From the July/August 2023 issue of Car and Driver.
At age 14, Thatcher Keast opened an automotive-detailing business in central Kansas. His top client was a local collector who’d bought and sold cars through RM Auctions. Keast accompanied the collector to sales and found himself mesmerized by the auctioneer.
After college, Keast joined RM as a car specialist. Through eight years with the company, he took on many auction-related roles, but the lure of the stage persisted. In 2022, Keast pursued his dream by enrolling in a special certification course at the World Wide College of Auctioneering in Des Moines, Iowa.
Learning from Zero
«The first thing they teach you is tongue twisters,» he says. Once students have mastered their repetitions of «Susie Sells Sea-shells,» they learn to count. «I know that sounds crazy, because we all know how to count,» Keast says. «But you have to learn to count in a rhythm and in increments.»
Keast and his classmates also learned auction law, as well as various styles of chanting. «We had people that were going into the antique business. We had people that were there to be cattle auctioneers, real-estate auctioneers,» he says. «And there are different laws and styles of chanting for whatever category you’re going into.»
One of the most important things he learned was patience. «When you see an auctioneer, you think, ‘That guy is going so fast, his brain must be moving 100 miles an hour.’ » In reality, Keast says, the biggest challenge for a new auctioneer is bringing the pace down, not ramping it up.
After months of practice, Keast finally took the stage at a large sale of cars and memorabilia. «I was going way too fast,» he says. «But eventually, I gathered myself, and I was like, okay, I know what I’m doing, and I can do this. I’ve been trained to do this.» He ended up selling a 1968 MGC for $35,750, a decent return. The priciest car he’s auctioned off since was a $156,800 1958 Corvette fuelie.
The Practice Never Ends
Keast is committed to his path, imagining himself on stage even while at home. «When I’m cooking dinner, I’m selling things to, you know, my sink. Or I’m selling things to my girlfriend on the couch,» he says. «It’s constant practice. If you stop doing your craft, you’re going to lose it.»
He has high hopes for his future. «It’s been my dream since I was 14 to sell the highlight car at Monterey Car Week,» Keast says. «That’s probably a good 10 years away, but I want to be the guy who sells the first $100 million car there.»
How to Talk the Talk
The classic auctioneer’s quick, rhythmic, and hypnotic repetition of numbers and words.
Short phrases repeated to keep rhythm and fill time.
Bid the auctioneer seeks over the have.
Bid that supersedes the want (and thus becomes the upcoming want).
An alert the auctioneer may give before bidding closes.
The winning bid.
Bidder with the second-highest bid.
Fee a buyer pays to the auction house, typically a percentage of the hammer price.
Hammer price plus buyer’s premium.
Individual or entity that owns the item going up for auction.
Fee a consignor pays to the auction house for its services.
Minimum bid needed for an item to sell at auction.
An item that’s failed to meet its reserve.
An auction item that fails to sell. —Greg Fink
Brett Berk (he/him) is a former preschool teacher and early childhood center director who spent a decade as a youth and family researcher and now covers the topics of kids and the auto industry for publications including CNN, the New York Times, Popular Mechanics and more. He has published a parenting book, The Gay Uncle’s Guide to Parenting, and since 2008 has driven and reviewed thousands of cars for Car and Driver and Road & Track, where he is contributing editor. He has also written for Architectural Digest, Billboard, ELLE Decor, Esquire, GQ, Travel + Leisure and Vanity Fair.