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From shoes for the kids to rare coins and oddities — everything’s for sale. Learning the ins and outs of buying and selling on the world’s No. 1 auction site

I found it on

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By Jody Ewing
February 27, 2003

The warning was clear: “Do not bid on this painting if you are susceptible to stress related disease, faint of heart or are unfamiliar with supernatural events.”

The description for the item on eBay’s online auction site went on to say that by bidding on the haunted painting, buyers agreed to release the owners of all liability for any occurrences that somehow might be connected to the painting.

A basic search on eBay brings up the weird, strange and downright bizarre … 24 children, anyone?

The lure proved most effective; more than 13,000 captivated visitors took time to view pictures of the painting — that of a young boy and girl standing before a window, the girl’s eyes black and hollow while sinister, bodiless hands reached toward them from beyond the dark window pane. Final chilling price: $1,025.

If you have a computer in your home, chances are you have ventured a visit to eBay’s website, whether to buy, sell, or sneak a quick peek as to what the brouhaha is all about. A global marketplace for buyers, a capitalistic paradise for sellers, eBay has become the one-stop shop for anything money can buy — and sometimes, for what it can’t.

With hundreds of categories and millions of items, eBay shoppers can find anything, from Pez dispenser collections to rare coins, odd auctions (one recently featured a “wife and kids” but was pulled by the company) to vintage toys and Stride Rite shoes for the kids. And it’s happening more than ever. On any given day, there are more than 12 million items listed on eBay, according to the company. In 2002, eBay members transacted $14.9 billion in annualized gross merchandise sales.

Charting your course from search to sale

What it cost

We asked Lee Holmes to itemize what it cost him to build up his collection of World War II memorabilia on eBay.

Marine Corps helmet The M-1 Front Seam Fixed Bales Helmet with liner, leather strap and camouflage cover was $35. It retails for about $85 for the set.

1940 Garand M-1 rifle While eBay does not allow the sale of firearms, Holmes bought the gun at a gunshow for $300 and has used eBay to buy accessories for it.

Field Transport Pack Utilized by Marines, this pack consists of a haversack (top pack) and a lower pack ($58 for both) that includes clothing, personal items, eating utensils and enough rations to last approximately three days. The two packs are surrounded by a blanket roll consisting of a 1945 camouflage shelter half ($110), blanket ($45), 3-section tent pole ($15), five tent pegs ($15), one guy line, and also includes a 1945 entrenching tool and cover ($35). A complete pack in mint condition runs for about $400.

Timex watch Made between 1940 and 1950 – $42

World War II Grenade De-milled pineapple grenade – $9.95

World War II bayonet Original 10-inch blade uncut attaches to the end of the rifle. Cost: $55

Cartridge belt 1944 Marked and Dated Marine Corps belt: $56

HBT (Herringbone Twill) WWII utility uniform: HBT (Herringbone Twill) U.S. Marine Corps uniform that was part of the WWII utility uniform. A mint set would fetch around $300-$400 total on eBay. Lee paid $56 for the jacket, $75 for the pants, and $91 for a short-billed cap, which is very rare and worth more than $100.

Boots Lee is still actively seeking a pair of USMC ruff-out boots, size 10, to complete his WWII uniform. Vietnam jungle boots are part of his budding Vietnam collection.

Brown bandolier Six pockets, holds 6 clips (which hold bullets) and 6 cardboards (which go inside the pockets). For 8 bandoliers, 48 clips and 48 cardboards (8 sets) $69.64. Each set runs between $8 – $35 on eBay, depending on date.

Springfield Armory Trigger Housing Group $62.

1942 Canteen The canteen and cover $49.

Lee Holmes, a Vietnam veteran who spent 20 years with the Marine Corps, currently is using eBay to build a World War II collection of wartime memorabilia.

“EBay is a good place to find things,” says Holmes, who also owns a 1940 Garand M-1 rifle purchased elsewhere due to eBay’s restriction on firearms sales. “The guns can be picked up at gun shows and then the accessories picked up on eBay.”

His compilation includes a 1945 camouflage reversible shelter half with U.S. Marine Corps metal fasteners, a 1943 SM Company canteen, a 1942 Boyte Colt .45 caliber holster, a de-milled pineapple grenade and a 1942 Handy-Pad first aid packet. He also purchased — in a series of separate auctions — the necessary effects to complete a full WWII Herringbone Twill (HBT) utility uniform. The set includes the jacket, pants, the very rare HBT short-billed hat and the legging spats (gaiters), which were made in 1941, but never issued.

Rounding out the set is a 1939 Timex wind-up military watch, purchased for $42 — in good working condition.

Holmes uses eBay’s ‘Browse’ feature to fine-tune his search for other needed components. After clicking on the “militaria” category under browse, the following screen offers a sub-menu listing eras as well as specific conflict dates. From there, users can enter individual words or phrases to define their search even further.

When it comes to authenticity, Holmes cites trust as a vital element.

“I have probably three people that I use to a certain extent because I know I can trust what they’ve got,” he says. “It might cost a little more but I know I’ll get the right items and that they’ll be as described. You learn very quickly who you can trust and who you can’t.”

Holmes first learned this lesson after winning a 1915S penny on eBay, which book value listed for as high as $85. Holmes’ winning bid was for $18, but when three weeks passed and the penny didn’t arrive, he suspected the seller had discovered its true value. When contacted, the seller said he had lost the penny but offered Holmes a 1912S instead — worth about $45 — and Holmes accepted the offer, though crossed the seller off of his list of trusted dealers.

Selling and building a reputation

It is building that level of trust that enables some sellers to effectively compete on eBay and establish regular clientele. Sam and Leila Padgett of Alden, Kan., had recently adopted two boys and were looking for supplemental income so Leila could stay home with the boys. Having had experience with eBay before, they decided to give it a try.

“It puts what you have in front of a lot bigger crowd,” says Padgett, an inspector packer for the insulation company Johns Manville. “The only disadvantage [for the buyer] is not touching or seeing the item firsthand.”

The couple specializes in new or next-to-new clothing and collectibles such as antiques, coins, and other hard to find items. They have focused on three selling elements to keep their venture on track: pictures, honest descriptions and honest shipping.

“A good picture is worth a lot, so get a good camera if you’re going to sell,” says Padgett. “Be honest in the listings and give a good description. If you feel a person will be unhappy with the purchase, don’t sell the item. And always check shipping rates.”

With the recent postal increase, many sellers began adding handling fees to offset the higher rates or didn’t list rates at all. Options are available, however, where the seller may insert a shipping chart that predetermines actual charges based on the buyer’s zip code.

Holmes agrees. “Legitimate sellers use lots of pictures, give detailed descriptions and are honest about reserve prices,” he says. “Sometimes a seller will show a different picture than what the item really is — that should be questioned. It’s a big red flag.”

Follow-ups and feedback

Most auctions clearly state up front the terms and conditions and methods of acceptable payment. Many sellers who previously accepted checks now have gone to “PayPal,” an eBay service that gives non-merchant sellers the ability to accept credit card payments. The service is free to buyers, though sellers pay a flat fee plus commission. Sellers who still accept checks usually wait up to 10 or more days to ensure the check will clear.

Feedback is an integral part of eBay, allowing both the seller and buyer to rate the transaction and offers comments about its outcome. EBay strongly encourages its users to try and resolve any dispute before leaving negative feedback; once left, it is nearly impossible to have it removed.

As positive feedback builds, so does the tendency to become what is called an “eBay addict.” One sale or purchase leads to another, and soon, other purchases are needed to offset a particular sale. Such was the case with the haunted painting; once sold, the seller faced a new dilemma.

“We want our house to be blessed after the painting is gone,” they wrote. “Does anybody know, who is qualified to do that?”

One can bet they’ll find them on eBay.


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