Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Stay away from EBay?

When I jumped back into the Civil War hobby, one of the first places I turned to for equipment was Ebay. It took me about five minutes of research to realize that it was mostly junk, particularly the uniforms. But did I give the 'Bay a real chance? It appears that others have similar concerns:

Serious Civil War reenactors avoid buying clothing from ebay as if it were infested with the Plague. There is a valid reason for this situation. The number of sellers passing off old prom dresses as Civil War far outweighs the number of sellers who actually have done their research and are providing quality, well researched goods for the living history genre.

But does this make Ebay bad? On the contrary, no. Some great deals on WW2 stuff can be had on Ebay, and I've sold some great stuff too. So what's up?

Before dismissing Ebay completely, you have to look at what is being sold to pass fair judgement.

Reproduction work is something that's a product of trust. You trust that the vendor, sutler, or whoever has done their homework to create a worthy product. These products aren't cheap, and that's where the lure of Ebay kicks in. They offer the cheap stuff, and to a new recruit who wants to get on the field ASAP, it seems to be just the ticket. But what Ebay (or accurately, an Ebay-only vendor) lacks is intimate trust. Anyone can put a less-than-acceptable product on Ebay, be pretty honest about it, and sell it for a decent price - on both sides. Later, when the new recruit finds out that their uniform or accoutrements are a problem at an event, then it's too late. Moral of the story? Only go to a trusted source for reproduction work.

Ebay is at its best when original items are up for bid. Although there's always room for some chicanery, most items are for real. Only only drawback is that if you bid on a popular product, then expect to pay the price. As a seller, I found that the best bids came in at the very last. If you do Civil War reenacting, Ebay won't be too much use to you.

Good used American Civil War reproduction work can be sold and bought on Ebay, but a seller must be very good about describing the item and attributing it to a worthy sutler. The buyer must beware, and be patient to wade through all the garbage. I don't recommend Ebay for beginner reenactors. Here's a small checklist of what you need to look for or avoid on the 'Bay:

  • Do some research on decent vendors. Seeing the Elephant (recreated) and reenactor group sites are recommended as places to use. Look and see what sutlers (vendors) are recommended. Keep a list of vendor and item prices handy.
  • Using your list, find the items with makers that match what you're looking for. This will take time. Note the description, and look closely at any provided photos.
  • Ask the seller questions. A good seller will be quick to answer, and even post the answers on their Ebay listing.
  • Avoid any new item sellers who do not have a verifiable reputation within the hobby (Ebay reps are worthless in this situation), or who seem hesitant about giving you a good answer to your questions. If you see a seller who seems to have nice products, use the Civil War Reenactor's forum or better yet, the Authentic Campaigner forums and see if they have a good rep within the hobby. If you can't get a positive response, then avoid.
  • Always be aware of the cost of the product new. Never bid more than what it costs new, unless its new to begin with. Always factor in shipping costs.

Follow this list and use some common sense, and you might find a great deal on Ebay.


Spiff said...

You are right about needing to be extremely cautious about using Ebay for equipment. I didn't even try until I had a pretty good idea of what I was doing. I never bid on anything without pictures and rarely from a seller who doesn't seem to know what they are talking about. Calling a cap pouch a cap box is all it takes for me to discount an auction. Having said all that I will say that I have gotten some good deals on some pretty decent equipment. I guess it goes back to buyer beware.

Anonymous said...

The repro stuff is horrible they sell on ebay, but I have bought hair watch fobs and period coverlets to add to my impression.