Buying Advice (con't)

See Seller's Other Auctions

This is possibly the most valuable tool for vetting a seller. You should always use it. It tells you so much about the seller. Forgery dealers mostly concentrate on the bigger stars and ignore lesser celebrities. Many genuine dealers may have a large number of items for sale, but these will include (in the case of entertainment) many supporting actors and actresses, or lesser-known band members. They are only likely to have a few top stars at any one time. It's not completely impossible for a dealer to have the autographs of Madonna, Michael Jackson, Paul McCartney, Britney Spears, Harrison Ford, Sean Connery, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Mel Gibson, Tom Cruise, Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Julia Roberts, Hayden Christensen, Viggo Mortensen, Muhammad Ali and Tiger Woods all at the same time, but it's pretty unlikely. Ask Brian Eick of Iconographs, the biggest genuine in-person dealers around, when was the last time he had all those in stock at one time and he'll tell you it's never happened. Yet some sellers have them all not just this week, but every week. In practice, most of these autographs are quite rare and valuable. If you have clicked on "See Seller's Other Auctions" and you are a little bit worried about what you see, click on the Search button at the top of the page, then click on Search By Seller. Type the seller's user name in the box and ask to see all his past auctions. This will take you back over the last month and you may well see the same names cropping up over and over again. If someone has a genuine Madonna now, he's very lucky, but if he's had one or more every week for the past four weeks, he should buy a lottery ticket, because, with his luck, he'll probably scoop the jackpot. It's much more likely that he is selling forgeries. And if he's also had a good smattering of the other names above in the past month, then you are definitely looking at a forgery dealer. ALWAYS LOOK AT THE SELLER'S OTHER AUCTIONS!

Private Auctions

These are auctions where the bidder's name is hidden. It is used by nearly all the big forgery dealers, many of the smaller ones and also by a few genuine dealers. There is never a good reason for anyone to make their auctions private, but there are plenty of bad ones. The big forgery dealers will tell you that many top dealers buy from them and they respect their privacy. This is rubbish. If top dealers really were buying from them, they would want everybody to know about it. And if a top dealer wants to bid anonymously, there is nothing to stop him having a different user name for buying than the one he uses for selling. The reason their auctions are private is to stop genuine dealers and experienced collectors from warning bidders whose user names they recognize about the forgery they are bidding on. A small handful of genuine dealers do use the private auction facility. They will usually give the reason that they believe that a lot of internet spam originates on eBay, but this doesn't really apply any more. It used to be possible to have your email address as your user name, but eBay no longer allows that with new members, because they became aware of the spam problem. There are now very few members with email addresses for user names. My belief is that these sellers use the private facility because, possibly under separate user names, they bid on their own auctions to raise the prices. In short, their autographs may be genuine, but the auction is conducted unfairly and in breach of eBay's rules.

Private Feedback

This is becoming more common and if you come across it, it should certainly worry you. This is where you can't even see somebody's feedback comments. There's more below about feedback in general, but I will say here that a seller who has his feedback hidden is not trying to stop you seeing the comments, but trying to stop anyone contacting his past buyers to warn them about the forgeries they have bought.

Common misconceptions

In talking to and corresponding with collectors, I have found that there are a few misunderstandings about the importance of some things.

Feedback

Many people seem to believe that a high feedback rating means that they are dealing with a genuine seller. Please bear in mind that feedback says nothing at all about the authenticity of the items the dealer has sold. People who buy forgeries don't know that they are forgeries, otherwise they wouldn't have bought them. They may own the forgery for many years, innocently believing it to be genuine. Their feedback comments are about the standard of service, speed of delivery, quality of packaging and possibly about what a nice photo it was. And the forgery dealers give superb service. When you bear in mind that over half of eBay bidders never leave feedback and that a bidder's feedback only counts once for the overall rating, it means that a fake seller with a feedback rating of 1,000 has probably sold well over 3,000 fakes. Feedback is an important tool on internet auctions for helping you know if the other party is likely to deal with the transaction efficiently, but it says nothing whatever about the authenticity of autographs.