When I started selling some of my old stuff on EBay, I vowed I would never buy. After all, that would defeat my purpose--I wanted less stuff, not more, a good intention that lasted precisely three weeks.
I soon discovered that things I had been searching for at swap meets and antique malls were easily found on EBay. For instance, I have quite a nice collection of California gardening paraphernalia, such as old seed catalogs and vintage lawn sprinklers. Do you know how few sprinklers one finds at antique malls?
The first time I tried searching EBay for lawn sprinklers, I turned up nearly a hundred old-timers. Notice I said "lawn" sprinklers. It turns out that there are also collectible laundry sprinklers, fire sprinklers and "Boris the Sprinkler" vinyl recordings. It's important to be as specific as possible when searching EBay or you will turn up hundreds or even thousands of useless leads (be too specific, though, and you may exclude too many treasures).
It was while searching for items similar to what I was planning on selling that I started discovering things such as sprinklers. Maybe I'd try bidding on just one or two. After all, I was making money on EBay, so I might as well spend a little. And sprinklers couldn't cost that much. Just look at how cheap the starting bids were.
Experienced sellers on EBay know they can lure buyers into bidding with really low "starting" bids. Once they're hooked, the competition between bidders begins, and the prices rapidly rise. Something that starts at $1.99 may end up costing hundreds.
My first bid was for the coolest sprinkler I have ever seen. The rusty-red revolving part was shaped exactly like an arrow pointed at the heavens, and the base was pure Art Deco. It looked more like a prop from an old Flash Gordon episode than a rotating sprinkler from the 1920s.
I absolutely had to have it. I could even visualize where it would sit in my office.
I started bidding, and when the price exceeded $100, I swallowed hard but vowed to be fearless
and countered with $150, confident that no one else would be that crazy. Who would spend $150 for a sprinkler? Up until now I'd never paid more than a couple of bucks for any one sprinkler, and my whole collection of several dozen sprinklers had probably cost me less than a hundred.
But I was outbid in the last seconds of the auction. I was so stunned I couldn't recover fast enough to counter! Even though I was willing to pay a week's wage (well, not quite) for this sprinkler, I had lost the most wonderful sprinkler in the whole land.
I was inconsolable, moaning to my wife that I would never enjoy watering the garden again, because it would remind me of this lost love.
I was convinced that some kind of skulduggery was afoot, so I boldly e-mailed the victor and simply asked her how she beat me so near the end. Did she have some kind of computer bidding utility that automatically put in a bid at the very last second? I needed to rationalize my loss.
No, she cordially replied, she simply kept refreshing her screen, and at the very last instant placed her bid, which beat mine by a trifling $2.50. (Neither of us knew that there is, in fact, a program that places bids at the last possible moment, a process called "sniping," found on esnipe.com).
A week later, another amazing sprinkler came up for auction. It was a tiny brass one named "the Jewel," and it had a nifty little propeller on top. I bid much less this time, since it was such a small sprinkler. But again I lost, this time because I was not paying attention at the end.
This bidding thing was a lot harder than it looked! I was having no luck at all.
Most of the other sprinklers offered at auction weren't all that exciting, and many were in really poor shape, but every now and then another "jewel" appeared.
I next bid on a Double Rotary lawn sprinkler that must be seen to be appreciated. Double Rotary sprinklers are complicated gadgets that are gear-driven and slowly turn. In addition, the water stream hits a spinning wheel, which scatters the water everywhere--thus "Double Rotary." It is similar to a modern pulsating sprinkler, but more elaborate.
I was determined to win the Double Rotary, even though I was up against some EBay aces. When you sell or buy on EBay, you get "feedback," and this shows up as a number after your EBay name. It is a pretty good indicator of how often you have bid or sold. I was still a newcomer, with only a 17 after my name, but I was up against some real heavyweights with 154 or 207 after their names.
It didn't look good, and, sure enough, I went running from the ring when the price soared to more than $200. I was clearly out of my league. I had no idea sprinklers were such a hot item. Beaten and humbled, I began to look for other, more affordable categories.
I have a lot of nice old garden tools, so I starting searching EBay for garden tools but soon realized that these were also too expensive for my collecting budget.