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Saturday, November 1, 2008

Buying Sterling Flatware on eBay

Disclosure: The reader should take notice that this post contains opinions of the owners of Georgia Silver, a firm that sells many items on eBay. Although every effort has been made to present a fair assessment of the subject, the bias of the authors could affect the discussion.

The creation of eBay opened a single new market in which the forces of supply and demand operate on a worldwide basis. With respect to used sterling flatware, eBay comes closest to setting a true worldwide market price. However, when looking to buy a piece of sterling flatware on eBay, you have to be certain that you are comparing "apples to apples" among the various offered items. For example, the value of a Chantilly teaspoon offered by one seller could be quite different from the value of a Chantilly teaspoon offered by another seller. Here are some points to consider when buying.
  • Condition of the piece - This is probably the most important factor affecting value. A teaspoon offered by one seller might still be in its original wrapper while a teaspoon offered by another seller might have had an unfortunate encounter with a garbage disposal. The description offered by the seller is very important. Clear pictures of the piece(s) being offered should be included in the listing.

    Each seller will have a unique way of describing pieces. There are no exact definitions - one seller might use the word "excellent" only to define something that appears to be brand new while another seller might use the same term to describe a piece that has a few small abrasions and dents from light use.

    If the condition is not clear to you, ask the seller questions.

  • Monograms or other custom engraving - Many sellers will state in the listing whether or not there are monograms on a piece. If not, ask the seller about this specifically.

  • Size - Pieces come in different lengths and weights. Read the earlier posts on this blog, "About Forks" and "About Knives". Make sure you are buying the exact size and shape you need. Length measurements to the nearest 1/8 inch are best. A dinner fork generally has a much higher value than a luncheon fork, for example. If the seller did not provide sufficient details, ask questions. Don't rely on names like "luncheon" and "dinner". These mean different things to different people. Insist on specific measurements.

  • Color - Most sterling flatware is silver in color but a few patterns have optional gold "tinting".

  • Shipping - Most sellers add reasonable shipping charges. Some offer free shipping. Some will include a nominal charge for the shipping container or "handling". However, a few try to make significant extra profit with unreasonably high shipping charges. Make sure you understand what the shipping charges will be and factor these into your overall price consideration. Go to to calculate your own sample shipping charges and compare these with the seller's. Be sure to understand the seller's approach to shipping insurance and factor this into your analysis. If shipping charges are unclear, ask the seller a question.

  • Seller's feedback rating - the feedback rating is very important. You can generally feel more comfortable with a seller who has a large positive number (in the hundreds or thousands) AND whose percentage of positive feedback is 100% or very close to that. Read feedback comments posted by earlier buyers. Every seller has to start somewhere so you may encounter a new legitimate seller with a very low feedback number. In this case, study all details even more carefully.

Keep in mind that an eBay seller has to pay fees to eBay and PayPal. These could total over 15% of the sales price.

This post is a little long so we'll stop here but we'll be adding at least these other posts related to eBay:

  • Auction vs. Fixed-Price Format
  • Negotiating price
  • Using PayPal
  • eBay restrictions on sellers

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