|People keep using ebay to fool memorabilia buyers into thinking they are getting something rare and special, when they're not.
Here is a posting that is typical of how crafty, motivated, sellers try to con unsuspecting buyers.
A Canadian Militia sabretache was posted. OK so far; lots of people like to collect and preserve early Canadian militaria.
Seven clear photos accompanied the posting.
Especially intriguing, and noteworthy, were two pictures (out of seven; see above) that showed a mounted officer, and which was tightly enclosed in a pouch inside. Clearly the seller wanted buyers to see that this picture was important.
Those who know their Canadian history immediately noted that sitting atop his trusty steed was none other than Colonel WD Otter, a Canadian militia officer in the mid 1900s, who was destined to become the first Canadian commander of the Canadian Army.
Now why would that photo be inside? Perhaps some family member, a long time ago, placed it there, because the sabretache had once been Otter's. And so decided to put a family photo there instead of masking tape with a note?
How many militaria collectors, of the 250 who looked at this posting, made that assumption and thought WOW, what a find? The posting doesn't mention Colonel Otter, so it appears that the ebay seller hasn't got a clue what he's got. (This happens all the time.) So we'll sneak in a high bid, and grab this "named" and precious memorabilia item from the trash heap of history.
We wondered: did other ebay buyers make inquiries about the provenance and photo?
ebay specifically provides a place for updates on questions from interested buyers, which sellers then post to give info to other buyers. To update info on the sales item. This facility is conscientiously used by ebay sellers all the time.
But nothing further whatsoever was posted by the seller.
This means, either, that no one asked questions, or that questions that were asked revealed info the seller did not want other possible buyers to know...
So we asked a question, inquiring about the "photo."
The seller replied with a minimal and terse reply that left us no wiser. But WOW "early picture of a cavalry soldier." So the "photo" we had enquired about was "early." And it supposedly had been part of the sabretache before he got it. Was it Otter's family? Was it an earlier knowledgeable militaria collector? Enough to make your mouth water.
Still this seller was not very forthcoming about the "photo" we had expressed interest in. We should have noted an alarm signal; he changed our word "photo" to "picture." Was this deliberate? Or are we too paranoid about motivated sellers.
There were 17 bids; we were the winner.
Within one minute of opening the package we knew we'd been had.
The "early picture of a cavalry soldier" was not early at all. It was still hot from the computer that printed it out as a xerox picture, on normal printing paper. (Above right, the entire picture dismounted from its sabretache pouch.)
So What's the Beef?
For starters, why put a picture of Colonel Otter in there in the first place? There is no sabretache in Colonel Otter's photo. Our archivist looked for more evidence; there is also no writing on the sabretache to make any connection whatsoever linking it to Colonel Otter.
So the only possible reason to include the photo in the listing was because it was indeed, a neat "early photo," an antique that "was there so we left it."
But it turns out the "early" picture was not "early" or an antique, or even a "photo" at all.
Some con man had deliberately taken a photo of Colonel Otter from somewhere, xerox copied it on to ordinary printing paper, haphazardly cut off the corners, and slid it into a very tight niche in the sabretache, with which, we repeat ourselves, it clearly had no provable connection.
Probably just to go fishing on ebay, and trying to catch a live one. Clearly this was deliberate subterfuge on a seller's part. There is no other possible explanation...
The seller had hoped that buyers would be fooled into thinking this sabretache was Colonel Otter's.
It gets worse. When we deliberately enquired about the "photo" the seller should have immediately said. "Hey, it's not a photo. The surface is just repro dots. It's just a home printer xerox copy someone has made of Colonel Otter. It's crap."
Any militaria collector - in fact any memorabilia collector - had they acquired such a xerox copy, would have immediately garbaged it - like price stickers, auction house labels, etc. - as someone's idea of a bad joke.
Unless it might help make a sale, and entrap gullible buyers...
So the seller replied that the photo was "early" and had come with the item.
Did it? No militaria collector would couple an unrelated xerox copy of a trooper picture with a valuable militia item. Positively not. They are sticklers for authenticity and displaying their collections without fakery. Or linking them to unrelated, unhistoric, non-antique materials.
But a motivated seller certainly would be tempted... all the time, as we all know...
Very Fine Condition - When we pulled the picture out and examined it closely we realized something else... It was quite difficult for our archivist to pull it out, and put back in.
He realized something else immediately. How the big rip in the leather came about.
In going to all the trouble of inserting the large fake xerox picture, the vandal had badly ripped the fragile leather in the bottom left corner. Clearly, in making numerous attempts, with different xerox dupes, to find the right sizing that would fit the spot perfectly, he had badly damaged the historic item..
In the interests of promoting a sale, the historic artifact had been irretrievably damaged. That damage, in a totally protected part of the interior of the sabretache, could not have been done in any other way.
Upon examining the rest of the sabretache it became clear that two pictures published on the ebay page show more major damage, large rips. The areas where what we thought were merely demonstrations of pouch openings, were, actually, places where the leather had ripped away in major ways from the pockets.
And the front of the sabretache also showed major crackling from 150 years of abuse and bad storage, including a major rip and stain on the bottom left.
Also the central brass loop and its leather mounting strap were gone, leaving a big hole in the leather. Something violent had torn them off, long ago.
Conscientious memorabilia sellers commonly point out all the major defects, in their items, which buyers will end up seeing anyway. They don't want to spend their life getting stuff returned, or fielding complaints. Or ruining their reputation with gross misrepresentation or faulty advertising. And getting bad feedback.
Our seller pointed out none of these areas of major damage to his buyers, but passed them all off, instead as "Very Fine" condition.
Now compare this sabretache condition with that of General VAS Williams.
100% Positive Feedback - This is no guarantee of anything on ebay. It means nothing.
For example, this seller had only been selling a few months on ebay.
His feedback was only on 730 items. At the time this item was posted he had 233 other items for sale. So it's easy to have 700 sales in a few weeks. Not a long track record.
Two feedbacks were officially listed as "neutral," and a lot of others were lukewarm or barely adequate. None of these are computed into the 100% figure. ebay feedback also does not show people who give no feedback, like us, rather than give bad references. People often say "I'll give no bad feedback if you give me back my money." Done deal.
And if you've screwed too many people badly, you can always leave your past behind, do a make-over, and just start a new ebay persona, to escape bad feedback. One shameless huckster simply abandoned his old ebay handle after we exposed his dishonest posting of a fake bugle.
Furthermore, if you've been screwed by a dishonest seller, you've got another nasty coming.
They make you pay the $15 to $20 to return the item to them, in order to get your refund. You, not they, pay for the rip-off... (When we protested having to pay $13.11 for return postage, under the circumstances, the seller quickly refunded that, though his stated policy is not to do so.)
As a result we unilaterally decided to obliterate his identity (not our usual policy). The cautionary then is not against one ebay seller, but against all who do these kinds of things, making items to appear to be what they are clearly not just to get a high value sale at any price.
We immediately shipped the item back. It was merely a very badly beaten up, unnamed Canadian militia sabretache. Not worth the money spent.
Luckily the buyer had a seven day return policy, and agreed to take it back. Many ebay sellers refuse to give refunds.
One time we paid $195 for a rare print. It literally fell apart when we unwrapped it, it was so brittle and fragile. It should have been garbaged at source, not sold on ebay. The seller, who had not told us of the condition, adamantly refused to give us our money back.
But ebay did when we complained to them. All of it, including shipping back to the seller. ebay does a lot of stuff that helps crooked dealers.
But their new Buyer Protection policy saved us a bundle from a bad deal from an unscrupulous seller.
Fortunately we have Colonel Otter's busby from his early days.