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April 2003: Power Selling

Extra Fine Points Index  ]

BY DON FLUCKINGER • I am an eBay Power Seller. For most people, that’s a badge of honor. For me, it's funny. Just plain funny.

Do you know what being an eBay Power Seller entails? Having sustained sales into the thousands of dollars, three months in a row. Then eBay gives you special access to selling tools, message boards, extra customer service, and use of the Power Seller logo, which combined with a five-dollar bill gets one a nice venti latte at Starbucks.

eBay Power Sellers get use of the Power Seller logo, which combined with a five-dollar bill gets one a nice venti latte at Starbucks. Extra Fine Points

Oh, and your feedback can’t be pockmarked with bad comments, either.

I know this from personal experience. See, most people earn their Power Seller stripes the old-fashioned way: By building a business one click at a time. Your pile gets bigger, and after a while the buying-and-selling train hits a certain critical mass and boom! You’re a Power Seller.

But I’m not most people. For me, the Power Seller thing happened as a byproduct of my compulsive collecting. Buy too much. Sell some of what I bought, even though if I had my druthers I’d keep it all. Pens. Watches. Baseball cards. The height of my folly came last year, when in a couple months’ span I picked up a lot of about 50 Sheaffer fountain pens from a guy in Indiana who was liquidating a large collection, a couple dozen Conway Stewarts from David Wells — great stuff, by the way — and three cases of this baseball-card product called SP Legendary Cuts. Not boxes, but 14-box cases. Super high-end baseball cards featuring things like real, honest-to-goodness cut signatures from Joe DiMaggio’s personal checks. Also signatures from Honus Wagner, Ford Frick, Tyrus “The Georgia Peach” Cobb, Ruth, Gehrig, Maris, Musial, Eddie Collins, Mickey Mantle, and anyone else of any consequence during the last fifteen decades of big-league ball.

Problem was, none of this came free. Or even cheaply, for that matter. My spree was fun for a time. Then the credit card bill rolled in — and my eyes popped out.

Immediately my eBay instincts sprang into action. In a panic, I listed everything. The Conways? Gone. The DiMaggio cut signature card? Gone, as well as the Mickey Mantle card with a hunk of a game-used bat, the Johnny Mize auto, and a box of 1,100 base cards. The pot full of Sheaffers? Gone, except for a Crest that got me on the road to collecting Triumph/Crest/Valiants, which I’m still doing today.

All of a sudden, eBay started cuddling up to my email box. Congratulations! You’re a movie star! Here are the privileges you’ve earned! And in the regular mail came a folio full of junk explaining the details of the Power Seller program and making it clear to me just how exclusive a club I had just joined. Or, in my case, underlining just how unprecedented this financial hole was I’d dug for myself.

That was last year about this time. You’d think I’d have learned my lesson by now. But no. See, I just bought a motorcycle online. In St. Louis, of all places. To fly there, pick it up, pay for it, and ride it back, I’ve been eBaying stuff like a crazy man the last eight weeks. Pocket watches — all railroads, a sweet box lot (all running) that I picked up from a Florida dealer. Perhaps my collection of autographed Red Sox caps might have to go, too.

And say goodbye to a positively dynamite Parker “51” Flighter, another of which I will probably get someday, but I know the replacement will never be half as classy as this pen. This one is in tremendous condition, and Richard did a heck of a job restoring it. It’s probably just a pretty good Flighter, but you know how absence makes the heart grow fonder? I haven’t even shipped this baby and it’s already become a legend in my own mind.

Fountain pen

Because of my compulsive ways, this gorgeous piece becomes just another visitor here, rather than a permanent resident of my several collections of antiquities. Or vintagiquities, if you’re one of those curmudgeons who claim a piece isn’t an antique unless the people who first owned it could legitimately be called “colonists.”

Anyway, this push-pull cycle of acquisition and liquidation isn’t much of a plan for building a collection. Technically, it builds very quickly — but just as quickly, it contracts again, the way Internet stocks have done in the days since those crazy late-1990s IPOs.

The one upside is that, along the way, you get to fondle a lot of stuff that ultimately, you really don’t need. Easy come, easy go. Set it free for someone else to enjoy.

Until I discovered eBay, I never understood fishermen who did the catch-and-release thing. Now, however, it makes perfect sense. It’s the same thing I did with the Flighter. And the DiMaggio auto. And the Conway Stewarts. Catch and release back into that great stream of other people’s disposable income floating by the “My eBay” page.

So, back to the story: If you do enough of this sort of thing, eBay CEO Meg Whitman sends you a congratulatory certificate suitable for framing and hanging on the wall. Which I did. It’s not a merit badge as much as it is a reminder that I should just say no to more bids, more watches, more pens, more motorcycles, and more certified autographed sports cards. “Given In Recognition for Outstanding Performance & Professionalism,” it says.

Indeed. If good old Meg only knew the half of it.

cover cover Further reading: Consuming Passions: Help for Compulsive Shoppers, by Ellen Mohr Catalano, Nina Sonenberg (Contributor); and I Shop, Therefore I Am: Compulsive Buying and the Search for Self, by April Lane Benson (Editor)

Are you someone who buys way too much stuff? These heavy-duty analyses of the human mind explain the driving forces behind the phenomenon and offer professional advice on how to put a crimp on your own excesses. For Richard’s sake, please hold off on buying these babies until after the Chicago Pen Show.

Freelance writer Don Fluckinger lives in Nashua, New Hampshire, and is the son-in-law of Richard Binder. His articles have been published in Antiques Roadshow Insider, The Boston Globe, and on the collectibles Web site. Please note: Any opinions stated in this column are Don’s alone and do not necessarily reflect those of Richard Binder or this Web site. Don Fluckinger
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