Buying Tools Secondhand
Ebay differs from conventional secondhand sellers, flea markets, garage sales and so on. You don’t pick up the tool, twist it around, flex the steel or ping it with a flicked finger to hear solidity, as you do on location with the seller in front of you. So, just what do you need to look for when you buy your secondhand or new on eBay?
There is vernacular used on eBay that should pop up a red flag. I literally just went through some of the terms currently used on eBay this evening. Here are my brief thoughts:
Vintage – is the single most common and acceptable term used in connection with anything old on eBay, but just because that’s so, don’t necessarily think it means everything you see or even anything at all. You should look for additional corroboration in the tool itself, split nuts, brass instead of steel studs, zinc-plate substitutes, handle shapes, wood and steel colour and things like this. “Old’ and “vintage” mean different things to different people. Sellers frequently use these two terms, but it is your responsibility as the possible buyer to try as much as possible to authenticate the reality behind the claims. Vintage and old are relative terms and mean absolutely nothing on eBay.
Antique – is less acceptable as a legit term because of context and accountability. If we were to follow the US Customs law for a definition half the saws would be removed. US Customs law states an antique must be 100 years old prior to the date of purchase. In the UK we generally accept the same term as acceptable. Saws that look old because of greasy dirt and grime doesn’t mean old, antique or vintage at all. Follow the criteria for Vintage above.
Rare – does not mean rare in most cases. It can mean the seller didn’t see one before but it is likely the seller is limited in actual knowledge. You must do your own research before buying, to see if rare fits the particular tool you are looking at. Tools can be more scarce than rare.
Superior, Primitive, Early, Old, Very fine, Fine and so on – are all relevant terms on eBay. Adjectives like these have become quite generic, sometimes they do substitute for truth and honesty but mostly they are little more than bulking.
Drop-dead Stunning – These terms are more irritating than reality. Overseas sellers mostly adopt these types of openings. Look beyond the opening statement to the start price and then at the shipping costs. It’s here that reality hits.
Check for location – Overseas shipping can be prohibitive. Many costs are indeed highly inflated, most often because the seller can’t be bothered offering the real shipping costs or they don’t want to fill out customs, package for overseas and so on. I do click the button for the country I am in before I begin my searching unless that restricts me for some reason. Most often it is as irritating to find the seller is in the US it is for buyers in the US.
Images of Deception – are easy to manipulate the way we perceive the product. Honest images are the most helpful. As an example, some saws are shot from the end toward the handle. This makes the saw look longer than it is. One image of a gents saw regularly sold on ebay gets me every time. It looks like a 10’ saw yet it is only 6”; not a saw I would buy. It’s an attractive image, well taken, good colour and sharp. I can’t really fault the picture at all, but it still looks 4” longer than it is.
Pitting, cracks, chips dents are sometimes described as “the usual” and sometimes not shown in images. This can be deceptive, not always, but I think more often than not. Just look at the image and ask yourself the right questions. I am sure that often enough the images are not intended to deceive, but being open to the possibility helps to see things more realistically.
Some sellers often use old images of tools that are not current to the new. I have found many makers and distributors using images of former products to sell current products that look similar but are not the same. Marples chisels sold by distributors are often sold with the old bluechip chisel image even though when you receive them they will say Irwin Marples on them. That’s because the old ones were made in Sheffield by Record Marples using Sheffield steel and the current ones are made in Asia. The profits for Irwin Marples, which should be Irwin really tripled when they went to overseas manufacturing because they kept the brand without the integrity of the former company that was bought out. Other companies do the same. I have exposed Nicholson US, the manufacturer of files who’s long-standing reputation meant nothing to the current owners and this is proved by their making the files south of the border in Mexico. There are more.