Friday, July 17, 2015

Thinking about giving Ebay a second chance

A few years ago, back when we were still living in Atlanta, I made the mistake of trying to sell some vintage dresses through Ebay. It was a bizarre experience. Who would have ever thought that a cheap cotton house dress would bring the crazies out of the woodwork? Long story short, the experience was sufficiently weird that I decided to stay far, far away from Ebay indefinitely. I set up an Etsy store (which, incidentally, I still have in case you're wondering where you can find a circa 1960s crochet pattern book) and sold the dresses that way.  I figured I'd never have a reason to go near Ebay ever again.

Well, some time ago the historical society membership decided that it was okay to sell donated items that did not fit in with the museum's mission (preserving local history). We started by listing a few things on Craigslist; we did dispose of a gas space heater that way. No luck with some other stuff, though, so about a month ago we decided to try Ebay and see what happened.

Turns out Ebay has improved considerably in the past five years. The listing process is easier and so is invoicing buyers. No more dealing with paper (i.e., checks and money orders) from buyers; it all goes through PayPal. No worrying about auctions and bids -- buyers can either Buy It Now or Make an Offer. So far we've gotten rid of three items that were useless from our perspective (no connection whatsoever with Baraga County), which means (a) money for the museum and (b) three less things I have to worry about inventorying or finding a place to stash. Granted, none of the items took up much space (a State of Kansas World War I service medal, a 1984 Olympics souvenir key chain, and a program from a 1956 Guy Lombardo performance at Jones Beach),  but when it's stuff we really didn't need or want, it's nice to see it leave the building.

One thing I have noticed about Ebay is it seems to be a popular venue for selling ephemera (e.g., vintage postcards). The museum has a gazillion vintage postcards from around the world; I'm going to try listing some of them. We also have a lot of old magazines, manufacturers' brochures, etc. Some of that stuff might be nice to have, but there's a limit. I've been learning at various workshops since I started volunteering that a small museum really needs to think about its primary mission. If something doesn't tie in to what it is we're supposed to be doing, then we shouldn't be hoarding it. Our current Ebay listings, for example, include a commemorative ribbon from an Old Soldiers reunion in Cherryvale, Kansas, and an ebony mask of a type commonly sold as a souvenir to tourists visiting West Africa. The mask is nice but for sure has no known relationship with Baraga County history. It was mixed in with a box of odds and ends in the attic; how it wound up in the attic to begin with is a complete mystery. 

I've also learned that when it comes to archival stuff like periodicals we have to think about uniqueness. It makes sense to hang on to stuff like our hard copies of the Upper Peninsula Farmer because it was a regional publication with a limited run just before World War I -- there aren't many copies of it still floating around (WorldCat gives two library locations: the Wisconsin Historical Society and the University of Michigan) but we've got close to a complete run, which I've carefully bagged in archival sleeves and stashed in the coolest, darkest spot I could find in the storage building (I view their survival in the hot, bone dry attic for the past 10 or 20 years as a minor miracle). On the other hand, a commemorative issue of Time magazine with, for example, Princess Di on the cover is neither unique nor specific to our mission. Keeping one copy around to possibly use as part of an exhibit tied to an individual year could make sense; keeping multiples would not.

In any case, with about one month's experience with Ebay behind us, I'm feeling a little better about the site. Maybe, just maybe, I'll try it again for selling personal stuff I don't need or want but that doesn't meet the rules for Etsy. If nothing else, it does seem less likely now that someone would decide to try scamming me for a $15 dress. 


  1. Are you sure you want it? It's big -- a good 14-1/2 inches long. We've got it listed on Ebay for $50 or Make An Offer plus shipping.


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