The superbly accomplished Wynberg auctioneer, Joey Burke (45), has done shows for luminaries such as Nelson Mandela, Bono, Peter Gabriel and Oprah Winfrey in his 30 odd years on stage, and in that time he has perfected his own style.
“Anyone can roll numbers, but you’ve got to be able to roll them in a style that people will enjoy and actually want to bid on,” he says.

“The American style is more of a hum… hummingrumblingseventythirtytwosoo-ooldtothemanwiththehat!”
Burke really is on a roll. Multiple words are uttered almost simultaneously, and it is truly “a sound to behear”.
“The British style,” he says, this time pronouncing every word slower than the last, “is more like ‘Good evening ladies and gentleman and welcome to our show. How much will you give me for that Da Vinci painting? Two hundred pounds? I have four hundred pounds!’”

Burke could only grant People’s Post a few minutes of his time, but it turned out to be more than enough, since he can probably recite the alphabet instantaneously.
“I’ve been an auctioneer since I was 12 years old,” he says. “One day my father, who was also an auctioneer, put me on the pedestal, and I just had to do it. The minute I stood up there I just rolled the numbers. It was great fun!”
He went on to learn from experience. The auctioneer acts as a verbal link between the seller and the buyer, so Burke must constantly monitor the bidding process by “reading” the audience.

“There is huge ego at play. If you have two people bidding against each other then it is perfect. You only need two people in an auction environment. Then you play on their egos and get them to bid against each other, and just let it roll. I once sold a brick with the bidder’s name for R75 000 and a fun bowtie for R10 000!”

Sometimes it doesn’t take much skill at all to read a bidder, as Burke recounts: “I remember once at the Nelson Mandela 46664 concert when some youngster in the audience wanted to impress his girlfriend. So the next thing on auction was a sculpture of Nelson Mandela’s head, and then the youngster put up his hand and confidently said, ‘R100 000!’

“Nobody else came in. As the process continued, I looked at him and he started sinking further below and further below, and he was going whiter and whiter then redder and redder, and then he was going under the table and disappeared. As a last resort, I asked the audience one more time if there wasn’t anyone who would go as high as R110 000. Eventually I sold it to Oprah’s boyfriend for that amount.

“After the auction the youngster came up to me and hugged me because he was so relieved!”
At the same auction Burke sold a photograph of Mandela boxing with Mohammed Ali for R1,1 million.
The man who makes numbers sing was born in Zimbabwe, and only came to South Africa 10 years ago – but in this time he has raised about R40 million.

For a man who has “seen it all” at auctions, it’s hardly surprising to hear anecdotes of husbands and wives bidding against each other, and even people bidding against themselves.
“Not all auctions are successful. You can get into a room where there are no bidders and you either have to walk away or play it out.”
This is the reason being an auctioneer is much more than just “rolling numbers”. One must first consult with the seller, liaise with the guest list, market the items for bids and so forth – and a little bit of enchantment doesn’t hurt.

“Taking one item to auction is actually a six-week process. Auctioneering is fun, but owning an auction company is not about rolling numbers, but running a business,” he concludes.
And indeed, it’s back to business for him: Burke is in charge of a new development for GoIndustry DoveBid SA.