Amish and Country Auctions, late 1950s-1960s


"When I started the Amish, I was the same way. Every chance, I'd go down -- vacation time, weekends. I would find newspapers with Amish auctions, or something like that. I would go there and I would photograph them. And I had a number of pictures published on the Amish -- Grace Hoyer, which is John Updike's mother -- I had a series of pictures, she did the story and I did photographs for Travel and Camera. And Liberty magazine. But I always did them with -- I never really poked my camera in their faces. They don't like people photographing them. So I either did it with a long lens, which is sneaky in a way. Or a hidden camera. I don't think they minded it so much, as long as the camera wasn't exposed and they weren't exposed to the camera.
. . . It made me feel good, because you don't want to invade anyone's privacy just to take a photograph. But sometimes you do get the feeling that everything is so beautiful and the people are so beautiful, with their clothes and their way of life is so different. When you get into photography, you get the feeling you should do something about it. But you've got to do it with -- have a certain amount of respect for the people. I enjoyed the pictures of the Amish. "

At about the same time George Harvan was photographing the Amish, he also attended a great many auctions in Southern and South Eastern Pennsylvania. His photographs of those farm auctions follow.
"...Oh, and then I did a series of pictures about the time on the country auction, in the Dutch country. And that was very interesting. Then I concentrated mostly on faces, the Pennsylvania Dutch. You know, this part of the country has a lot of auctions, farm auctions, and in the '60s and early '70s, there was a lot of farm auctions. When they would advertise a farm, it gave you the opportunity to roam around people's farms and see their sheds and see the people who are there, and who owned it. . . . There was so many beautiful farms and so many beautiful people. All the older people, the expressions you would get, and their dress, and the way they reacted to auctions, generally."

Miss Della Keiser has sold out -- lock, stock and barrel -- at the rundown family farm near Normal Square, Pennsylvania. Now in her seventies and living in a home for the aged, she's the last survivor of an old and respected clan. So auctioneer Curtis Houser knocked down the time-worn possessions and, so doing, tolled the death of a household and the end of a family.

The sale started on a somber note, which soon vanished under the auctioneer's chatter and jokes. Then gambling fever gripped the bidders, hopeful of a genuine antique in a stack of cracked dishes bought for a dime -- or perhaps a Colonial craftsman's mark under that cupboard's varnish.
In the chilly November tableau above you'll spot shrewd-eyed city antique dealers, suburbanites hunting something mellow for their slick new split-levels, and sober-faced farmers seeking a bargain in harrow or sump pump -- and, of course, the somewhat anxious woman in the red hat (standing by the cupboard, hand to mouth), who broke into a smile when her twenty-eight-dollar bid took the venerable captain's chair held by the auctioneer.