The E-Sylum:  Volume 8, Number 31, July 17, 2005, Article 19


Last week, Dick Johnson asked, "After ten years what's
your opinion of eBay? Good or bad for numismatics?"

In response, Howard Spindel writes: "This is a bit of a hot button
for me. I'll try to keep this brief enough for publication!"

[I have edited this down further, but those wishing to correspond
with Howard on this matter can write to him at howard at

Howard continues: "My opinion is that eBay is, at best, a mixed
blessing for numismatics. For someone who knows what he is
doing, eBay is an opportunity to locate rare and unusual items
that he otherwise might never see. Furthermore, due to clueless
sellers and eBay's Buy It Now, occasionally one can buy a rare
coin for a fraction of its worth.

The downside is that eBay is dominated by clueless sellers and
clueless buyers, not knowledgable numismatists. Numismatic
fraud is rampant. Budding numismatists are easily turned off
permanently to our hobby the first time they bring a "rare" coin
won on eBay to a coin dealer and are told it's worth a fraction
of what they paid.

I have personally done considerably more than rail against the
situation. When the ANA and eBay announced their liaison
to better police numismatic auctions, I was happy to see the
recognition that a problem existed. eBay posted a new web
page where one could report problem auctions and tell why
that auction was a problem. I spent a few months reporting
problem auctions in two main areas:

1) common 1882 filled 2 shield nickels erroneously offered
as rare 1883/2, and

2) silver plated pot metal replicas of tough date Morgan
dollars with deceptive auctions designed to fool the unwary
into thinking they were receiving the real thing.

Much as I would have liked to report other numismatic frauds,
I have trouble keeping up with the eBay auctions I regularly
watch let alone taking on more. (If you think that these aren't
problem auctions, let me tell you that I've seen the pot metal
replicas sell as high as $450. The manufacturer of these
things only charges $15.)

During this time I did not see any effect from my reports.
Auctions proceeded to their conclusion and buyers were
defrauded. Occasionally, a seller would respond to my note
about the erroneous shield nickel attributions and voluntarily
take down his auction and thank me for the information.
Invariably, the sellers who did this were small time, certainly
never a Power Seller or a high feedback seller. The latter
probably don't care - they are laughing all the way to the bank.

To make matters worse, eBay recently changed their reporting
form so that when one reports a problem auction one can only
supply the auction number, not a reason for the report.
Perhaps they tired of reading my reports? How can eBay
possibly know why I reported an auction if they took away
the mechanism for doing so!

For those of you interested in reporting problem eBay auctions
on your own, the link is at the bottom of this page: eBay Link
where it says "Report problem auctions...".

In the last month I've seen a reduction in the pot metal replica
auctions. Perhaps I finally had some effect on them. I have no
way of knowing.

In the meantime, I will continue reporting problem auctions as
I have been. I am probably tilting at windmills. My hope is
that if enough people tilt at windmills eventually they have
enough power to topple them. Perhaps readers of The E-Sylum
will find a bit of Don Quixote within themselves and join me."

Ron Abler writes: "Count me among those who feel that the
advantages of eBay far outweigh the disadvantages. I started
collecting U.S. 1876 Centennial medals less than three years ago.
My collection is already quite extensive, enough for me to be
actively working on a book for publication. I attend as many
coin shows as I have time and resources to reach, and I peruse
the inventory of every coin shop I can walk into. Nevertheless,
I have obtained more than 90% of my collection off of eBay.
I conduct 20 different searches on eBay at least every other
day, sifting every possible way to net even the most poorly
described or incorrectly categorized medal.

After more than 600 eBay transactions, I have had only two
unsatisfactory experiences. Other than that, my eBay experience
has been all positive. I have purchased Centennial medals
which are totally unlisted and unknown, even to major dealers.
I have gotten to know many many sellers whose knowledge
and customer service rival any of the store-front dealers I
know. And I have done most of it from the comfort and
convenience of my own home office, with my collection, my
numismatic library, and the research potential of the Internet
immediately at hand. Try that at a show or in a dealer's shop!

I believe that eBay has provided an extraordinary leveling
service that has brought hitherto unknown material to the
marketplace, educated users in the ever-changing laws of
supply and demand, and opened markets previously unknown
and/or unavailable to collectors and dealers alike. With a
modicum of common sense and a large dose of caveat emptor,
anyone can benefit from eBay to a degree that, in my opinion,
outweighs the risks. In fact, I have been duped far more
often in the past by store-front dealers than I ever have on

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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