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By Gail Pennington

STLTODAY.COM- Auctions ring Deb Weidenhamer’s bell. As the owner of a huge Phoenix-based auction house, she sees hundreds of thousands of items bought and sold every year, from the expected (a vintage Vespa) to the extraordinary (trimmings from Abraham Lincoln’s last haircut).

Showmanship is a big part of auctioneering, but Weidenhamer had never pictured herself as a reality-TV star. Still, when she was approached a year ago to film a pilot for a series about the world of auctions, she thought viewers might be as captivated as she was 15 years ago when she sat next to an auctioneer on a plane.

“I was completely intrigued,” she says of that chance encounter, and by the end of the week, she’d signed up for auction school. Weidenhamer now owns Auction Systems Auctioneers & Appraisers, the largest auction house in the Southwest, where multiple auctions take place at the same time, three-ring-circus style.

“Auctioneers,” making its debut at 9 p.m. Saturday on TLC, follows select items from the time Auction Systems staffers meet with potential sellers through the auction, wrapping up with the buyer celebrating the purchase. The eight-episode series is an excellent primer for anyone interested in buying at auctions but intimidated by the process.

“Lots of people have the same fear — that they’ll scratch their nose and wind up paying $2 million for something,” Weidenhamer said last week from Phoenix. “But most auctioneers’ goal is to put items with people who really want them. If you accidentally bid, all you have to do is say no.”

By the way, Weidenhamer speaks very, very quickly. You almost expect her to end a comment with “going once … “

In “Auctioneers,” though, she’s mostly above the fray as the big boss, the one who urges staffers to action when business lags and installs a bell outside her office with which everyone is encouraged to celebrate new sales.

The staff is a charismatic bunch, including Jason, who does a lot of the narration and explains such things as “the chant,” as the auctioneers’ fast patter is known.

“We work on a commission … so higher prices mean more money for us and more money for the seller,” he says.

My favorite is Jacque, who says with a laugh that “if it doesn’t cry or call you daddy, we’ll sell it.”

“Auctioneers,” which will air half-hour episodes back-to-back at 9 and 9:30 p.m. Saturdays, fits into a buying-and-selling trend in reality TV. It follows the History Channel’s popular “American Pickers,” in which buddies cruise the country looking for vintage items they can turn for a profit, and “Pawn Stars,” which introduced a colorful group of Las Vegas pawnbrokers.

Although “Auctioneers” isn’t as down and dirty as those shows, or as highbrow as PBS’ “Antiques Roadshow,” it’s the fastest-paced of the bunch. An appraisal is only an educated guess, and the buyers at an auction decide what an item is worth, with the sale price totally dependent on how many people are interested.

“Having the right people there to bid is what establishes an item’s market value,” Weidenhamer says. “But there are surprises.”

The auction house doesn’t deal just with items from individuals. One big sale at a wedding shop includes excess inventory, with the showpiece being a reproduction of Princess Diana’s wedding gown — hideous, in retrospective, but attracting the attention of two brides to be.

Going, going, gone.

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