Title: Oral History Interview with Edward Stephenson, September 21, 2002. Interview R-0193.
Interviewer: Mansfield, William
Interviewee: Stephenson, Edward
Abstract: Edward Stephenson, the son of a tobacco auctioneer, followed his father into the business, perfecting his auctioneer's chant and learning the complex mechanics of the profession. From his position on the auction block, Stephenson has observed changes in the tobacco business; he describes those changes, as well as the details of his profession, in this interview. For researchers interested in how tobacco auctions work, Stephenson describes the process and the network of relationships between buyers, sellers, warehouse operators, and auctioneers. Toward the end of the interview, he conducts a mock auction. For those interested in the tobacco industry, Stephenson notes the decline of the industry over the past two decades, exemplified by the quelling of the once-lively atmosphere and the mounting demands that keep farmers from attending auctions at all, let alone bringing their family along. Stephenson describes the consolidation of an industry that thrived on personal contact, and the way in which his own job—an exercise in bridging personal relationships—has been affected by set prices and changes in the agricultural economy. Stephenson fears that he may be among the last of his kind, but he hopes that tobacco auctions will somehow endure.