Auctioneer Cindy Stephenson: running the family business

Ranking high among Cindy Stephenson’s all-time most fun auctions was selling rock concert posters from the estate of Perry Pfeffer in August 2020. Here, she shows off two posters that were offered in that sale. Photo courtesy of Stephenson’s Auction.

Tops among Cindy Stephenson’s all-time most enjoyable auctions was an August 2020 sale of original rock concert posters from the estate of Perry Pfeffer. Here, she shows off two posters offered in that auction. Photo courtesy of Stephenson’s Auction.

SOUTHAMPTON, Pa. – Cindy Stephenson initially resisted joining the family business of auctioneering, but once she signed on and realized how fun and satisfying it is, she never looked back. As a licensed Pennsylvania auctioneer for more than 25 years, she has managed the family business, Stephenson’s Auctioneers & Appraisers, for two decades. The full-service auction company, which also conducts estate sales, has earned a strong reputation and loyal following in the appraisal and sale of estates, collections and real estate in the greater Philadelphia area and throughout the mid-Atlantic region.

What was your path to the auction world?

For years, I resisted joining the family business because both of my brothers were in it. After I had my son, my dad kind of coerced me into getting into it. Once I started, I said, ‘Wow, this is really fun and interesting,’ and it went from there. [Today, her brother Wayne runs a separate, different division of the company, while her brother John assists occasionally but is not directly involved. Her 96-year-old father, Robert, presides over Stephenson’s auction events once a month.]

Fine jewelry and watches are perennial buyer favorites at Stephenson’s. This 18K gold Rolex Cellini gentleman’s dress watch brought $13,000 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2019. Photo courtesy of Stephenson’s Auction and LiveAuctioneers.

An 18K gold Rolex Cellini gentleman’s dress watch brought $13,000 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2019. Photo courtesy of Stephenson’s Auction and LiveAuctioneers.

What is your job like?

We run general auctions every other week, and there is a lot of set-up for the bi-weeklies. There’s also office work, making sure things get photographed, planning future auctions and just trying to find the right venue for everything. We do a lot of estate sales where we deal with executors and estate attorneys, so sometimes it involves going out to look at homes or meeting with attorneys. The bi-weekly auctions and the estate sales are not online, but the higher-end auctions and the specialty auctions are live in our gallery and online through LiveAuctioneers.

What is your favorite part of the job, and your least favorite?

My favorite part of the job is looking through things, especially if it’s something fabulous, like jewelry or silver. I am an auctioneer, so I also really enjoy the actual process of selling. My least favorite part is probably the office work and having to deal with personnel when there is an issue.

Four Roosevelt/Garner slogan jugate buttons with ribbons sold for $15,000 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2019. Photo courtesy of Stephenson’s Auction and LiveAuctioneers.

Four Roosevelt/Garner slogan jugate buttons with ribbons sold for $15,000 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2019. Photo courtesy of Stephenson’s Auction and LiveAuctioneers.

Where does your greatest joy come from in this business?

My greatest joy is probably auctioning when we have really great things to sell — that is so much fun — and dealing with people. We have had some second and third generations of customers. Sometimes they might be regulars and other times they might be fairly new. One example is this couple who has come for a few years, buying. They are dealers and they’re moving to Florida now. They buy at other auctions, too, but they liked and trusted us, and they gave us all of their merchandise that they had collected during the years for their business to sell now. People relationships are important. We like to treat our customers as friends.

This Grateful Dead “Aoxomoxoa” Avalon Ballroom concert poster from January 1969 sold for $13,000 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2020 in a specialty concert posters auction. Photo courtesy of Stephenson’s Auction and LiveAuctioneers.

This Grateful Dead ‘Aoxomoxoa’ Avalon Ballroom concert poster from January 1969 sold for $13,000 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2020. Photo courtesy of Stephenson’s Auction and LiveAuctioneers.

You sell merchandise from across the board, but are you also gaining a reputation for specialty auctions?

Last year during the pandemic [August 2020] we got the estate of Perry Pfeffer. He owned a company called Postercade and had a personal collection of really fabulous rock concert posters, mostly from the 1960s and 1970s. The graphics on the posters were just fabulous. We ran our first rock concert posters auction through LiveAuctioneers, which continues to be the only online bidding platform we use. We used to use others but went to using just LiveAuctioneers. We had music playing during the inspection, and people were dancing. There was a reporter who came and wrote up the auction for a local newspaper, and the Associated Press (AP) picked up her story, so I was getting calls the day before and that morning from radio stations in Oregon and new outlets from all over the United States. It was so much fun, and the prices were really good.

Pennsylvania antiques perform well at Stephenson’s. In January 2013, this walnut dwarf clock by Henry Bower attained $27,500 plus the buyer’s premium. Photo courtesy of Stephenson’s Auction and LiveAuctioneers.

Historically, Pennsylvania antiques have performed well at Stephenson’s. In January 2013, this walnut dwarf clock by Henry Bower attained $27,500 plus the buyer’s premium. Photo courtesy of Stephenson’s Auction and LiveAuctioneers.

This has long been a male-centric business. As a female auctioneer and auction house owner, what was it like getting started?

I was lucky in that Stephenson’s is a multi-generational family business. I wasn’t the one who started this business, but I have been running it for about 20 years myself. I would have to say when I first started in this business and I would go to the National Auctioneers Association (NAA) conventions or anything like that, it was very much a male-oriented business. It is changing, though; it is changing a lot. When I first joined the NAA, they asked me to join the auxiliary committee – they wanted me to join the wives instead of being a member. Of course, I did not do that. It’s an exciting business, it’s fun, and we make great connections with our customers and people  in the industry. We have a very loyal base, but we are always gaining new bidders too. It’s just a great business to be in.

Why did you decide on LiveAuctioneers, exclusively, as your online-bidding platform?

When the pandemic hit, some of our people went out on unemployment, so I had a reduced staff. At the beginning of the COVID-19 shutdown (March 2020), we were only allowed to do online auctions for the first three or four months because of our state’s regulations. We were not allowed to have people in our gallery. We were able to run the onlines with a reduced staff, but because I had so few people that were still here, I had to go with only one online venue. I picked LiveAuctioneers because of its fabulous database of buyers. We are just very pleased with LiveAuctioneers. They have always been extremely easy to work with and are good people. They really have gone above and beyond. They have done a great job, and I feel loyal toward them.

______________________________

To discuss consigning to Stephenson’s Auctioneers & Appraisers, call Cindy Stephenson at 215-322-6182 or email info@stephensonsauction.com. Visit Stephenson’s online. Click to view the company’s past auction catalogs, complete with prices realized.