Wednesday, May 06, 2015

47 Things I Have Learned in More than 50 Years of Buying Small Collectibles at Auction and 11 Years Reselling Them on eBay

The idea we’re going to talk about today, namely one of buying and dismantling bundles, represents a positive goldmine for some people, me included, and it can form the basis of a very profitable business for you too.

There are literally thousands of very different items to buy in bundles and sell separately, including bus tickets and playing cards, pens and letters, coins and beer bottle labels.  You really will be shocked by the sheer enormity of items selling in bundles and offering really big profits listed separately on eBay.

Let me give you just a few ideas to get you started making money right away:

1.  Buy albums containing stamps from all over the world.  Split into country lots and sell to people collecting just one country stamps.

Another idea: buy themed stamp collections, such as all dogs, all trains, all space travel.  Some themed stamp albums contain thousands of stamps.  All you do is split contents into same breed of dog, same country trains, all roses, all famous people, and so on.  Then you sell in lots of ten to twenty stamps on eBay.

2. Break pre-1900 atlases into separate maps to sell individually.  Use maps with plain backs; buyers don’t like double-sided pages.  Remove problem areas round corners and margins and mount whatever is left of a damaged map.  Old maps can also be used in jewellery and altered art products.

On so many occasions I have seen people on eBay selling individual maps for more than one hundred pounds - about $xxx equivalent - at the same time the atlas from which the map came is listed on eBay for less than one half the price.

3. Look for collections of multi-country view postcards.  Split into countries and sell cards separately to one country buyers.  Or buy one country collections to split and sell as individual states and counties.  Any that don’t sell can be bundled into one country/county/state lots and auctioned with a low starting price.

4. Visit country and small town auction salerooms where bidder numbers are low and expert buyers rare and some profitable lots will go unsold.  Use a mobile connection to research resale prices on eBay and make last minute offers for potentially valuable lots.

That’s where you can find items priced less than one quarter their likely resale value on eBay.  Try to arrive early and study items available.  Then check recent selling prices for similar items on eBay and aim to buy goods fetching three figure sums on eBay and selling in single or low two figure prices at auction.

5.  Look for artist sketch books from Victorian and earlier times when painting was a popular hobby and talented artists were plentiful.  Tear out and sell separate pages.

I paid £20 for the album containing ten  pen and ink drawings that fetched between £32 and £75 each.

6.  Buy autograph albums with famous signers.  Download copyright free images of the same people.  Place autographs and photographs together in a multi-aperture mount and sell as a display piece.

7.  Choose small, lightweight, evenly shaped items.  They’re easy to pack and pop into the nearest post box.  Large and oddly shaped items need lots of wrapping and a drive to the post office.

8.   Avoid fragile items.  They’re likely to break in transit and from heavy handling at auction.

9.  Buy big bundles of beermats dated 1930s or earlier.  Sell items separately on eBay.

10.  Choose bundles containing numerous different types of collectible.  They sometimes fetch very low prices because most collectors and dealers won’t buy multiple subject lots when only one or two subjects interest them.

11.  Be selective about specialist auctions selling all advertising memorabilia, all books, for example, or all stamps.  Those sales attract the biggest and most affluent dealers and buyers in the appropriate subject.  Instead focus on small auction salerooms without their own web site or describing lots poorly in their catalogues, and so attracting a tiny percentage of big auction room bidders.

12.  Look for bundles of 78 rpm records dated 1940s or earlier.  Most have been discarded and damaged over the decades, so surviving titles can be worth hundreds of pounds each.

13.  Buy huge bundles of early 19th century letters sent to lawyers when only the rich could afford legal representation.  Right now there’s a glut of Victorian and earlier letters being offered in salerooms, mainly from solicitors cleaning out their attics.  Many people signing and sending those letters remain famous and very collectable today.

Letters that don’t sell can be bundled by county or type, such as all property-related letters, all matrimonial, all debts and overdue accounts.

14.  Let TV guides and local newspapers keep your buying costs low.  Look for popular events such as a televised royal wedding or local air show which keeps auction-goers at home or away from the auction room.

15.  Choose iconic subjects covering lots of different collector categories, such as suffragettes, dogs, Alice in Wonderland, military figures.  Such subjects are popular on cigarette cards, postcards, prints, badges, and much more besides, and are the subject of constant bidding wars on eBay.

16.  Buy goods on eBay from sellers making mistakes in their listings, such as misspelling essential words in their titles or using poor images.  Especially look for sellers making the same mistakes over several listings and who might make the same mistakes for months or years to come.

17.  Use auction saleroom catalogue listings for bundles you’ve just bought as the basis for your eBay titles and descriptions.  This way you’ll spend less time researching and more time buying stock and listing items on eBay.

18.  Never promise not to bid on a lot some other person wants in return for that person making the same promise to you.  The idea is to keep bidding numbers and prices low and it’s a common occurrence that will get the perpetrators banned from a saleroom.  Not forgetting that people promising not to bid against you will often have someone else bid for them.  Either way, you lose.

19.  Find the best bargains lurking deep in tall bundles, at the bottom of tea chests, for example, and in high cardboard boxes.  That’s where earlier visitors to the saleroom sometimes hide items they don’t want other people to see.  So all later visitors see is low value stuff at the top of the bundle and they assume the rest is also low value.

20.  Look for two items fixed one on top of the other in albums containing postcards and photographs, also cigarette cards and bus tickets.  The trick is designed to hide high value items and leave only low value or worthless items on show.

21.  Get to know people selling small collectibles at auction, especially regular vendors.  Collectors and dealers frequently offload duplicate and surplus collectibles this way.

But that doesn’t always mean items you buy will be low value, mainly because collectors may be downsizing their collections and dealers may be targeting local buyers and don’t want to reach a wider audience by travelling long distances to collectors’ fairs or reach an international audience on eBay.  Either way, once you discover regular sellers of quality items you can approach them and offer to buy direct, so they don’t have to pay auction selling fees and you don’t have to pay the appropriate auction buying equivalent.

22.  Make friends with auction room staff and never criticise them for small mistakes.  Ask questions about auction lots, such as whether the vendor is a collector or dealer, or if a lot has been picked over and better items sold individually and now only low value items remain.  I have learned so much from auction room staff that isn’t revealed to awkward and ungrateful visitors.

23.  Buy Victorian magazines containing advertisements drawn by popular illustrators like Cecil Aldin and John Hassall or featuring collectable subjects.  Remove artist drawn and other collectable illustrations to sell as prints on their own or with a mount added.  They’ll sell all day at ten pounds a throw and many magazines from the late 1800s contain ten or more individually collectable advertisements.

24.  Look for historically important headline newspapers and magazines, such as revealing the Titanic tragedy, death of Queen Victoria, the American Civil War and numerous others.  Most such items can be sold intact for an easy twenty or thirty pounds pure profit per sale.

Even higher profits are possible for publications containing hundreds of individual articles or where newspapers are too badly damaged to sell intact.

The trick to making really big profits is to cut out individual articles and call them ‘research clippings’ or ‘historical articles’.  Emphasise the intrinsic value of the information to researchers, teachers, writers, special interest collectors.  They’ll sell at ten pounds a time and sometimes much more for really popular subjects.

But for many people, clippings per se have very low perceived value and can generate low prices and poor feedback and high refund rates.  You can increase the perceived value by cutting neatly round the edges of the clipping and placing it in a see-through bag called a ‘cello bag’ on eBay, ‘cello’ being short for cellophane.   Include a sheet of quality paper with the headline of the clipping typed proudly at the top.   Now your item looks more like a research piece than a bit of old newspaper.

Here are prices fetched recently on eBay for early newspaper clippings and articles:

Vintage Hebrew Israeli Magazine 1958 with Article by Rika Zarai fetched £234.36
Notice how the complete magazine is on sale with one specific article featured in the listing title.

Antique Newspaper Article BOXING John C Heenan Tom Sayers made £102.00
A few years back I bought an old sporting newspaper featuring famous boxers, in particular Tom Sayers mentioned in this listing.  I listed articles and illustrations separately on eBay and made between £20 and £100 per item.

Mawley Hall Shropshire Sir Walter de Sodington Blount 1910 10 Page Article made £30.00
The same person sold numerous topographical articles with photographs the same day for £30 each, all looking to come from the same magazine and possibly the same issue.

25.   Buy big bundles of military badges, especially from the First World War.  They are usually made from metal and were worn on soldiers’ caps and lapels.   The more badges that were issued for a specific regiment, the lower their resale prices are likely to be compared to those issued for smaller regiments and others existing just a short time.  Choose lots with regiments named on the badges so you can list items faster than for regiments with just symbols and requiring extensive research to identify the military unit.

26.   Buy albums of Victorian greetings cards contained loose or fixed fast to album pages.  Loose items can be sold separately and sometimes attract really high prices for images that are collectable per se, such as cats and dogs, soldiers from named regiments, overprinted ‘Greetings from (named location)’.

Items fixed to album paper can be removed and sold with their backing intact - but expect lower prices than for cards contained loose in albums.

But by far the biggest benefit of 19th century and earlier greetings cards is that they are in the public domain and their images, verses and captions can be used to create your own line of prints and greetings cards.

27.  Funeralia accounts for some of the largest collections of small items you will ever find at auction where you will often find thousands of small in memoriam cards in one auction lot.
These are the sort of prices they fetch on eBay:

WWI - In Memoriam - Colonel Hon. E. Primrose - Grenadier Guards went for £122.00

1861 In Memoriam Card - H.R.H. Prince Albert, Consort of Queen Victoria sold for £77.00

Thomas Ashe 1917 In Memoriam Card, Printed in Limerick, Lewes Jail, 1916 Ireland made £66.85
The subject ‘Died for Ireland’ during the 1916 uprising.

Because they’re usually packed close together in boxes you’ll often find them overlooked at auction, sometimes because they’re camouflaged by larger lots or because people can’t be bothered to extricate cards for inspection.  This is usually because funeral cards can be difficult to remove from boxes without causing damage.  The worst damage comes from trying to remove just one item from the box and finding it tears or creases from the weight of other items surrounding it.  It’s much easier and less damaging to remove a bundle of cards about two inches thick which will stand the pressure of nearby cards.

Look for cards relating to accidents and disasters or for celebrity and well known individuals like royals and aristocrats, writers and scientists, and so on.  Such items are likely to fetch three to four times more than funeral cards for little-known individuals.

But even anonymous individuals can fetch high prices if they died in unusual circumstances, such as a colliery accident or tram crash, or if they lived or were buried in collectable topographical areas, notably small towns and villages where fewer funerals would take place than in large towns and cities.  And, of course, the fewer the number of funerals, the more collectable and pricier their funeral memorabilia is likely to be.

28.  The hammer price is just part of what you will be charged at auction.  Auction companies earn a share of the hammer price, usually expressed as a percentage.  It’s called a ‘premium’ and can range from ten per cent in small salerooms in rural areas to much higher rates in major town and city salerooms.  Some also charge extra for credit card payments which, for a business using a commercial credit card, can add up significantly.  Two per cent is common on credit card payments which, apart from paying £200 extra on a lot selling for £1,000 in a saleroom charging 20 per cent premium, means adding another twenty pounds to the final bill - plus whatever the bank charges business credit card clients.

29.  Choose small items.  We’ve already mentioned they’re easy to pack and post.  But there’s another reason small items can attract hefty profits for resellers on eBay.  It has to do with the fact that companies having several auction sales each month are restricted in the number of lots they can manage.  So they bundle small items into a tea chest or big cardboard box to sell as one lot.  And because lazy bidders like to research and list single large items for big unit profits, that means fewer bids and lower prices on big bundle lots.

30.  Look for books, prints and postcards with small appealing and iconic images, such as dogs, cats, fairy and nursery tale characters.  Choose books published pre-1920 which are likely to be in the public domain as well as being in limited supply.  Use the original images, not reprints, as inserts for pendants, key rings, fridge magnets, coasters, and other popular items selling on eBay.  You will find hundreds, sometimes thousands of usable images in some early publications and so create just as many items to sell separately on eBay.  Include a certificate testifying to the originality and age of each piece you sell.

31.  Get a UK road atlas - an up-to-date copy - and highlight the location of auction salerooms specialising in bundled lots, especially collectibles.  Highlight as many as possible within one hundred miles driving distance of where you live or work.  Now put another circle round salerooms ten or more miles from a major road or rail network.  These are places most big dealers won’t visit because they don’t want to drive long distances or take taxis, and they certainly don’t want travelling costs and hotel bills eating heavily into their profits.  But those are salerooms you can visit to view and bid and take goods home all in one day.  You’ll have to leave home early and arrive back late, view as soon as you arrive, have a quick snack, then bid in person.  It’s very tiring but savings in time and overheads can be substantial.

Here’s a tip: Cumberland, Northumberland and Southern Scotland have some excellent small salerooms, attracting limited bidder numbers and charging low seller fees.  And having very little in the way of national road and railway networks.

32.  If you MUST buy fragile items, and I recommend you don’t - unless they’re going cheap, that is - then at least visit the saleroom just before the sale goes live to check items have not been damaged since you last viewed.  Check again when auction staff hand over your winning lots and spend time in the saleroom adding foam chips, bubble wrap or newspapers between fragile items to keep them safe on the way back home.

Wrap items very carefully for delivery to buyers and mark outgoing packages ‘Fragile’ on all sides.

33.  Remember time is money.  And a lot of time is wasted making your way through countless different eBay product categories when you’re listing numerous different product types.

You’ll also spend a lot of time moving between internet sites each time you research a new type of product and you’re unlikely to remember each piece of research for more than a few minutes.

Compare that to researching just one specific type of collectible, such as all cigarette cards or all military badges, where you’ll be travelling through just a few product categories on eBay and visiting a handful of research sites.

More than this, each unit of research for a same theme collectible will reinforce your findings for earlier pieces and help you gain long-term expertise.

34.  Watch for bids being taken off the wall.  ‘Off the wall’ happens where an auctioneer pretends someone is bidding against you, when in fact you are the sole bidder.  When the auctioneer thinks you have reached your maximum bid the imaginary bidder will drop out and you will win the item.

Spot room bids being taken off the wall by standing at the back of the room and looking round for the other bidder.  That will deter most such scams.

Sometimes auctioneers will pretend they have bids ‘on the book’, that is bids left by an absent client, or that all bids are coming online.  It’s difficult to identify the first, but very easy to spot the last by taking a mobile connection to auctions running real-time on the Internet, where you will see Internet bids appearing as they come in.

If there is no one bidding in the room and no bids appearing online, but the auctioneer insists otherwise, then in the absence of bids placed on the book you know you are bidding in an illegal auction.  See it happening more than three or four times in the same saleroom and report it to the police.  But whatever happens I suggest you avoid that saleroom in future.

35.  Don’t get side-tracked.  Focus exclusively on your bids about two or three lots in advance of yours coming up.  Close to bidding time is when people will begin talking to you, or pushing past you and creating a distraction - all designed to stop you bidding on something they’d like to own.

36.  Don’t spend more than a few minutes chatting on viewing day.  It’s nice to greet friends when you first arrive or until your lots come up, but too much talking wastes time you could spend inspecting lots and studying prices fetched for items you don’t want to buy on the day - but might want to buy some time soon.

37.  Look out for very small items being stored many years ago inside larger items and not obvious to auction saleroom staff and potential buyers.  Victorians in particular stored letters and photographs inside books to hide them from prying eyes and stop them being damaged.  I really have lost count of bookmarks and autographed letters I have found inside books that sell for pennies or in the low pounds, and other flat items hidden beneath paper liners in drawers and the bottom of wardrobes and other cupboards.  Items hidden this way can often be worth many more times the price fetched for the item they are hidden in.

38.  Be careful buying very small items, such as jewellery and medals, in decorative boxes bearing a maker’s name.  Boxes made to contain really expensive small pieces are used by unscrupulous sellers to house low value and worthless items.  The idea is to make bidders think contents and box are by the same big name maker and generate a high finishing price.  The easiest way to partner contents and box is to look for the maker’s name on both items.  Major makes will be reflected this way; cheap items will either have a different maker’s name or no name at all.

39.  Look out for numbers on items that might tell when they were produced and obviously help you value your piece and let you add important keywords like ‘antique’, ‘17th century’ and ‘Victorian’ to your eBay listings.  But always double check because what you think are dates might be design or patent numbers.

40.  Buy big bundles of costume jewellery but only coming from past private owners and not from dealers.

A dealer’s stock is likely to be depleted of valuable items and only unsaleable pieces remain.  A private collection should contain inexpensive and potentially very valuable items too.  List better items first to recoup your investment and grab an early profit.  Put inexpensive items into attractive boxes or bundle two or three items together for early sales.

41.  Don’t get hungry or thirsty.  Both can reduce concentration and contribute to mistakes.  Grab a sandwich and coffee during long gaps between bidding.  Avoid alcohol, especially if you’re driving.  Some salerooms have their own refreshments area or a high street café close buy.  In the latter case, pay a quick visit and bring refreshments back to the auction saleroom.  Avoid leaving the saleroom for more than a few minutes in case you are delayed on the way back to bid.

42.  Do not sell part of a lot to failed rival bidders on the day.  At least not until you have inspected your acquisitions and know which items will sell on eBay and which won’t.  Use a mobile Internet connection to value whatever someone wants to buy and only accept where their price is higher than your item’s likely value on eBay, taking eBay and PayPal fees into account.

43.   Watch out for big bundles of football programmes selling at auction.  But avoid any from the 1940s onwards.  They’re typically more plentiful and so less valuable than programmes for pre-war matches.  Look for any mentioning replays which were usually issued in haste and in limited numbers and can fetch high prices on eBay.

Also likely to generate a bidding war and high finishing price are programmes autographed by one or more players, especially legendary stars like George Best and Bobby Moore.

But even common and more recent programmes are worth a few pounds apiece and are worth buying to resell where individual items are in good condition and attract low bids at auction.  Try to pay five pence apiece across the board for common and recent programmes and price them £4.99 each on eBay.  Expect half to sell within three or four months.  Then run regular ten day half price sales on unsold items.  After another three or four months, remove items from sale, bundle them in teams and sell off cheap.

44.  Buy books with images you know are in the public domain, usually because the artist or last surviving creator of a joint artwork died more than seventy years ago.  Remove full page illustrations and scan them.  Sell the original items first.  Use an auction starting price of £2.99 and let the listings run ten days to maximise audience viewing potential.  Many books with, say, one hundred such images, can be bought in the low pounds, meaning you’ll pay just a few pence per image.  So sell just ten images at a tenner or so each and the rest at £2.99 and you’ll quickly make back your original investment and a little - or a lot - more.

Next create reproduction prints from your scanned images.  Use low price photographic type paper, costing fifty pence or less per sheet, and charge £7.99 per item plus delivery cost.  You’ll find some books can ultimately generate hundreds or even thousands of pounds pure profit.

45.  Buy early 20th century auction catalogues from renowned art auction salerooms.  Choose catalogues of Victorian and earlier artwork.  Most such catalogues give artists’ biographies alongside listings and tell when artists were born and died.  Choose images from artists who died more than seventy years ago and which are almost always in the public domain.  Scan those images and create reproduction prints as mentioned in the last tip.

46.  Look for books and reports signed by many different people, such as hotel registers, ships’ passenger list, menus, and so on.  Research ten or twenty signers to see if the list contains famous names alongside potentially unknown signers.  Registers and books, and so on, can be sold intact or with signatures clipped and sold individually.  Individual cut signatures sell faster and attract higher prices with a short write up about the signer and with that person’s image accompanying the autograph.

Look especially for signatures in the register of an out of the way hotel used mainly as a stopover point by people driving long distances.  In the early 1900s only a handful of people had vehicles and those people were almost always rich and eminent in their day.  So their signatures are likely to be worth more today than for most visitors to a budget price city hotel.

47.  My all-time favourite small collectibles that almost always make great profits are Victorian photographs backed onto card.  Smaller items were called CDVs - cartes-de-visite - and larger items were called cabinet portraits.  You can pick them up for pennies at car boot sales, flea markets, antiques fairs and in auction salerooms.

Sadly, pennies are pretty much all those items will fetch on eBay.

Unless, that is, something exists to make the image rare or the sitter is named on the photograph and possibly in the subjects’ own handwriting.

Features that make the image unusual include dogs, cats, military uniform, people paying chess or cricket, royalty, busy street scenes, and more besides.

Research sitters’ names and you’ll find many were wealthy individuals, some remaining important and highly collectable today.  If a name is in the sitter’s own handwriting that makes your piece appeal to autograph collectors as well as people collecting photographs per se.  The end result could be a bidding war that makes unexpected high profits for you.


Those 47 ideas are sufficient to keep you making money every day on eBay, while paying very little for your stock.

So why not get started applying those 47 ideas right away?

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