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What's it Worth to You?

Pendleton County Auctioneer Garry Propst
Text and photographs by Carl E. Feather

Auctioneer Garry Propst and his wife, Naomi, post a sign to indicate an auction site. Most of Propst's business is in Pendleton County. Photograph by Carl E. Feather.

Garry Propst makes his living selling stuff that belongs to other people, most of whom are dead. The Pendleton County auctioneer has earned a portion of his livelihood from the trade for some 30 years, and in that time has sold everything from false teeth to wedding bands.

Garry speaks from his seat at the sales counter of A&P Antiques and Gift Shop, located next to his home on U.S. Route 33 West, a couple of miles outside of Franklin. Garry is the “P” of A&P, and his son-in-law Bob Alexander is the “A.” But when it comes to auctioneering, Garry is the sole proprietor. He has offered this service in Pendleton County and the environs since the 1980’s.

To survive that long in the auction business, you have to be both a salesman and comedian. “You’re an entertainer,” Garry says. “You got to keep humor. If you keep people’s faces a-goin’, wearin’ a smile, they’ll spend more money. If they have a frown, they won’t spend it.”

Garry has a repertoire of stories that he shares with the crowds so they stay in a light mood. One of his favorites concerns his personal willingness to get caught up in the excitement of bidding.

“I had an auction where I was selling this sugar bowl. It was a blue-bird design. I bought it for my mother and paid way more than what she wanted me to, $255,” Garry says. “Afterwards, I heard some kid say, ‘Some fool paid $255 for a sugar bowl.’ I turned around and said, ‘Well, I’m that fool.’”

One thing Garry won’t do, however, is cut into the pace of an auction with a lot of wisecracks and stories.

“The faster you can go, the more money you can get from it, because folks don’t have time to think about how much they are spending. I tell people that ‘when you go home broke, I’ve done what I should have done.’ I like to send you home with no money and truck or car full of merchandise,” Garry says.

Garry was born December 21, 1945, and was raised by his mother, Edith Propst, and paternal grandparents, Charley and Maggie Propst. He grew up about one mile from the center of Franklin. While he did not have a father in his life, he had many father figures who helped mold his character and interests. His grandfather was a blacksmith and imparted an appreciation of old tools and mechanical things to his grandson. John Harmon was his mentor in business matters. Brooke Boggs, a teacher and farmer who hired Garry to assist him on the farm, took Garry to the livestock auctions and thereby introduced him to the art of auctioneering. Those auctions were held in Rockingham County, Virginia, where George Heatwole was the auctioneer.

“I used to sit over there and listen to that auctioneer, and whenever I’d get out to where nobody was around, I’d practice a little,” Garry says. “That guy over there, I more or less learned his style. He was an old country boy, he was a farmer.”

Garry calls that style the “old-fashioned way.”

You can read the rest of this article in this issue of Goldenseal, available in bookstores, libraries or direct from Goldenseal.