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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with G. Sherwood Stewart, September 21, 2002. Interview R-0194. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Auctioneering as part of tobacco industry's "mystique" and "romance"

Stewart again speaks to the special skill of working as a tobacco auctioneering. Emphasizing the importance of pace and concentration, Stewart suggests that the auctioning of tobacco had been an important aspect of what the interviewer calls the "mystique" and "romance" of the tobacco industry.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with G. Sherwood Stewart, September 21, 2002. Interview R-0194. 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

SALLY PETERSON:
Well you know there is a real aura about the auctioneer. I'm sure a lot of it is the "Lucky Strike," but the verbal facility really is remarkable. It really is admirable. It clearly comes from a lot of skill and ability. I mean, you don't stumble over your tongue?
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
No, not much. It's really clear. I tell you what those people are. They go into the warehouse and they listen to the ring of the chant. They're not concentrating on—.
SALLY PETERSON:
They can't hear the words.
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
Right.
SALLY PETERSON:
They really don't know.
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
It is nothing but words spoke fast. As I say, we speak five hundred words a minute. That's probably right. When you put them together into a chant, I mean, it comes out that way.
SALLY PETERSON:
You can get more out for a longer period of time if you have a structure that you can always follow and plug to.
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
It's like you say: "Ninety-one, one, one—." I say, "Ninety-one, ninety-one, I mean a one, ninety-one, ninety-one." I'm bid [unclear] . You know, "ninety-one," all I said was, "ninety-one," and it got to get in a chant, see? And I'll say, "Ninety-two, two, two, two, little do, ninety-two, two, two gone by ninety-two, now bid Taylor."
SALLY PETERSON:
It really sets the pace, though.
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
Right.
SALLY PETERSON:
It really is the pace setter, because there is no—. I can't see them using just straight speech to get people to act that quick, you know. They have to follow the rhythm of the song and there's places for them to insert themselves with bidding. Once you know that and you're familiar with that, it's—.
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
You know, I talked with a man — I believe it was the University of Kentucky or somewhere — one time and he said, "What is it that makes you think?" I said, "I don't know. I cannot walk down this row of tobacco and put it, like just talking to you. But, there's something, when I start, chanting, that I can just think, something's happening here [points to head]. I think that makes me think. I don't know what it is."
SALLY PETERSON:
Well, you know there have been theories about thought. I'm probably going to get this all wrong, but the whole idea—. It's been studied by people who study trance, what they call trance. If you can keep a certain motor activity, like almost on auto pilot, it sort of frees the brain to do a lot of thinking. So with your chant, you can connect everything together, but your brain is free to dictate it, to observe and to calculate.
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
Right. You know, there's a lot of time when I'm selling tobacco, and if someone got my attention, I might be looking right across the row, and I not even see them, because I'm concentrating on what I'm doing.
SALLY PETERSON:
That's right. You have such—. You know, it's sort of like something like typing or driving. Once you've learned it, you can just do it and you can do a lot of other stuff at the same time. You can do that with your aural language.
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
That's right. It's a great profession. It's been a great tradition.
SALLY PETERSON:
Well, what do you think is going to happen to it?
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
I wondered [that] myself. I think that when it's all over and done, someday the farmer will look back and wish he had it. I do think that probably the tobacco auction drew foreign trade to this country. I probably been—. Friends from all over the world — different places — send me things. From Germany, they showed me on TV in Germany and different places. It's something that just went with tobacco. I don't know, I couldn't say—.
SALLY PETERSON:
There's a lot of mystique around tobacco, you know — a lot of romance.
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
Oh yeah, it's a money product. From the farmer, there isn't anything a farmer can grow that returns as much money as tobacco.
SALLY PETERSON:
And you don't—. You can do it in a family context.
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
That's right. There's hardly any jobs—. Or, when I come along, you had to get tobacco beds. That's why I went to tobacco auction. In other words, it was to make money. That's the name of the game.
SALLY PETERSON:
Oh yeah, it's a way you could make that money without having to farm all the time.
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
And be somebody. To answer that question, you be somebody that you're doing something, that everybody's looking at you, you know?