2017 marks the 102nd year the Brown family has been in the auction profession. Since 1915, we have enjoyed a unique business based on the exchange of property and fueled by the spontaneity of both buyer and seller.
In today’s world, where so many markets are regulated and controlled, our auction gallery still represents a free marketplace where value is determined through true market demand.
The founder, Edward Newlin Brown, was born on December 15, 1888, the son of George and Elizabeth Williams Brown. Because the Browns lost two boys in childhood, Newlin grew up as an only child. In later years Elizabeth died; George then married her sister, Sarah Williams. But it was Sarah’s surviving sister, Edith, who was instrumental in encouraging Newlin’s auction aspirations. Edith Williams’ support also reached beyond the grave when, upon her death in 1959, the money she bequeathed to the second generation Browns was the down payment on our building in Buckingham.
E. Newlin Brown’s early years were spent in rural Bucks County where he learned respect for his community and the countryside he cherished. As a young boy, he grew up on the Williams Farm in Buckingham (presently None Such Farm) and attended the Hughesian School.
Throughout his life he was noted for his walks; a favorite route was Doylestown to Yardley – a distance of 20 miles. He traveled through woods, across fields, and down the towpath. This route was purposely chosen to avoid the roads where, because he was so well known, many would stop to talk or offer him rides. At other times, he would escape to the solitude of a family tract of land on Buckingham Mountain.
On October 22, 1914, Newlin married Mildred Smith, the daughter of Heston and Anna Smith of Wycombe, Pa. Their belated honeymoon in January of 1915 was spent in Chicago, IL where Newlin attended the Jones National School of Auctioneering. A letter dated January 5, 1915, written by Mildred during their stay in Chicago, mentions, in passing, part of his curriculum: Newlin went with the class to the Stock Yards so was not home to lunch.
Another insight into the Midwest auction business is revealed in the same letter: we left Monday morning to attend a Pure Bred Duroc Jersey sale at Joliet. The Pure Bred sales are quite a thing here. Mr. Bieth said his sale cost him $700.00…people were entertained by him over night at a hotel and dined at his house the day of the sale. The auction was not a financial success…the hoof and mouth disease had something to do with it.
On January 8, 1915, E. Newlin Brown graduated from the Jones School and traveled home to begin a new career. An advertisement appears in the Wycombe Herald later that year:
Graduate of Jones National School, Chicago, Ill
Bell Phone Wycombe
Whenever and wherever he could, Newlin pursued his ambition. The Harrisburg State Farm Show and 4-H fairs were some of the events and places he participated. His high energy level and determination opened doors of opportunity.
An early photograph illustrates his involvement in the dairy business – a Field Day Event at Circle View Farms, Solebury, Bucks County. At Field Day, cows were judged, information exchanged, and problems discussed. In this photograph, taken in the late teens, E. Newlin Brown stands fourth from the left, holding a milk pail.
Around the same time, he and Mildred bought a farm on the east side of Route 413, a quarter mile south of the Old Anchor Inn in Wrightstown. In those days, the address was Wycombe. Farming was their mainstay; auctions were a supplement.
As his participation in the auction business waxed, he was booked by many local agents such as Squire Edward R. Kirk of Wycombe, J. Carroll Molloy of Pineville, Walter Finney of Southampton, and J. Cooper Pidcock of New Hope. In those days, auctioneers were paid a fee to cry the sale while the agent completed all necessary sale preparation, advertising, and clerking. Today’s auctioneers now handle all facets of the business from initial contact to settlement.
A letter dated January 22, 1923 illustrates the growing confidence sellers had in his ability. From a Mr. T.I. Lawrence of Penn Brook Farm, Phoenixville, Pa:
I have decided to hold my sale March twenty-first.
Sale to commence at 12:30 P.M. The terms are higher than I expected.
However, we will have you as auctioneer. If you are booked for 21, let us
know at once and we will hold the sale on the following day.
Awaiting your answer
I am Yours Respt.
T.I. Lawrence & Bro.
During the 1920’s, while Newlin’s business was growing, the building now known as Brown Bros. Auction Gallery was built as a dance hall called Paxafun. Coincidentally,
an advertisement for Paxafun in the May 13, 1926 issue of the Doylestown Daily Intelligencer appears adjacent to an ad for Mary Corsner’s auction in Forest Grove with E.N. Brown listed as auctioneer.
In the 1930’s and 40’s, the dance hall would be better known as a roller skating rink; in the 50’s it was utilized as an antique and furniture shop. Ruth Page, a Bucks County antique dealer used the building as a flea market, the first of its kind in the area. Then, in July of 1963, it became the home to Brown Bros. Since that year, we have held over 2,500 auctions at this location. Within each auction we normally have four, sometimes five auctioneers selling simultaneously. Today, the Paxafun building still retains its original maple dance floor and band stage; the latter is used for our receiving clerks.
1927 marked a year of tragedy for the Brown family. Doctors attending to Mildred’s tuberculosis informed her she had two months to live. Newlin made the drastic decision to auction their Wycombe farm and move his wife and three children (Elizabeth, Morell, and Kenyon) west to Denver. Colorado’s dry climate was proven to arrest tuberculosis. So on March 26, 1927, Newlin held his auction; by summer the family was settled in Littleton. The love between Newlin and Mildred would never pass a greater test.
In Colorado, Newlin secured a job with Purina Mills as a regional feed salesman. His work sent him throughout the western states and although he tried, he could never re-establish an auction business. Sarah Brown joined the family and helped rear the children while Mildred’s health slowly improved.
Then came the 1929 Depression. Everyone was in the same business, the business of survival. After he lost his Purina Mills job, Newlin accepted any work he could including night watchman, janitor, and crate maker for a Denver egg market. He would work all night, then return home to run his poultry farm.
By 1936, no longer able to fight her illness, Mildred died. With no reason to remain, Newlin moved the family back to Bucks County.
Letters written by Newlin while in Colorado demonstrate his desire to re-establish himself as an auctioneer in Bucks County. To J. Carroll Malloy he writes: If that egg co-op job is really open it would be a big start and a regular job 2 days weekly. Upon his return, Newlin secured this job. The co-op building still stands on Swamp Road in Cross Keys opposite Marvic Supply Company. Newlin served only one year as co-op manager; however, he would be a regular auctioneer there until 1953. The opportunity served its purpose. With business contacts renewed, E. Newlin Brown was soon back in the auction business.
His new address, 102 North Main Street, Doylestown, and phone 4072 was the base for his growing auction service. This service now provided an entire auction package without involving an agent. Real estate, livestock, antiques, and personal property were areas in which he flourished. Sale broadsides leave us a paper trail. One illustrated example is the Solebury Township schoolhouse property auction.
In 1947, C. Morell Brown joined his father and they traded as E. Newlin Brown & Son.
Morell’s energy and input steered the business into real estate. In September of 1953, Kenyon joined his brother and father and the name expanded to E. Newlin Brown & Sons.
A snapshot taken at the Francis Mireau auction (Doylestown) in September of 1953 shows the three working together. The importance of this single photograph was not realized until January of 1954. In that month, Newlin suffered a stroke and lost his voice forever. His career was over. The three would never work together again, although in later years the boys would bring their wheelchair bound father to auctions.
On December 20, 1956, the name Brown Bros. was legally registered with Morell and Kenyon as partners. Throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s, they sold an array of merchandise: real estate, livestock, equipment, airplanes, one-room schoolhouses, and antiques. S.J. Perlman’s auction in Tinicum attracted international attention.
Although onsite auctions were booming, the need for a fixed location was apparent. Suburban growth complicated premise sales. Anticipating future needs, they bought their first building in 1959 on Swamp Road in Furlong. The small cinder block building was soon outgrown so Paxafun in Buckingham was purchased. Before long, the business outgrew this facility too.
In 1977, Brown Bros. added a north room to accommodate their needs. An extensive tree-planting program was started in 1975 and continues today. Over forty specimens ranging from oaks, beeches, pears, and lindens to sycamores, locusts, ashes, and maples have been planted. Subliminally this has been a quiet tribute to Newlin Brown. His love of Bucks County and its natural resources were a substantial part of his life and continue to be a substantial part of our sense of place.
Today, buyers and seller alike meet in an auction facility that averages around 375 registrants per sale and operates four auction teams simultaneously. A weekly Saturday schedule changes in the summer to Thursday evening, reflecting the evolving graphics of Bucks County. In addition, Collector and Specialty auctions are held several times a year.
The business Brown Bros. enjoys in the twenty-first century is the legacy of two prior generations, a legacy that is being built upon day-by-day.
E. Newlin Brown is remembered for his strength of character and strength of heart; the proof is in the life he led. This character was the foundation for Brown Bros., and his principles of honesty and fairness continue to guide our auction company today.