kind of tobacco they liked and what kind of grades they had. Things like that.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
And how do you get that information?
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Well, just following with them. As you sell with them day-in and day-out you'll learn their grades and you'll learn where they are from. See, most buyers come back year after year, after year after year. And maybe if one comes, you might not know him, but you might know one of his buddies. You might even know his father, you might know his uncle. Things like

Page 14
that. Maybe [you would know] that he might like to fish. Or maybe he likes to hunt, or something.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
And how does that help?
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
It's just a rapport, you know, it's more of a just try to be a [friend], you know, have a working relationship and be friends. Obviously—sugar and salt—you know.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
The outside observer would not realize that this kind of homework is involved in selling tobacco.
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
You need to know . . . I always like to know what it did on the other markets. What is it doing in Wilson? What is it doing in Goldsboro? Are they averaging $1.85? Why in the heck are we averaging $1.75? What's wrong? A lot of times you would need to know kind of what they bought the year before. Especially in the burley. You'd want to know what they'd bought the year before, 'cause compared to what they bought the year before is based on how much percentage they got this year. And when it got on in the latter years, here in the last ten or fifteen years it got down to where every pound on the floor brought the same price. And say you were with Universal Leaf, and it was just a known fact that you were going to 50% of it. That would mean you got every other pile. Some how or other, if you have eight buyers, you still got every other pile, whether it went to the back of the line or had to come back to you or whatever I did, you got every other pile.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
And that's if they are all bidding the same price?
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Yeah.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Now, if I got every other pile but somebody comes along and starts bidding a little bit more?
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Oh, that changes . . . that opens the can back up then. That opens it back up.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Does that make it easier or more complicated?
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
That doesn't happen very often.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
But when it does, how does that affect . . .
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
I love it actually. — One thing my daddy told me, and he always told me I sold too hard. That's something that I've always done. I've not been

Page 15
able to take it lightly and try to not take a bid. I took everyone I could get. He always told me I sold too hard. But if they wanted to bid more, it was okay with me.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
I was talking to one man and he said you've got to be able to handle the take-outs.
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
That's right. Well a take-out . . .
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Is that when they kind of break the rhythm?
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
No a take out is when, say this pile brings 94 and the next pile brings 93. If you buy this one for 94, and the next one is 93 and you're bidding, is Yours, unless you say you just don't want it. And if the next one brings 94, it's still your. And if the next one brings 93, it's still yours. They have to break that rhythm to get out – it's a take out. If it's 94, 93, 94, 93 that's what we call the rocking chair. If you get in the rocking chair, you rock until somebody breaks it.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
And when they break it that . . .
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
That means its a new ball game then and they have to get back in. But a take out is when . . . And it can go the other way too. If one brings . . . a take out, if this one brings 94 and the next one brings 93 and the same person's bidding 93 that bid 94, that's a take out. It's his pile of tobacco.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
That always stuck me as complicating the process a little bit more.
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Well, it's just something that you learn. And if you don't do it you will be schooled quickly. They will stop the sale and tell you very quickly that it's a take out. That's just a universal rule. I don't know who made the rule up or how it got started but . . . That happened out there a while ago. [Referring to mock tobacco auction held as part of the Museum's program.] Ohh! That's a take-out!
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
If you don't mind explain it for me one more time, 'cause I'm still not [certain].
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Okay. Suppose it's going along bringing 94. Everything is bringing 94. 94 Reynolds, 94 American, 94 Carolina Leaf, 94 American, 94 Taylor. Okay, say the next pile brings 93 and everybody's bidding 93, the last person that bid 94 [for a pile of tobacco] gets 93. That's what we call a take out.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Okay.
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
It's his pile. Unless somebody bids 95.

Page 16
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Okay.
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
But a take out is when . . . . . . it could work, you could actually get in A situation where . . . let's see if I can explain this right. If it was all bringing 94, 94 Taylor, let's just say that you're buying them all. Let's just say you were buying them all for 94. And you're Reynolds.94 Reynolds, 94 Reynolds, 94 Reynolds, 94 Reynolds. And then all of a sudden it went to 93, and everybody else bid 93. They can't get it, its yours. It's your pile.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
It's mine because I've already bought this other stuff?
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
That's right. 92, everybody is bidding 92, it's still yours. 91, still yours. 90, still yours. The only way they could get in is if it went from 91 to 90, it's yours? The only way they could break that is to take it to 92.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
And so when they get it back to 92, that's the take out?
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
No, that's not a take out. The take out is when it's going 94, 94, 94, 94, 94 and then one brings 93 . . .
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
I still get it for 93?
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
You still get it for 93 and if it goes to 93, it's still yours. 91, still yours.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
But if somebody else bids 92?
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
It's a new ball game. And then he's in. If he gets 92, a new man? And it goes back to 91, that's his take out.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Okay.
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
It don't happen that much, but it does happen.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Some of the men I've talked to say that's when you can get some real strong disagreements.
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
That's right
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
'Cause it kind of breaks the rhythm.
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Well, they'll stop the sale and tell you. Say it was,94 Reynolds, 94 Reynolds. 93 American. Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! That's my pile! That's a take out! [In a cowed tone of voice] Okay, okay. I messed up, I'm sorry. I

Page 17
apologize. I messed up. That was my mistake for the day. I made another one back in 1952.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
[Laughter]
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
You tried to lighten it. Maybe make you laugh about it and you've forgot about it, rather than being blistering mad.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
I was going to say, how does humor play into [the sale].
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Just like I did then. Maybe I can get you from being mad to being happy, we're back on an even keel. If I get you in a bad mood and actually get you mad, say I make you look bad in front of your boss man. That's not good. That's not good.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
I can only imagine.
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
I don't want to miss your bid. And, you know, I don't want to miss your bid.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
How is it different on different markets? I mean, what changes do you notice between selling flue cured tobacco and selling burley?
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Well, actually, burley was always more in a . . . it's colder. It's a whole lot colder. Different attire. Down here you're sweating . Up there it's cold as heck. Tobacco always sold higher in the burley because there was not much of it. Seems like it all brought pretty much the same price out there. Were as in the flue cured, it would start out with the lower leaves, maybe $1.60 and your middle leaves $1.70 and your top leaves $1.80. Out there it pretty much all brought the same price.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
The audience in the warehouse, how was that different?
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
I don't want to say this the wrong way, but you know, you had some people who come down out of the mountains, that maybe only come out of the mountains, maybe once a year, to sell their crop. You'd have some people that come down out of the mountains and sell their tobacco and sell that tobacco and that was the only time they ever come to town, the whole year. They . . . rugged mountain people.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
I guess you could say they were smaller farmers.
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Right, out there, you'd have people that'd have a 1,000 pounds, 1,200 pounds. Where in flue cured down here, people have 50,000 pounds, or 100,000 pounds. That was unheard of [in the mountains].

Page 18
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
What kind of effect does it have on the role of the auctioneer if he's, there are small farmers in the warehouse? How does that change . . .
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
It shouldn't have any effect at all. It shouldn't make any difference at all to an auctioneer, how much tobacco a man's got. If he's selling to . . . auction tobacco at a top price, it should be . . . to me it would be immaterial if you had two acres or 200. I make the same thing. I'll be paid by pounds, poundage, total poundage. So it's immaterial to me if . . . actually I think I would try to help more that had five acres than had a hundred. I don't know, maybe not try but probably maybe have more feeling for a man with five acres and five little kids standing there than I would for a man with a hundred acres . . .
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Who's not even there?
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Who's not even there.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
That's what I was wondering, if put a little more into your performance?
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Yes. I think that would just automatically make me try harder. Plus, you know, I always . . . And see, you get to know these people. You get to know them by name. You grew up with them and you know them. And like Smithfield, as a market, I see these people day-in and day-out, twelve months a year. You go out to Kentucky, you might see them this time and you might not never see them again. You might see them next year. But at home, you know, I see these people everyday of my life.
[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]

[TAPE 1, SIDE B]

[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
I was going to ask about how your relationship has changed with the buyers and the farmers over the years. I guess, talk about how your relationship with the farmers has changed.
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
I don't know exactly how to say it other than, you don't have as close a relationship, because you don't see them as much. You don't see them that much. The last few, seven or eight or ten years has been real streesful on the [farmer]. You know, What's going to happen? A buy out, are they going to buy it out?
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Yeah it's been up the air.
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
They ask you these question that you can't answer. I get asked ten thousand times a day, How 'bout the buy out? Are they going to buy it out? It's just so unpredictable you don't know what to say anymore. You don't hardly know if you're going to be operating next year. I don't know. It's gotten down to that point now, to where you don't really know

Page 19
if you're going to be here next year. Even if the warehouse is going to be open. I've got friends of mine that were in business for forty and over night they were out of business. Gone! The warehouse just closed!
It's stressful. Maybe the farmers are a little more uptight. Worried . . . Used to, maybe it was more laid back, more happier. Everything was a lot more secure. Tobacco was selling good. Now, if tobacco don't do good, you're almost . . . I mean corn's nothing, $2.00 a bushel. Soy beans? There is nothing to make any money on anymore but tobacco.
In the '50s corn was $5.00 a bushel, maybe a man could make a little money on corn. But now there's no money on anything but tobacco. There's nothing that can make the money that tobacco does.
But as far as the relationship with them, I don't see them that much no more. It's a lot of phone talk and a lot of Nextel talking. A lot of people bringing their tobacco to the warehouse and talk for them. I just know . . . They got cards they have to put it on. And about the only time we talk is when they say, Put this on card number so-and-so. Or whatever.
Used to, everybody would bring their own personal tobacco to the warehouse on their own personal truck and come to the sale their self and stay and wait and get their check, but it's just not that way anymore. So that took away from the, maybe the one-on-one personal service. That's about all the warehouse had to sell, was personal service. And then try and convince them that you were the highest price in the East. But personal service, like Get you off fast. Get you out of the warehouse.
I built a new warehouse in 1997 with all that in mind. Modern, state of the art. A beautiful warehouse. I always wanted big 20 foot doors, where you could get a truck in and not worry about it scraping the door. And I built me big 20 foot doors, 20 foot high and I put me a 80 foot trolley in it with a quick unloading system that weighed the sheets hanging the air. Bought balers and things like that. With in mind of when you came, you came to a facility where you were in and out and gone. Where you'd know what was happening
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
I remember reading about some auctioneers [sic; warehouses] that said We've got the best stables for your mules and dormitories for the farmers. From when it was a trip to town.
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Yeah.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
What about the buyers? How do you think your relationship with the buyers has changed?
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Well we don't have any buyers. We got four where we used to have 12 or 15. And they all used to come and stay in a motel. Now we sell one day a week. They'll sell in Smithfield today, Clinton tomorrow, Kinston the

Page 20
next day and they're just not around. You might see them one day a week, where you used to see them seven days a week.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
So there's fewer of them and . . .
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
There's fewer of them and you just don't see them that much. You don't see then enough to get that close a relationship with them. And they don't stay around that much anymore. Hardly any of them even stay in Smithfield. Maybe some of them will stay close enough to where they go home every night. We used to have buyers from Kentucky and Tennessee that would come and they couldn't go home. So we'd eat together a lot and, maybe on the weekend got out some together, but you just don't have that any more, 'cause they're not around. They're just not around.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Okay. Now we've talked about the farmers and the buyers, now I want to ask about the auctioneers. When you were growing up and your dad was auctioneering, how do you think the auctioneers from your father's generation are different from the auctioneers of today?
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Oh, it's night and day. It's not even close.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
What's changed? What's different?
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Well, we sell one day a week, where we used to sell five. Well sell 600,000 pounds a day where they used to sell 150,000 pounds four times a week. It used to be a true auction, where we had 12 buyers and all of them bidding on the same pile. Now it's three or four buyers and all four of them are buying for one company. You know, you've got one company that's buying 75% of the tobacco that's grown in the United States. Everybody knows it's Phillip Morris. I mean, on tape or what ever I have to say it, they control it. They buy 75% of what's bought and sold and, pretty much what they say, goes.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
How does that change affect what the auctioneer does?
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Well . . .
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
I don't necessarily in the selling of the tobacco but the persona that the auctioneer has.
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
You're talking about how it has changed the . . .
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
I remember, they talked about "Dancing" Jake Taylor and . . .
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
It's immaterial to do that anymore. That doesn't make any difference

Page 21
anymore. They're going to give so much. You can't entice them to give more anymore. You can't entice them to may jump at $5.00 to show-off for the pretty girl. They don't do that. That's not a part of the plan any more. They bid what they want to and most of the time that's just a penny over the support price, if the government's got it supported at $1.80 they give $1.81. That's just the way it is.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
So that performance aspect?
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
I don't think it's any good anymore. If you do it, it's just . . . You know, used to the performance was maybe helped the sale, helped it to get better. Or helped the buyer to give a few more cents, because of the pretty girl or because they were happy and everybody was and this auctioneer really had them going, you know had them in the palm of his hand. That's immaterial now. It's so standard, it's so cut and dried. When you start out, if it's a B4F [grade of tobacco] you pretty much know it's going to bring 93 or 94 co-op. There's no in-between. Used to, if a buyer could be slick enough to buy one cheap, he bought it. If the other buyer weren't smart enough to recognize that it was a good pile and you were—you just bought a bargain. But that's not that way anymore.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
So there is a lot more control?
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
I don't hardly know how to explain it. It's just not that way. You just got one company that's literally got a monopoly, in my opinion. They buy all the tobacco. You got four buyers there and all . . . On my sale I actually got Phillip Morris buying tobacco, but there's three more buyers, but they are buying for him too. So it's . . . in my opinion and it really doesn't make any difference, but they have a monopoly. I mean they control it. It's like last Monday they came in and bought 36% of the sale and all of my farmers were happy and everything was good and tobacco was selling good. And three days later they come in and buy 4%. Everybody is gloomy, dead. It's terrible. A bad sale. Just 72 hours before that, they were happy.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
When they only bought 4%, did the co-op get the rest of it?
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
They got a bunch of it. They got 67%.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
At least they sold some tobacco.
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Well, there are other companies that buy, but they're just . . . See they're only two people, three people that make cigarettes. You got Reynolds and they don't follow the auction. They buy none at auction. Zero!

Page 22
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
They all do contract growing?
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Yeah. When you got B&W, which is Brown and Williamson, they don't . . . they buy 15, 18%, 12 or 15%. And they're dealers. The dealers, like DIMON, they're a dealer. They buy it and re-sell it to make a profit. They don't make cigarettes. So when you've got one company that buys 75% of it, which is Phillip Morris, I mean it's just . . . they control what goes on from day to day. They decide they've got enough of this kind — that's it! These other fellows can't buy it. Like a dealer, if they buy it, they got to re-sell it. Who they going to re-sell it to? They got to re-sell it to a cigarette maker.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
And Reynolds isn't buying it and Phillip Morris they've got what they need.
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
And B&W, they got what they need. So it's just sad, in a way. It's just sad.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
It seems like the auctioneer added so much life to the sale.
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Well, he did. I mean. In it's heyday, that was the only way to sell tobacco. The only way to sell tobacco was at auction. And you had 260 warehouses from Florida to Virginia. Smithfield, for instance, had seven warehouses. Now they got one. It was the only way to sell tobacco. The auction. There wasn't no such thing as contract. Now all of a sudden they come out with direct sales, and overnight, literally overnight 80% went to the contract. BAM! I don't think the companies even realized it would go that big. It could be 100[%] just like that. All they'd have to do is say, We'll take the rest of it. That's all they'd have to do, but they can't use it. Even Phillip Morris can't use it all. And when they can't use it all that doesn't leave but just a few more people. And that's a dealer and he's got to buy it and re-sell it. And we've kind of priced ourselves out of the world market. They can buy tobacco in Brazil a dollar a pound. Our tobacco, the same tobacco would be $1.90. And just four years ago, we grew a billion pounds of tobacco. A billion, pounds. One hundred million pounds in 1997. This year we're growing 460 million pounds. That's a big, big, big, big, decline. But when we sold a billion pounds, they only way to sell it was at the auction. And you had to have a bunch of auctioneers. A bunch of ticket markers. But all of these fellows you saw today [at the Museum's mock auction] 95% of them are unemployed. All of those world champions, 90% of them are unemployed. They don't have a job. There is nothing for them to do.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
They can't sell tobacco, but what was it, Mr. . .

Page 23
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Well they can sell real estate, but that's certainly not tobacco.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
It's not the same. It's not the same. It moves a lot slower. Well I've been badgering you with questions for the past hour or so. Is there anything you want to say that I haven't asked about?
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
No, other than just I hope in some way, some way there is enough tobacco can be designated to the auction, that in someway, if it's not me (I hope it's me) that some where in North Carolina, or where ever, (especially in North Carolina) that it would be a day when you and I have to sit here and say what it was like when there was an auction. I hope it doesn't ever get that way. I hope it's always somewhere, if it's not but one little auction, in Oxford , North Carolina or Fairmont or Kinston, or Smithfield, I hope always, at some point in time—before I lay down and die and go on—I hope I can always say that there is an auction, a tobacco auction somewhere.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
They also asked us to get people to demonstrate their auction style . So do you want to try and sell a little tobacco here?
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Yeah. Sure. I'd be glad to.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
All right.
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
[Auctions tobacco] All right here we go [chants]
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Okay. Can you sort of explain that? Slow it down a little bit, so the uninitiated might could [understand it]?
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Well again, you got a sales leader. And the sales leader, in his opinion, starts the pile off. I'm going to let you get involved. You can start it off. You say $1.95
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
$1.95!
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
(I'm going to do it slow) One-ninetyfive, one –ninetyfive, one-ninetyfour, one-ninetyfour, one-ninetyfour. Reynolds! Start an other one.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
$1.93
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
One-ninetythree, one-ninetythree, one-ninetyfour, one-ninetyfive, one- ninetysix, one-ninetysix. Taylor!
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Well, actually they wouldn't say one-ninetyfour, they'd just say

Page 24
'ninetyfour. Right?
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Right.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Okay. When you're auctioning you'd say, ninetyfour and then there was some filler . . .
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Well, there's filler. [chants] One-ninetyfive. Dollar-bill, dollar-bill, dollar- bill, dollar-bill. One-ninetyfive, fa, fa five. Fa, fa, fa, five. One-ninety fa, fa, four, four, four, four. One-ninetyfour, three dollar-bill. Now two dollar-bill. Ninetytwo, tata, two two two. Wa, wa, wa, one. Ninety dollar-bill. Ninety dollar-bill. Eightynine, ninety, nine, nine, nine. Seven, seven. Now six dollar-bill. Six dollar-bill. Five fa, fa, five. One-ninetyfive, Reynolds! Filler.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Okay. You said, Run Johnny run. Was that . . .
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
R. J. Reynolds.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Yeah.
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
[I] don't say that anymore. He's not on the floor. I've been auctioneering for 28 years and all of a sudden, this year, I've had to learn how to say "Phillip Morris." Never had to say it. They're on the sale. They've got their own buyers. So I had to change my . . . The time has gone, where I used to say "American," "Reynolds" . . . Let me think. "A.C. Monk," all those are gone. So I've had to adjust my style. Where I used to, Run Johnny run was filler. [chants] Seventyfive Run Johnny run. That gives you a carry over into the next. [chants] Well, seventyfive five five. Seventy five five. Run Johnny run. All right now, seventysix dollar bid. To five dollar bid. To Taylor man, you're good. All right eightyfive dollar bid. To eightyfive dollar bid. Top Taylor man is gone.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
But Taylor man, would be . . .
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
J. P. Taylor. And like you had Universal [Tobacco Company] which was buying for Phillip Morris. You might say, I have said, like in Kentucky it might be Southwestern, in Smithfield it might be J. P. Taylor. In Wilson it might be Watson. But it's all Universal. What a lot of the people would say would be "Cowboy." Which is the Phillip Morris man. You know, the Marlboro man.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Oh yeah.

Page 25
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
If you had a good enough ticket marker, that could follow you, when you said "Cowboy," he knew that was J. P. Taylor, or Universal leaf.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Who ever was buying for Phillip Morris?
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Right. He would know that. Run Johnny run. Or DIMON [chants] Buy her a diamond ring. Or like Export, which is BW [Brown & Williamson]. [chants] Seventyfive dollar-bill. Expert. Seventyfive dollar-bill to the sexy Exy.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
You have these little slang terms for the companies, the buyers.
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Yeah. A.C. Monk. [chants] Nientyfive dollar bid. Monkeyman. All right. Here we go now. Seventysix dollar bid all American. L-S-M-F-T. You know, it's just on and on and on.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Is there a way you can distinguish between filler and acknowledging the buyer? 'Cause, like Run Johnny run, is Reynolds.
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Reynolds.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
And L-S-M-F-T that would be?
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
American.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
American? Okay. But they would know?
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
The ticket marker would know.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
And the buyers?
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Oh yeah, they'd know. And then that's just a given. Just like the take out. You just know. And someone that didn't know would be a rookie. He just wouldn't know. But he'd have to learn mighty quick. Or he'd . . . it just wouldn't work.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Yeah.
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
But again, all that's changed ;cause you don't have Reynolds on the sale any more. You don't have American on the sale anymore. You don't have A.C. Monk. You don't have Dibrell Brothers. You don't have Carolina Leaf. All of those are gone into one. Like A.C. Monk and Dibrill and Carolina Leaf is DIMON, [spells] D-[I]-M-[O]-N, DIMON. But, still it's like diamond, so I might say, [chants] "Buy her a diamond ring." But he picks up DIMON.

Page 26
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Well, why do you do that to your chant, when it isn't necessary?
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
It's necessary to . . .
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
The rhythm?
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
To keep you going.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Okay.
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Instead of saying [chants-in a subdued tone] Seventyfive Reynolds. Seventyfive American. Seventyfive Taylor. You know, [chants with regular musicality] Well, seventyfive dollar bid. American man. All right eightytwo dollar bid, said eightytwo dollar bid. Run Johnny run. All right. Here we go now. Seventyfive dollar bid. Taylor man. All right thrityfive, five-four-four dollar-bill to the Cowboy!
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Oh boy. To me it sounds like you're putting some art in to your chant.
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Well, yeah.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Making it more fun. Making it better to listen to.
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
And, you know, some are better than others.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Yeah.
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
But there are journeymen that just, you know, [chants in a subdued tone] Well, thirtyfive dollar-bill Taylor. Well thirtyfive dollar-bill Standard. He gets it done, he gets paid. But he's just not as flamboyant. And you might have someone with a top hat and a cane. You know, some of the people they were talking about in morning. You've got colorful characters. And you've got people that are subdued and don't get flamboyant at all. They get the job done and tobacco sells. But then you take somebody like Paige Roberts, the world champion. He can make the tobacco sell, make the tobacco bring more, just by his . . .
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Showmanship?
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Yeah. Showmanship. He's got you and you're buying tobacco. And everybody is looking at you. And look at that man auctioneer. Look at them work. Look at that guy buying. Look at that auctioneering. You get pulled up into it. He looks good. You look good with him.

Page 27
I mean you're all going along there and —look at that. Look at that tobacco auction. That's amazing. And you're a part of it.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
When you put that showmanship in to it, who are you aiming that at? Is that for the buyer or the spectator?
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
It's for the buyer and the spectators. The spectators [and] the farmer. You know, that farmer says, He is really working hard for us. And it goes back to that report. You making them look good. They'll look at that auction. Everybody's looking. Look at that! Look at that auctioneer! How in the world do they know what that buyer is doing?
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
[Laughter]
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
You know what I mean. And they feel important. And you are. It's . . . The auctioneer used to be a real big part of selling tobacco. Still is in a sense, but it's pretty much cut and dried [as to] what it's going to bring, before we get in there. It's very seldom that I can, now make it bring more. I might can squeeze a penny here and there and something. But you know, if you're good enough . . . You could used to, if you had enough buyers, you could [chants] Seventyfive, five. Look a there. Seventyfive. Six. You ain't looked at him. You don't know if he's bidding or not . He might not be bidding. That's "rolling."
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
[Laughter]
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
It's done.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
I had one man, it might have been Robert Lee, talked about one of the buyers said, Who was that bidding against me? And he just laughed and said, You were bidding against yourself. [Laughter]
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Yeah.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
But, I mean getting the price up for the farmer.
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Yeah. That's right. That could be done. But those days are pretty much over, 'cause, hey, you ain't got but three or four guys. Hell, you can see everybody in there.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Yeah.
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Used to, you got 12 guys, you'd have a line of people as long as this table. And you're looking at me this way and everybody else is that way. Hell, you can't look back there and see if he's bidding. Hell, I'd done be

Page 28
bought it and gone. You got to know what you want and be there when it's sold. That's what the old man Howard Gravit used to say. He was with American [Tobacco Co.] fifty-one years. And he said, Know what you want and be there when it's sold. He'd keep a pocket full of pennies in a big over coat. And he'd be on a pile count, maybe he could buy fifty piles.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Yeah.
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
And every time he'd buy a pile he'd take a penny and put it in this side of his overcoat. And when these pennies got from the left side to the right side. It was time to quit.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
It was time to quit. Well I've sure enjoyed talking to you and appreciate you taking the time to share this with us.
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Yes sir! I appreciate you doing what you're doing. 'Cause as I said, I hope in my lifetime (I hope it's never). But I hope we don't ever have to sit down this and say, Ladies and gentlemen this is the auctioneer that used to auction tobacco, when there used to be an auction. I hope that doesn't ever happen. I really do.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
I'm right there with you, 'cause . . .
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
I know it's all money. That's the sad thing. It's all money. But this to me, [the] auction is more than money. It's something that we need to try save, in some sort of way. But I'm scared that the money is going to overrule. If you know what I mean.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
My brother says, The love of money is the root of all evil.
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Yeah, that and the "golden rule." He who has the gold rules.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Yeah.
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
But I just hope that we don't ever have to have this interview, five years from now and you come back and say, Edward, what was it like to be a tobacco auctioneer when there was an auction? I hope that doesn't ever happen. I hope I'll always have an auction. But if I don't have one I hope there's one somewhere. I really do. It's so rich in history and heritage.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
And just the artistry of it.
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Just like in there this morning. We talked a couple of hours? They

Page 29
could've talked 24 hours.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
I'm certain of that.
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Over and over and over and over, about just the little things they were telling. Over and over and over. And that's just the tip of the iceberg, what we're doing. What's going on. But used to, if you were a tobacco buyer, you had pretty good prestige and clout and that was . . . you know a tobacco buyer and an auctioneer and a ticket marker. That was something to be . . . 'Cause there just ain't everybody that can do it.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
That's for sure.
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
It's not everybody that can do it. But we appreciate what you're doing and people like you . . . If nothing else, if it does go the people a hundred years from now . . . But who knows, a hundred years from now there might still be an auction. But if they're not, maybe we'll have something where they can look back on and play this.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Well, the beauty of it is too good to go.
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
It's history. For me, for Smithfield you're sitting there right smack dab in the middle of the tobacco field. Smithfield is in the middle of the tobacco field. It's all we know down there. It's all I know. It's all I've ever known. But, you know, my kids . . . my daughter is a freshman at Meredith. She has no . . . It's not in her mind to have anything to do with tobacco. And I can't hardly blame her. Now my son, he wants to, but he's smart enough to know that it's just not there.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
It's a lot of work for not a lot of money.
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
He even asked me, like . . .Well, if you don't run the warehouse, maybe you can rent it out for something. He wants to but he's smart enough to know that it's too much of a risk to take all of your . . . What are you going to do? Go to college to be a tobacco warehouse man? He's interested in agriculture . . . but I just don't know if it will be here for him or not.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Well let's hope that it is.
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Anyway . . .
END OF INTERVIEW