One word can bring the dancing thought of undiscovered treasure through your mind, and it can also bring the crushing thought of buying a fake.
eBay has its place as a useful tool, but there are a few things to keep in mind. None of this will be news for experienced collectors, but is a short overview for people new to this hobby.
What is your goal?
Your goals when using eBay define whether or not you will have a successful experience there.
As a seller, I have been present on eBay as an engine to liquidate pieces that I felt no longer have a great opportunity for me to sell on my site. For these, I believe in true auction for the most part. I like to start the price very low and let the market settle on the final price. I lose money every time I do this, but this is not what my goal is. My goal is to convert an item into cash on a fixed time schedule and use that cash to operate my business. So that’s my goal: liquidate and take what the market gives me. As such I am not disappointed when I use eBay.
As well, there are people without any sword knowledge or experience that will find swords or inherit swords and simply liquidate them on eBay. As such you will be presented with a test of your skill: all risk in this case is yours as they have no knowledge to impart to you. It is an as-is sale.
All future upside and downside is yours as a buyer of such an item, so, test your skill, roll the dice and deal with the consequences or rewards. This is good eBaying.
There is a danger zone with eBay in several areas. You need to be aware of these as a buyer or a seller.
If selling, there are many scams from buyers. Back in the day, it was very easy for buyers to issue chargebacks on Paypal and leave a seller high and dry. I sold something once to eastern Europe (non-sword related), as soon as the item arrived he charged back on Paypal, got his money back and kept the item. There was nothing I could do about it. I just simply lost. For people used to honest transactions it was hard to understand how this could happen. But Paypal just had interest in protecting buyers as a priority vs. protecting sellers, and this fit their growth model, so you had to deal with it as a risk. I don’t know what the current status is as I rarely sell anything on eBay, but when I do I avoid areas of the world I personally consider high risk. Some sellers in the USA will sell and ship only to the USA as they feel safest in doing so, and it’s hard to argue with that approach. But as a seller, do some research and decide where in the world you want to make your item available and go from there. Paypal protection is also better now and this kind of chargeback I think is a lot harder for the buyer to accomplish.
In buying, you need to be aware of the fakes. Every few weeks I get an email from someone who is a first time buyer who has bought a fake and wants me to tell them what it is. Most of the time they accept what I have to say, but sometimes they are just mad that I am not giving them confirmation that they found a treasure.
I am not referring to period fakes made in Japan hundreds of years ago, but of modern Chinese fakes that are low quality and anyone who has studied for only a few weeks will be able to detect with ease.
There are numerous resources available on the internet to help you identify these, and you should make yourself aware of them before buying anything on eBay or at a local auction or garage sale. These items literally have no value. If you try to use one this can happen.
I put this video on my site a loooong time ago when it came out and it went viral, and broke my site. Now, it has a better home on Youtube.
It’s initially funny, but it shows that these things are extremely dangerous. An upper part of a sword breaking and flipping through the air can kill or maim the weilder or someone else. This guy did the world a service by demonstrating this.
Past this level of carelessly made Chinese fake sword, there are more subtle fakes that are sold with or without knowledge on the part of the seller. Those, are up to you to be aware of and figure out. That’s just normal eBay at work.
For others, eBay is just an easy to use storefront that gives them a wide range of customers and a lot of volume and helps them keep overhead down. So it’s effectively working as a website like any other website for any other dealer, with the shopping engine taken care of.
Some people though make a business of sucking up large quantities of swords, pulling out the best items by seeking highest level advice, and then dumping the lesser or problematic blades on eBay and let the market decide the value of those. There is nothing wrong with this business model, as a buyer you just need to be aware that it exists and in these cases that person is just filtering the best for themselves and returning the less marketable fish back to the ocean.
When buying into something that you think is speculation, a sword with a big name for instance… sometimes past owners have run that piece down to a negative conclusion and are dumping it back into the market after getting the bad news. It may have been bought and sold a few times at sword shows or on eBay in the past. It will eventually find its way to eBay again and into the hands of a new speculator and the cycle begins anew. So always remember, if it is new to your eyes it is not necessarily new to the market’s eyes. The questions may have been answered already for someone else.
The biggest things to worry about in my opinion are those that come from Japan and are on eBay being sold to the worldwide market. If the piece is papered and solid then it is probably fine, it’s just a vendor looking to expand their footprint worldwide. You need to use your judgment again, if this is just a simple storefront with authenticated blades, everything may be just normal.
However there are some vendors though that just steal photos from Japanese websites and put them on eBay at a certain percentage markup. If someone buys the item in question, they then go to the vendor and buy that piece themselves and ship it and keep the difference in prices. So it’s up to you to use something like Google Images to see if that piece can be located elsewhere on the web before you buy it on eBay if it is already inside Japan.
If a vendor has a sword in Japan and wants to sell it outside of Japan, there is a process that they need to go through which is deregistering the sword and exporting it. This is a headache of form filling and costs some money and time. Usually one needs a solid reason to do it.
So put on your common sense cap: (a) If this piece is coming out of Japan, (b) has an important smith’s name attached to it, (c) it has no authentication papers, and (d) is being dumped onto the foreign market, you need to really pause and think about how reasonable this sounds. If you are inside Japan it is very easy to access the top level expertise in the world or get such a piece authenticated, and you have hundreds of sword dealers who will give you cash for that blade if you walk in.
Sometimes eBay is home to a real discovery. I have bought a few times on eBay and had minor success and I know people who have found themselves nice treasures on eBay. Like many things, eBay is a just tool.
A circular saw is also a tool. It can be used to cut wood and build furniture. It can also be used to cut your hand off when improperly used.
The first step to using a tool is understanding the rewards and risks and the proper use of that tool. Your common sense is your biggest asset in this regard, and your greed is your biggest weakness.
If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.
— Sun Tzu
Your greed will always be telling you:
- today is my lucky day
- this is an undiscovered treasure
- I am getting something for nothing
Common sense will always be telling you:
- I cannot win the lottery, it’s mathematically impossible
- this is someone else’s discarded junk
- it’s worth exactly what you paid for it
Now, reality sits in some gray zone between these extremes. It’s up to you to find some balance between them and in that balance you will be able to succeed.
Perception is strong and sight weak.
— Miyamoto Musashi
The entire concept of modern marketing rests on what Musashi recognized centuries ago. Marketers today say perception is reality, and use that to take advantage of people. Good Generals take advantage of this in wartime, to show strength where they are weak and show weakness where they are strong and thereby impose their will over the enemy.
Musashi says that your perception is strong: this means that it is very easy to be deceived by the surface details of what you see. Sight is weak, means that it is difficult to recognize the truth. This lays out a task for the student to reverse these two so that their sight is stronger than their perception.
The warrior’s goal is to always cultivate the ability to see through the fog and get at the underlying truth. So you need to have that voice in your head constantly saying, think, think, think and to use your common sense to help you cut through that fog and recognize the truth.
What I hope to encourage in people then is to understand the psychology that leads to making bad decisions, and to understand that other people are motivated by goals that are in their own best interests. Keeping those things in mind will help people perceive the truth in all things.
Nurture the ability to perceive the truth in all matters. It is important to build up an intuitive judgment and understand true values. Be aware of those things which cannot be easily seen with the eye.
— Miyamoto Musashi
I tell people always, there isn’t anyone on eBay selling gold coins for $200/oz, no matter how much you promise to order in high volume.
It’s not in their best interests to sell a commodity at a discount to market price. And, this thought of getting something without paying for it, this is basic human nature, it’s greed. If you fall into greed, greed will lead you into bad decisions. So you need to know which little voices inside your head are your enemies and you need always to look at the circumstances of a sale and if it aligns with reality.
If you do stumble onto a gold coin being sold for $200 it needs to be in a reasonable situation where the person selling it doesn’t know it’s gold. Because if they do know it’s gold then it will sell for the price of gold. It can happen, but the more knowledgeable that seller is, the more likely they can recognize gold as being gold.
The Chinese knew that 2,000 years ago and it is still true today. Be aware of the voices in your head that will lead you astray by greed. Be aware of the motivations and knowledge level of the seller. Find some balance between them when you make your decisions.
I am never telling people to not look for that treasure, I am never telling them to stop picking up rocks and turning them over to see what’s on the other side. Sometimes treasure is indeed found, but it is usually found in reasonable circumstances.
And sometimes after all, it is your lucky day.
But there is a thing about luck: it comes to those who prepare and study.
Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.
The Romans knew that 2,000 years ago and it is still true today.
Prepare yourself, study, learn the subject matter, anticipate the standard potholes and problems and avoid them. If you do this, then you will have a good career collecting anything, no matter what the source of the item is, it will be that much harder to go wrong.
To secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands.
— Sun Tzu