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History of Lampi Auctioneers, Inc
Presentation to the Annandale History Club
Date:  August 2, 2010
Tom Lampi

Martin Lampi (1911-1993) was born to Stephen and Mary Lampi.  At that time the family lived west of French Lake near Lee School.  There were nine children:  Martin, Helmer, Wayne, Richard, Enoch, Elizabeth (Mattson), Jennie Lampi, and Sylvia (Brooks).   The family moved around a lot during the tough years, finally settling on a farm in Section 6, Albion Township.  Martin's brother, Enoch, later owned the home farm.  Martin purchased 160 acres in Section 30, Albion Township.  Tom and Dayle Lampi live there now.

In March of 1935 Martin Lampi received a diploma from the American Auction College in Austin.  The tuition was $100 and the school agreed to let Martin pay after he graduated and earned the $100.  A few months after graduation, his first auction was for Ed Johnson on the east side of Granite Lake.  From 1935 to the 1960s most of his business was farm auctions (cattle and equipment).  Martin farmed, managed the West Albion Co-op Store in the 1930s, and conducted auctions.  Martin and Dorothy Nelson were married in 1939.

In the late 1940s Martin built a building in Annandale, which is now the east half of Tootsie's Bar & Grille, where he operated a Minneapolis Moline dealership until 1953.  He moved the dealership south of town for a year or so.  There were several tractor dealers in Annandale:  Lundeen's sold Ford tractors, Magnuson sold International-Harvester, and Figge sold John Deere.  Many Finns bought Molines from Martin.  Tom displayed some of the toy Moline tractors and implements which were souvenirs or advertising items given away by the Moline dealership, including  a toy 1938 Moline tractor car.  Moline was first to put a cab on a tractor.  Martin never sold a Moline tractor car.  Today they are very rare.  Tom displayed a photo of Martin's 1952 Moline tractor and spreader, both of which Tom has restored.  Tom also displayed old Lampi calendars and signs for products Martin Lampi sold (Surge milking machines, James Way stanchions, and Melotte cream separators), and many early Lampi auction bills.  The early auction bills didn't have a year, only the month and day of the sale.

Martin was an auctioneer and ran the implement dealership.  Other auctioneers he worked with were Bill Rucks of Rockford, George Saukkola of Kingston, John Carlson of Cokato, Wally Peterson, and Skip, Fred and Stan Radde from Waconia.  The auctioneers of that day had a cane, wore cowboy hats, and hollered.  It wasn't until 1985 that Tom bought a small amplifier to hang on his shoulder.  Martin didn't like it at first.  Later Tom got wireless devices for their heads, so they could talk normally.

Banks had auction clerking divisions and clerked all auctions.  They registered people and recorded each transaction, item, amount, and name by hand.  The clerks wore aprons where they kept the money.  About 1952 Lampi Auctions started registering bidders by number. Tom's aunts, Shirley Nelson Tyni and Millie Nelson, and also his sister, Deanna Hedman, clerked for Martin.

Martin Lampi was a member of the Albion Township Board.  He was a candidate for sheriff and for state representative.  Martin was Wright County DFL chairman and a good friend of Hubert Humphrey.    He was president of the West Albion Creamery in 1963 at the time of the milk dumping.  He was emcee of the West Albion Co-op sponsored picnics in Hoikka's woods. 

In 1952 Martin Lampi was president of the Minnesota Auctioneer's Association.  1,000 auctioneers attended a convention in Minneapolis, where a 'fun auction' was held.  Auctioneers donated and auctioned an item, with the proceeds donated to the association.  At the 1983 convention, Martin was honored as the oldest practicing auctioneer.  In 1985 Martin was honored at a celebration commemorating half a century of 'crying' sales.  In 1987 Martin Lampi was one of the first four people inducted into the Minnesota Auctioneer's Hall of Fame.

Tom Lampi graduated from college and taught and coached 14 years in Bloomington.  He had grown up working around auctions doing mostly "grunt" work.  He sometimes practiced auctioning in a tape recorder.  In 1975 at Sandra Harfman's auction, Martin surprised Tom by telling him to sell some lawn mowers.  In 1980 Tom quit teaching, moved to Annandale, and started working in the business full time.  He felt the time was right to join his dad.  Bob Smith's auction in Maple Lake in November 1993 was the last auction Martin attended.  Martin Lampi died in December 1993.

Martin never saw the ten acres east of Annandale Tom purchased for a permanent sale site. Tom also bought 23 acres across the road.  Consignment auctions started with 30 to 40 pieces.  There are now four major consignment sales each year with 1,500 to 1,700 itemized pieces for each sale.  People are getting accustomed to bringing items to the site.  The lot numbers are in the computer.  There are five full-time Lampi employees, but there are 50 employees on consignment auction days.  Lions Club members are also hired for two or three hours to park cars.

Tom bought a computer program and a push cart.  At first he didn't trust the computer and had the clerks write the transactions down as well.  Online bidding and proxy bidding are new.  People can register prior to a sale, sit at their computers, see the bidding, and enter bids.  There is a charge of 2-3% for this service.

The cashiers are now in air-conditioned offices.  Tom started an auction toppers business, which he has since sold.  The toppers are in every state in the union.  One or two are sold every week all over the U.S.

In the late 1990s and early 2000, real estate auctions became a large part of the business with 75 to 100 sales.  Mark and Trent Lampi got real estate licenses.  With the economic changes, real estate auctions have dropped off to 15 or 20 a year.  Recently, they have turned down some real estate auctions, because many properties are 'upside down' (more is owed on the property than what it's worth).   Property is either sold absolute (it's absolutely selling) or reserve (the owner can set the price he'll accept).

Auctions are mostly in Wright County and surrounding counties, but they will go anywhere if it's a good enough sale.  There was a good sale in St. James this past weekend.  The farthest they have gone is overseas to Indonesia, where they went four times in 2000 and 2001.  However, after 9-11-2001 buyers did not want to travel there.

Sale bills used to be printed at the Annandale Advocate or Maple Lake Messenger.  Lampi Auctioneers now does its own printing.  They employ a computer expert, who also maintains a Lampi Auction website which generates calls from all over inquiring about sales.  They have received many calls about the upcoming August 14, 2010, Buddy Kiehn sale.

The auction business is a tough business to get into.  No one hires you unless you have experience.  Customers are selling a "life time" and they want to talk to someone with gray hair.  It takes experience to tell what items are worth.  There are highs and lows in demand for products.  There's a diversity of items sold.  An auction may have collectibles, antiques, jewelry, guns, coins, autos, boats, sporting goods, etc.  Lampi's has reference materials to help them know what items are worth.  The auctioneer creates an event.  Good marketing and a good reason for selling can bring in 600 to 700 people.

Lampi Auctioneers is in the third generation.  Mark and Trent Lampi graduated from college and worked in other jobs.  Mark went along when Tom taught a class at Continental Auctioneers School in Mankato, stayed on, and graduated in 1996.  Trent came back from his job in Detroit and joined the family business in 1997, after graduating from World Wide College of Auctioneering in Mason City, Iowa. World Wide is the school that Martin Lampi graduated from in 1935 (American College of Auctioneering in Austin became Reisch College of Auctioneering in Mason City, and Reisch became World Wide). 

Martin gave this advice to Tom:  "Get all you can, but don't cheat anybody.  Tell the truth.  You have to live here."


Is it hard to learn the auction lingo?  Tom:  That's the easy part.  You have to keep track of where you're at and who is bidding. 

How does one learn to bid?  Tom:  Hold your card up until you want to quit.  Our ring men do a good job of keeping track of bids.  A hand out palm up is offering you to bid.  A closed hand pointed at you means you have the bid.

If you win the bid, do you have to take the item?  Tom:  For people not auction oriented, there is sometimes buyer's remorse.  When it's sold, it's legally binding.  You can't say no you don't want it.

(Notes by Annandale History Club Secretary) 


Annandale Advocate, April 13, 1983
By Harold A. Johnson

In the Lampi Auction Service informational brochure, it says:  "Nothing stimulates and excites the public more than the word AUCTION."

That's a debatable claim, of course, but the auction, as a method of making one's household items, machinery, livestock, and real estate available to the local public, is praised highly in the Wright County area.  For nearly fifty years, sellers and buyers alike have come to rely on the services of first, Marin Lampi, Auctioneer, and then Lampi Auction Service of Annandale.

Martin, who has lived all of his life on farms south of Annandale, first became interested in this fast-paced profession as a young child.  Drawn by the rapid talking of the auctioneer, the six-year old school boy skipped a day of his studies at the Granite Lake School to watch and listen to Sheriff Grant "cry" a sale at the Alex Hanka (Hankanen) farm near West Albion.

In 1935 at the age of 24 he attended the American Auction College in Austin, Minnesota.  The course, lasting 14 days, added to the knowledge he had already gathered by observing auctioneers with whom he would soon be competing.

He cried his first sale, a farm auction, in the fall of 1935, a few months after graduating from the college.  "It was a great sale to make ten dollars," Martin noted with a chuckle.  At the time of his first few sales, cows sold for between twenty and thirty dollars.  Corn and grain binders and threshing machines were among the largest and most expensive items sold at auction, and most were still horse drawn.  Martin remembers that later, as farm machinery became more sophisticated, a Fordson tractor with steel wheels brought one hundred dollars.

Until 1939 the sale owners furnished coffee and lunch for the people attending their sale during a noon recess, so hunger wouldn't tempt the buyers to leave.  The Lampi family still has a few of the 300 tin cups which Martin furnished for coffee which was cooked in a wash boiler over the stove.  Then Martin's wife Dorothy assembled and ran a lunch wagon that was used for many of the following years.

Martin's hard work and good reputation earned him distinction among auctioneers twice in the early 1950s.  In 1952 he was elected president of the Minnesota State Auctioneers Association at that year's convention at Ortonville, Minnesota.  During this convention, N.W. Peterson was honored as the oldest practicing auctioneer at the convention; and at the 1983 convention in New Ulm, Minnesota, Martin was similarly honored.  At the National Auctioneer's Convention held in Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1953, he attended as an elected director representing the auctioneers of Minnesota.

As years passed, Martin grew more successful handling more and larger sales.  His son, Tom, having grown up around the business, began to help his father when he was in grade school and college at Mankato State University.  Tom began by helping with the setting up of sale items, and holding items up for closer inspection by the bidders during the sales.  Soon, he became more involved, even though he didn't have any plans for continuing his father's legacy, by working as a "ring man" whose task is to aid the auctioneer in watching for bids.

Finally, about eight years ago, Martin suddenly said to Tom, "sell that mower," and Tom did as he was told.  Now, he cries approximately ninety percent of the transactions while Martin acts as ring man.

The father and son team has a theory that the "anticipation of getting a good buy" brings the bidders to the sale.  Prices are decided primarily by demand (the amount of people attending the sale).  Many come for the unique items such as collectibles and antiques, while others come seeking things they need for the home or farm.

Auctions have many positive aspects for the seller, too, Tom pointed out.  Competition for some items may bring more money than their actual value.  Some sale items may go over their value and some may be sold for less, but Tom believes that an auction is an "accurate appraisal" of the collective value of the items sold.

Lampi Auction Service is now a family operation.  Tom and Martin together set up most of their sales, listing the items for the bid and arranging a list for printing on sale bills and in the newspaper.  Distribution of advertising takes Tom on a round trip of nearly one hundred miles almost every Monday.  Tom's wife Dayle is head of clerking, recording what is sold, who purchased it, and its price.  Martin's grandchildren, Trent and Mark Lampi and Mitchell and Michelle Hedman, help with the sale by running errands and selling popcorn, among other countless duties.

Martin has cried sales in Wright, Stearns, Meeker, Hennepin, and McLeod counties.  Last year, between April and November, which is their busy season, the auction company did approximately seventy sales, and they expect an equally successful summer.

Martin's enjoyment throughout the past forty-eight years is twofold: first was that he succeeded in the auction business, and second is that his son has become a successful auctioneer.

With four grandchildren, the chances are good that he will soon have threefold enjoyment out of his work.  Surely, someone will see to it that the Lampi Auctioneer tradition will continue through a third and even a fourth generation.  For now, however, family and friends are looking forward to the spring of 1985 when Martin Lampi will be honored with a celebration commemorating half a century of crying sales.