Part 1: How To Hit A Home Run Selling On eBay

May 12 2014, 11:23am CDT | by

There may come a day when you want to sell on eBay to cover the cost of a purchase or simply to earn a little extra cash. Even if someone like your teenage son can do the work for you, you need to follow one simple rule that I do, drawing from my years of experience and interviews with many sellers: unless you are absolutely certain of an item’s value, put it in an auction and stay the course.  When it comes to the truly rare and desirable, in almost all cases, water reaches its natural level.

Holly Holbrook from Alliance, Ohio makes her primary living selling on eBay because it allows her to be a stay-at-home mom. Each week she attends an auction to buy items for resale, from antique bed spreads to wall phones. This spring she happened upon an estate auction filled with sports relics. Holly beat out two other bidders to win a $47.50 lot containing a mini Pete Rose bat, an assortment of golf balls with logos, and a vintage Mickey Mantle store model baseball glove in very nice shape.

Mickey Mantle stands out as one of the most popular players of all time, right up there with Babe Ruth. And her glove was a top-of-the-line Rawlings personal model; the best money could buy in the 1960s. Holly looked up similar gloves on eBay. “I always try to research the value of my items before I purchase them and was hopeful I would receive $300 to $400,” she wrote me.

But this was not just any Mantle personal model glove, but an extremely rare XPGH model with a rolled-lace “PRO-STYLE H-WEB,” the closest retail version to Mantle’s actual playing glove. In 1999, the comedian and film star Billy Crystal paid $239,000 in a Sotheby’s auction for virtually an identical glove which Mantle had used in the mid-1960s. (This scarce pro model was also favored for a time by another Hall of Famer, Brooks Robinson.) Just a handful of XPGHs have ever surfaced in the hobby because Rawlings only produced them in 1968 in, apparently, limited quantities.

In the week-long auction 30 bids drove the final price to $2,425. “This sale definitely ranks number one on my list!” Holly wrote me. “I did have an idea that it was special, but it far exceeded my expectations.”  She and the happy winner both thanked God for smiling on them.

Meanwhile, another seller was probably kicking himself. Two months earlier he had sold an XPGH, albeit in inferior condition, for $350 through eBay’s Make an Offer option. This tool gives the seller an option of allowing buyers to submit their best offer for consideration; the seller has 48 hours to accept, decline, or make a counteroffer. Another tool, Buy It Now (BIN), sets a fixed price for immediate purchase. “Better a quick nickel than a slow dime,” an antiques dealer once told me. But had this seller waited a few more days for an auction to end, who knows how much more money he would have earned?

In the Internet age, it’s easy to do your homework. A quick search of the Mantle XPGH will take you to a discussion on the Vintage Baseball Glove Forum back in 2008 when collectors chided an unknown and untutored seller for selling one for $50 through BIN that surely would have topped $1000. This glove ended up selling privately to a collector for $1800.

There are no guarantees in life. I’ve occasionally been disappointed by auction results for my pieces. And I know dealers who snag great baseball cards at sharp discounts in the right week. Even so, the biggest moral of these stories is that if you think you have something special, let the natural laws of supply and demand determine the price.

Over the years, my passion for collecting vintage store model baseball gloves has led me to buy and sell hundreds of them and keep track of the market. In 2010, a husband and wife from Caribou, Maine went to a garage sale and found a rare early 1900s Spalding “tornado palm” baseball with circular stitching and sold it through an auction on eBay for $7699. “They asked the homeowner if they could take a look around,” wrote Rich Mueller in Sports Collectors Daily.  “They had no idea of its rarity or value and managed to avoid the temptation of ending the auction early for a low ball offer from collectors who tried to snare a bargain.” This past summer an equally rare, late1880s Spalding “tipped” finger catcher’s glove from Manchester, New Hampshire went for $7700 on eBay.

Last fall, a seller named Lisa in rural Missouri, who preferred to remain anonymous, learned the auction lesson the hard, if ultimately, happy, way.  She discovered a “fingerless” baseball glove, the first protection for catchers’ hands in the 1880s. In the auction’s first few minutes, an unscrupulous collector convinced her to end her auction early with a BIN price of $200, raising the ire of collectors on the baseball glove forum who bombarded Lisa with emails  alerting her to the big mistake she had made. She immediately canceled the deal and relisted the glove with an accurate description written by a friendly glove forum member.

The winning bid was $7200. “I have been hesitant to discuss this glove because it was a lucky attic find and this is a small town,” Lisa wrote me. “I won it fair and square at an auction and it was our good fortune that no one felt like going in the attic that day.” And it was Lisa’s good fortune to have friends on the forum, one of whom acknowledged her for “letting the auction run to completion, as everyone should.”

Stay tuned for future tips on buying and selling on eBay.


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