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eBay - A Stamp Buyers Guide to Reality

Here's a recent buy I made on eBay and my reasoning behind it:

Wellington College Station Squared Circle Postmark

Wellington College Station Squared Circle Postmark

A fairly unremarkable postcard in itself I must admit. However, I'm currently working toward a complete collection of the railway station squared circle postmarks known to have been used and this Wellington College Station postmark is one of the better known of the type.

The postcard was sent from Crowthorne (single ring cds postmark on front) which at the time routed its outgoing mail through Wellington Park Station. The station office applied the mark to cancel the penny lilac stamp. Bound for the town of Arendal at the southern tip of Norway, a nice arrival mark sits alongside the squared circle. It's impressive to note how the card got to Arendal just two days after it was posted back in 1901. Nothing I send to Norway today gets delivered that quick and my post goes by air!

Postmarks on Victorian era postcards are almost always to be valued at a significant premium compared to Edwardian cards for simple maths reasons. The real explosion in UK postcard use occured after the accession of Edward VII and a relaxation of GPO rules concerning postcard use took effect. People then began using postcards in much the same way as we now use text messaging.

Now I'm obviously very pleased to be adding this card to my growing postmark project. I'm also happy that I've purchased something which, while unique in itself, is also quite rare of its type and likely to be in demand after I've shuffled off this fabulous blue marble. It's doubtful that many victorian era postcards receiving this key station postmark went to small towns in Scandinavia and, of those that did, most will not have survived for over a century. So, at the price being asked, this was a "no brainer" for me.

I don't build this type of collection to make money but, that said, I don't want my investment of time, effort and cash to lose me money either. First and foremost the theme of a new collection has to interest me and present enough of a challenge to sustain my enthusiasm. Only then does a sense of values about relevant material become important and part of the challenge.

So, when I gave my judgement about the rarity and likely prospects of this card earlier, I wasn't trying to justify a high future price tag to you. It's an illustration of the judgement call I make about most of my collectable purchases and, having watched "lemmings" get in to bidding wars for some questionable items on eBay lately, something I believe a lot of collectors should think carefully about.

By having a simple, disciplined thought processs govern my buying decisions I can avoid costly mistakes. For example, I hope to avoid the common trap of buying high volume items as they are issued if I judge future demand is unlikely to support their value. I don't want to be the sucker that lets sales hype blind me to reality. This doesn't mean I avoid such items if they will fit in to a collection, it's just that they are usually best bought some time later once their popularity and price have fallen in real terms to a level the market will sustain. Call me careful if you like. Also, note that I'm not saying ALL new issue items are poor value. If I judge something new will prove popular and more than likely maintain that popularity in future then, believe me, I will be "in like Flynn" at the start too.

However, back to the postcard featured. I picked this card up as a "Buy it Now" on eBay for about half the cost of the Animail sheet being issued by Royal Mail this week. Does that comparison sound like I've achieved good value? Only time will tell. The important thing is I, the buyer on eBay, am very happy and I feel I've taken advantage of an opportunity eBay provided.

Back in the day, when I had all my hair, such buying opportunities didn't come along very often at all. There was no internet. Many people lament the old "wild west" days on eBay and use every opportunity they can to portray it today as a nest of vipers. Is this fair to eBay? Is trying to put you off buying on eBay really being fair to you?

I accept eBay will attract the bad guys as will any successful sales venue obviously and I dont deny crooks are always a threat. But, in my experience, there's usually an unspoken selfish motivation behind those people who repeatedly make the same old rubbishing remarks specifically about eBay rather than the internet in general. Worse still, I watch some well known stamp dealers regularly refer to users of eBay in some fairly nasty, insulting terms which astounds me. Don't they realise they're insulting most of their living customer base? These people rarely provide a bit of balance by pointing out that, if you've ever wanted to meet some genuinely top class scammers, con artists and thieves, then attending some of the major stamp shows down the years will have served you very well.

So it's my belief that you just need to be as careful on eBay as you would be anywhere else. Don't automatically believe everything you're told by eBay sellers in their listings. Use your knowledge, judgement and the picture enlargements. If you have questions then ask them. Remember, on eBay, unlike most stamp fairs or exhibition trade stands, the seller may know a lot less about the item they've listed than you do. Accept that reperfs and fakes WILL be listed for sale, whether by accident or design, and the age old rule of "buyer beware" is still important.

On eBay, like any other venue, your own knowledge and experience can serve you well but, on the flip side, ignorance or naivety can cost you dear. Funny how the eBay haters say little when someone celebrates the misdescribed item they picked up for peanuts but quickly reach for the Oxford Dictionary of Profanity when someone buys a pup that's been misdescribed. The guy who spots a sellers mistake to make a killing is a "genius" worthy of much back slapping while the guy who didn't spot a sellers mistake and buys badly is never a fool worthy of custard pies in the face, but claims victim of eBay status instead... Hmmmm.

Compared to a stamp or postcard fair where you've probably parted with legal tender, on eBay you are very well protected if things go pear shaped a few days later. Provided you NEVER let yourself get talked in to any other form of payment than Paypal, you can get your money back almost always if you fall for a fake or never receive the item. Is using Paypal an unreasonable restriction to suggest to buyers? Well, if you're the kind of person who's happy to send cash in an envelope to a "dealer" you've never met with no guarantees then who am I to suggest what's reasonable or sensible?

There are no end of eBay sellers who feel the buyers are given too much of a whip hand by eBay and Paypal now when it comes to buyer returns and refunds. I understand the pain they feel when a package is lost or gets damaged in transit. It's even worse when a seller suspects a buyer is fraudulently claiming not to have received something.

Despite the pain and sympathy I have for sellers in these cases I'm afraid I have to say "Welcome to reality". Ask all the online retailers if they like the legal obligations they have under the Law and I'm sure they would like some pain relief too. Ask retailers in every high street if they like their shoplifters, those ladies who always seem to return dresses a day after they go to a party or those pick pockets buying stuff with other peoples bank cards? These - let's call them "thieves & fraudsters" as a collective noun - are threats that are real, real common, and really need to be priced in to every business model. This means the vast majority of good honest people will end up paying the distorted cost created by the tiny minority. That's the way it works. If you are one of the complaining sellers in question but still continue listing on eBay then I suspect you already knew.

The postcard I highlighted at the beginning is far from the only such bargain I've picked up on eBay recently and I find several equally remarkable listings every month. I guess these are there to be found because the eBay collectables categories attract a lot of sellers trying to be "jack of all trades" who inevitably list items without knowing their true worth. It also seems they remain on eBay long enough to find because many buyers of stamps and covers aren't willing to acquire some detailed knowledge about their chosen philatelic niches. Such knowledge enables you to drill down and carefully search the richer seams of eBay listings. This is what you need to do if you want to find these nuggets regularly rather than just stumble across the odd lucky find once in a while.

As my Dad once told me; "Your real successes in life rarely come from the advice of a salesman, following the crowd or trusting in luck. Your own good judgement is by far the best thing to rely on.

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eBay - A Stamp Buyers Guide to Reality

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