Inside the Collector’s Mind: True Tales from the eBay Front

I consider myself an eBay pioneer, with a seller account going back to the e-commerce Stone Age – or January 1997, to be precise. In the beginning, eBay was a fantastic place to sell genuine antiques with provenance and vintage collectibles like footless Pez. In the last decade or so, things have drastically changed as the massive marketplace has become flooded with fake designer purses, huge lots of genuine Gillette blades that fell off a truck (wink-wink), and countless other new merchandise. While vintage and antique merchandise still can sell, it is a spin of the roulette wheel compared to the early days – with more than 700 million items listed on any given day.

I have experienced my share of non-paying bidders, kooks, and insults and so have family members – providing amusement and provoking more than a few f-bombs. I have often wondered if people are compulsive bidders in the same way others are compulsive gamblers. My faith in humanity was restored about 11 years ago when I heard from the sister of a buyer who never paid for an antique purse. I’ve heard every story in the book, but this one was heartwarming and true. The buyer had been hit by a car and was in intensive care for two months. She was slowly recovering, and finally cognizant enough to tell her sister about outstanding commitments. It astonished me that despite facing rehab and what had to be horrific hospital bills, she cared enough to tell her sister to pay off eBay sellers!

Creepy Crawlers

I have been a collector since I was 4 or 5 and have vivid memories of selling Creepy Crawlers at recess during 4th grade – so collecting and selling are in my blood. One day about 7-8 years ago, I realized I had become a cultural anthropologist of sorts – analyzing the odd things that were generating big bucks on eBay. Trying to get into the collector’s head was borne in part out of my waning antique sales and fiscal need to reinvigorate eBay sales. I also found out that my ex’s girlfriend was making a killing selling used, and often stinky-looking shoes, so that opened a whole new door.

Threads ‘n Kicks

I had an inkling that I found a small treasure trove in the fall of 2013, when I stumbled upon new vintage men’s underwear at an Army Navy store in Chicago. There was a box of closeouts marked 3 for $10.00, but I did not buy all of them on that first visit. You better believe I hightailed it back there after doing some online sleuthing. One of the Hanes double-seat briefs had slipped away, but I bought the two others and a bunch of 1960s Fruit of the Loom boxers with retro cool patterns that would look at home on vintage ladies blouses. I sold the Hanes briefs for $135.00 each – and that’s all it took – I was hooked on undies. I periodically check sold prices on vintage tighty-whities, and every time I go to an estate or garage sale, I keep my eyes open.

Vintage Fruit of the Loom

Fruit of the Loom Boxers

Hanes Briefs

I discovered that vintage underwear appeals to the ladies as well, although don’t count me in – vintage clothing, absolutely – undies, a big no. I picked up a quaint-looking brassiere in the original package for a buck at the local flea market. That scored several offers, but I resisted and 18 bids later, the 34 A sold for $65.00.

Vintage Bra

Rock ‘n roll shirts that have been worn by the rockers themselves have a special place in the hearts and pocketbooks of fans. I sold an awesome, unworn Red Hot Chili Peppers t-shirt from the 1990’s to a guy in Japan, but for a mere $125. Perhaps if Anthony Kiedis had sweat in it while he writhed around on stage, it would have sold for 10 times that amount.

Red Hot Chili Peppers T-Shirt

My daughter, who is a sneakerhead, turned me on to Nikes, but I am still learning the ropes. I check regularly and cannot believe the prices some super rare Nikes command, like the 2005 Nike Air Jordan 4 Retro X Undefeated Eminem Yeezy collaboration. With the purchase of an undefeated t-shirt, buyers received a numbered ticket, with lucky winners scoring one of only 72 pairs manufactured. That explains why they sold for $30,000, but you could buy a really nice new automobile for that!

Rare Air Jordans

Just Plain Odd

On a whim, I bought a sealed box of 1977 Kotex for a buck at an estate sale a few years back. I was surprised when it sold for $48.00, which prompted researching the weird realm of feminine hygiene-themed collecting. I discovered that there was a physical museum devoted to this called the Museum of Menstruation, which went defunct in the late 1990s. Since then I have sold an ancient box of Tampax tampons I found in the back of my mom’s linen closet, and a few unused sanitary napkin belts. My personal sociological theory is that women like collecting this ephemera to see how far we’ve collectively come surfing the crimson wave.

Vintage Kotex Tampons

Vintage Tampax

My sale paled in comparison to some of the other feminine hygiene products that have sold for a lot more. To support my opinion that eBay is a crapshoot, two different auctions for a nearly identical box of vintage Modess went for $132.50 on May 14 (15 bids) and a whopping $251.50 (27 bids) a week later. All of those bidders who lost out on the first auction likely caused this bidding frenzy.

Vintage Moddess

A seller who typically sells mundane stuff for low prices listed a Hatchet Man Insane Clown Posse-shaped Cheeto at the urging of his or her daughter. The teenager found it in a bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. The starting bid was $1.20 and 39 bids later, it went for a flaming hot $10,100! I have to wonder if this was a prank – the high bidder had feedback of only two and the item jumped from $110 to $7308.80 two days before the auction ended on April Fools’ Day, 2015!

Weird Cheeto

Why would anyone buy an uncooked chicken egg with a weird shell deformity? Well, apparently this oddity rocked a lot of peoples’ boats, because it started out at $9.99 and after 118 bids, sold for $800.00!

Weird Chicken Egg

Glory Hallelujah!

Religion sells, but I am amazed by the prices some things net – aren’t faith and spirituality more important than mere objects? I am flabbergasted that a 10-year-old grilled cheese sandwich with a likeness of the Virgin Mary sold for $28,000., an online UK casino obviously wanted this piece of pop culture very badly. Personally, I think it bears far more resemblance to Greta Garbo than to the Virgin Mary.

Virgin Mary Grilled Cheese

Virgin Mary or Greta Garbo

The casino also won an old VW Golf that was driven by Cardinal Josef Ratzinger before he became Pope Benedict XVI. After that auction listing racked up 10 million views in May 2005, the online casino snagged it for $244,590.831! They subsequently put the “popemobile” up for auction in 2013, with the proceeds to benefit Habitat for Humanity Great Britain, but it didn’t meet the reserve, ending at just £14,300.00 ($21,898 at the current exchange rate).


Anatomical Oddities and Antiques

This category is of personal interest, but I cannot afford any pieces of significance. If you have visited the Morbid Anatomy Museum in Brooklyn, N.Y. or Obscura Antiques & Oddities in the East Village, you likely know this is a rather unusual niche area of collecting. People collect both human and animal oddities such as two-headed calves, human brain slices preserved in resin (probably not allowed on eBay), as well as antique medical items – from glass prosthetic eyes to Civil War-era amputation kits.

A hand painted, highly detailed German anatomical head, circa 1910 was listed for $3,960, but the seller accepted a lower offer. Not bad for a wood and plaster educational model that shows some age-related usage. What’s really cool about this piece is that the right side is detachable with removable brain parts.

Anatomical Model

I am not a big fan of animal taxidermy, especially when it is a stuffed pet. An unusual, 85-100-year old Pekingese dog was offered by a UK seller and sold for £795 or $1213.13 on May 26, 2015. Even if it isn’t your own beloved family pet, it seems a little creepy to have a pooch staring at you all day long.

Pekingese Dog

Animal anomalies are popular, but believe it or not, two headed calves are not that rare. Since I watched many episodes of the TV show Oddities, I know they are often gaffs (fakes), and full body mounts are far rarer than just the heads. A lucky sole bidder snagged a life size, two-headed full calf mount for the bargain price of $2,150.

Two Headed Calf

After selling on eBay for 18 years, I have come to the conclusion that nothing is too weird to sell or collect as long as it is legal, although eBay’s policy on that is ever-changing. But I am still pondering why the heck humans have the compulsion to acquire so much stuff!

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