Medal News

Volume 46, Number 6, June 2008

Home front Heroines

Volume 46, Number 6, June 2008

Losing its shine THERE can be no doubt that eBay has opened up our little hobby to a far wider audience. Where once we collectors and dealers simply bought and sold amongst each other and, if we were lucky, “from the family”, now there is a whole world out there that, thanks to the wonders of the internet, we are able to reach, both as potential buyers and, when necessary as sellers too. Suddenly what was once hidden, or popped up occasionally at boot sales, is now readily available as thousands of people realise that their old medals are worth something and sell them via the auction site. And the market place for sellers, once restricted to a few of us die-hards who subscribed to lists or visited shows, is opened up to include not only medal collectors but all those with an interest in local or family history too. eBay has allowed our hobby to be understood by many, many more people than we thought it could ever reach when we started MEDAL NEWS as a magazine in its own right 19 years ago. However, that’s the good side of eBay. There is, sadly, a downside to consider. You all know my feelings about the curse of the “copy” medals that proliferate on the site—one or two less-than-scrupulous individuals happy to destroy our hobby by purveying cheap and nasty rubbish, with no thought for the consequences and an eye only on making a fast buck. However, there is more to worry about than that. The fact that the internet has opened up the hobby has meant that anyone and everyone can become a dealer—and many do just that, inevitably leading to a decline in stock levels of the “proper” dealers. In the past, individuals not in the hobby wouldn’t know who to sell medals to except a dealer; now those same individuals often just hop on their computer and sell that way—meaning that dealers, if they want stock, have to buy from the same pot as the rest of us and, in order to make a living, inevitably have to add a percentage. This increase in “part -time” dealers inevitably leads to some dodgy goings-on, with individuals who are either ignorant of what they’re selling or who deliberately misrepresent it to increase the price. If a reputable dealer who relies on his reputation to survive in business tried half the scams that seem to be used by many individuals on-line he’d be out of business within a week. Of course, I’m not talking here about genuine collectors who sell items on to fund their next purchase (although all of us who do that are guilty of taking money away from dealers I’m afraid), but the shady characters who seem to have been coming out of the woodwork more and more in recent years and who, it seems, have no morals when it comes to making money. Take “shill” bidding for example: the practise of getting a friend to “bid up” your item to ensure that it fetches an exorbitant price. In a conventional auction room such practise is easy to spot, but on-line it’s impossible. This is especially true now that eBay have introduced the system by which bidders aren’t seen by their user name but rather simply by “Bidder 1, Bidder 2”, etc. Sadly, with such secrecy, the potential for illegal or immoral activity is huge. Now it seems there are even more obstacles in the way for those of us who had hoped that eBay would make our hobby more mainstream: we have now learned that sellers can no longer leave negative feedback against buyers. For those of you who don’t know, the “feedback system” was one of the best things the auction site had going for it—it allowed both buyer and seller to share their experience of the transaction for all to see. It allowed both sides to build a good reputation, or run the risk of being exposed. However, under the new rules it seems that a buyer can mess anyone about as he so chooses: fail to pay, bounce cheques, etc., etc., and the seller has no way of telling the world at large what a dreadful experience he’s had. Couple that with eBay’s insistence that all sellers now accept Paypal, eBay’s own escrow and payment service which charges an average of 4 per cent (that is on top of any eBay fees a seller might incur), and you will begin to see why the darling of the internet is losing its shine for some. The purpose of this Editorial isn’t, however, simply to badmouth eBay and the internet per se. I still believe the potential offered to the hobby by the internet is huge. However, I can’t help thinking that with all the changes and the potential for misdealing on the world’s best known auction site, maybe its time for us, as a hobby, to look elsewhere. eBay may well still have a place for us but they need to look carefully at some of their policy changes and realise how damaging they could be for a hobby like ours. In the meantime there are some superb auction sites geared up purely for the medal and militaria enthusiast (Neate Auctions and Speedbid in particular) - and there is the superb postal sale offered by Wellington Auctions. Most mainstream auction houses will allow you to bid on-line (if not live then certainly allowing you to leave a bid) and of course many dealers have excellent websites that you can buy from direct. The internet still has the potential to expand this hobby beyond our wildest dreams, but I can’t help thinking that if we used a few of the other avenues open to us, rather than just relying on one all the time, we’d all be a little bit happier!

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