Discerning eye helps set auctioneer apart

By Ryan Cornell

FRONT ROYAL — Kristie Sours Brown picks up a tin egg-beater and studies it carefully. She inspects every inch of it, almost like she’s checking it for ticks.

“I look at the quality of it,” she said. “I make sure all of the pieces are in working condition and that it’s not rusted.”

From the preliminary research she’s conducted online on the egg-beater, she said it was made between the 1940s and the 1960s and is worth about $65.

“This is in very good used shape for its age,” she said. “There’s no rust on it and the paint is intact.”

Sprawled out in front of her is a collection of other kitchen utensils originating from the mid-century: a salt and pepper shaker, a cereal bowl, a cream pitcher and a teapot, all decorated with splashes of painted autumn leaves.

The owner of the collection, Tammy Williams, said it belonged to her aunt. Williams said it’s the first time she’s had the items appraised.

“I packed them up and put them in a drawer and that’s where they’ve hid for the last 20 to 25 years,” Williams said.

As an appraiser, Brown needs to have a discerning eye. It’s her job to notice hairline cracks and hidden markings. You might say her previous career trained her for this.

Brown worked for nearly two decades as an ultrasound X-ray mammographer. In March, she lost her job. So she decided to follow a passion that had stayed with her since she was a child. She became an auctioneer.

“I always liked helping people and I always liked stuff, like collectibles,” she said. “It’s always interested me because items have a story and people love to tell the stories of their items.”

She attended the Mendenhall School of Auctioneering at High Point, N.C., in June. She trained with “Cash in the Attic” and “Antique Road Show” star Tim Luke in Indianapolis in July. Last month, she created her own auctioneer and appraisal business, Bearfoot Enterprises LLC out of her Bentonville home. But her experience at auctions started much earlier than this year.

“When I first started going [to auctions], we would go on Saturday nights and we would sit in the old auction house and it had a wood stove,” she said. “That’s how it was heated. And the auctioneer would be up there and he would be selling all kinds of junk.”

She said she was about 5 years old when her grandparents started taking her on trips from their home in Luray to these weekly Elkton auctions.

“And they would let me bid on stuff,” she said. She said she was about 10 years old when she purchased her first item, a six-sided table that she used as a TV stand in her bedroom.

“I’ve always had a knack and an eye for things,” she said. “My whole house had been decorated from yard sales, auctions, flea markets and thrift stores.”

Like most auctioneers, Brown can rattle off a mile of words in a minute, but she said the most important part is being crisp and clear.

As a woman in a male-dominated profession — Brown said women only make up about 7 percent of auctioneers in the U.S. — she said it gives her a different perspective.

“With estate auctions, sometimes with the death of a loved one it can be very tough, but having dealt with death in the hospital, I’ve kind of learned how to deal with the families, putting them at ease and making them feel comfortable,” she said.

She said her auctioneering business helps take the burden off families by turning their unwanted items into cash.

Brown is a Graduate Personal Property Appraiser designated by the National Auctioneers Association. Her appraisals also are compliant with the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice, which means her values can be used for tax purposes with the IRS.

“I love what I do,” she said. “I’m very happy now and I should’ve done it many, many years ago.”

Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rcornell@nvdaily.com