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Internet takes auction to the world

The unbelievable antique farm machinery collection of the late Carl Villwock filled three sheds, with surplus tractors stored outside. Carl and his on-farm museum were featured on the cover of Indiana Prairie Farmer earlier this decade.

His heirs, including son, Don, Edwardsport, were faced with a decision. Sell off the museum, or keep it? And if it’s sold off, what’s the best way to sell it? The family’s decision was to sell off a good portion of the collection, although not all of it, including several very rare tractors.

That leaves the hard part — how to sell it. “Like my dad before me, I subscribe to many antique farm [equipment] magazines and often read sale advertisements. I’ve attended some of the auctions,” the younger Villwock explains. He is also president of Indiana Farm Bureau.

Key Points

The type of merchandise for sale plays a role in the best way to sell it.

The goal is figuring out how to reach specialized collectors.

Displaying the elder Villwock’s collection to the world via Internet a fitting tribute.


“With my schedule it has become easier to view sales online rather than drive six or more hours to a sale. I would lose valuable family or farm time that could be better utilized at home on the weekends.

“I’ve also found that rare antique tractor, farm machinery and cast iron seat collectors are a unique group of bidders scattered all over the country. There are only a few national auctioneers specializing in this arena, and they all have a big following.”

Interview auctioneers

The first inclination for many farmers today would still be to hire the local auctioneer and run with it. And for a routine farm sale with a typical line of farm machinery, of interest to local bidders, that’s still a great option. But Villwock wasn’t selling farm tractors and combines. His merchandise is unique.

“We asked one of the companies we talked to why we should consider them and not someone local,” Villwock explains. They pulled up the last sale on their laptop and showed that 45,000 Internet viewers saw their online flyer. Many were online for part or all of the auction. There were viewers from New Zealand, China, Russia, England and all over.

“What I also like is that the modern Internet bidding process doesn’t slow up the auction,” Villwock says.

Other services

The auction company is responsible for shipping everything except the antique tractors. Villwock sees that as an advantage.

Another big plus is that the firm he hired, Aumann Auctions, Nokomis, Ill., carefully photographs the entire collection. “If it’s a toy auction, we often bring the entire collection to our place to photograph and catalog it, then haul it back,” says Nelson Aumann.

In this case, Villwock reports six of the firm’s employees spent more than four days photographing the collection. Then comes the hard part — letting go of it.

To have a place with enough parking and with inside selling space, Villwock decided to hold the auction at Dinky’s Auction Barn in Montgomery. He knows that 25-mile trek with loads of items will be time-consuming and heartbreaking.

“I hope Dad understands what we’re doing,” Villwock quips. “That earthquake earlier in the winter may have been Dad turning over in his grave!”

Going in person to an auction on the Internet can be a lonely experience

I pulled into the parking lot after a four-hour drive and was shocked by how few cars were there. I checked my watch. Sure enough, the auction would start in about 45 minutes.

The first toy auction I attended years ago was filled wall-to-wall with people. On this day, there were only 60 or 70 chairs set up in the sales arena, with plenty of empty chairs to pick from. No one seemed worried, though.

“The first time you do a sale going live over the Internet and there’s a sparse live crowd on hand, you’re scared to death,” says Nelson Aumann, Aumann Auctions Inc., Nokomis, Ill. “But when there are many more bidders online than in the audience and things go well, you soon get over it.”

Sale synopsis

There were more than 300 lots offered that day. About 60, or one-fifth, were sold to Internet buyers. Each time, the auctioneer would announce the buyer number, often where the toy was headed. Toys went to Ontario, South Dakota, California and Missouri, just to name a few. The highest selling toy in the auction went to an Internet bidder. Internet bidders were active in many items that someone in the crowd bought, too. Internet buyers paid a buyer’s premium, a fee for using a credit card, plus shipping. Live bidders had the option of paying by check or credit card, for an extra fee.

Another 60 lots, or about another fifth, went to absentee bidders. This firm allows bidders to place absentee bids online for about a week before the sale. Then one person works those bids in as appropriate. There were also five lots sold to bidders over the phone, working with a ring man.

More than 300 lots were sold in four hours or less. As I left, I noticed a hay wagon more than half full of toys in the back. It held all the items that would be shipped to buyers not present. The wagon is actually moved to a station set up especially for careful packaging of each item.

Several years ago, Mauri Williamson started what he calls an old-time farm auction. It’s held on the last Saturday of the Indiana State Fair in Pioneer Village to raise money for the project. Live auctioneers sell everything from chickens to quilts to real and toy tractors. “Old-fashioned” may be a more accurate description for that type of auction than many imagine. Experts believe there’s still a place for live auctions and always will be, but the marketing of farm property may never be the same as it was pre-Internet.


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History Everywhere! This old tractor was just one of several centerpieces in the three-barn ag museum that housed the collection of the late Carl Villwock.

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Fitting tribute: While he likely never imagined it possible, the entire world will get to see and bid on much of what the late Carl Villwock collected during a live auction carried via Internet on March 26.

This article published in the March, 2011 edition of INDIANA PRAIRIE FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.