Well every now and then I like to spout off a post that is more opinion than researched fact. Completely slanted to my way of thinking. This, dear reader is one of those posts.
I want to delve deep into the world of online antiques outposts and I want to review them the good, the bad, and the ugly. There are so many ways to find what your looking for it's time we had some clarity. For this exercise I will be tilted towards those online resources that a globe or map enthusiast might regularly visit eBay of course is foremost in our minds, and I'll save them for last. We all have eBay experience it is the other online outlets that will be unfamiliar. Included with each review will be an embedded link to the home page of each website. I do this without any certain loyalty to each site although to varying degrees I frequent them , so lets get started.
1. Fleaglass.com: This is probably a fairly well known site to those of us who are in the market for mid range and higher antique scientific instruments. This site is fairly evenly split between US and European dealers who list their wares for sale in varying categories. I have made exactly one purchase from a Fleaglass listed dealer and the piece was exactly as advertised and the dealer communication second to none. Once you've struck gold so to speak on a site it will forever be in your rotation.
So the good, no junk that is to say that the barriers to entry of this site prevent fly by night wannabees from participating. The bad, there are no fly by night wannabees selling something completely misidentified for a fraction of what it's worth. This is decidedly a retail price site expect no bargains, but also expect few hassles.
2. Etsy.com : This site on first glance is all about handmade items, but dig just below the surface and you'll find a large segment of " vintage" wares for sale and that includes globes. I'll expose my bias I have friends that sell on Etsy, and I've made new friends from having used Etsy.
Now there are in fact a few globe and map specialists on Etsy and they are great resources for quality vetted items, and these sellers come with long histories of satisfied customers. I however have not been one of them.........I've never purchased a globe on Etsy, but I've come damn close a handful of times. I have used Etsy to purchase other non antique related items and I love the site, I love the handmade aspect. In fact I've purchased some custom lighting that was " handmade" but was more like hand crafted in it's quality. I've found prices on Etsy can be all over the map ( pun intended) but generally you won't need a fist full of dollars to find something great. For me it will only be a matter of time before I buy a globe on Etsy, maybe today.........
3. Ruby Lane.com : Hummm........ I don't really care for Ruby Lane, OK I did once find a decent globe on this site, I overpaid, but that was my fault, but the bad taste lingers. Ruby Lane's Wikipedia page is written like a press release from the company itself, I just checked...... Anyhow where to begin, the premise sounds so promising. In a way this site should be awesome for the middle to low high end antiques hunter, and please correct me it might be stellar in certain categories, just not great with globes. I almost find myself reluctantly checking in almost like it's something I have to do rather than something I want to do. It seems the merchandise I view on this site is stale, things linger for long periods of time it's the same 20 globes day in and day out, yawn.......
4. Liveauctioneers.com : This site is NOT I will repeat NOT for the novice collector, at least that's my take. Why do I say that? Well simple two words " hidden fees" Liveauctions ( I know I say the name wrong) is a website where hundreds of member auction houses compile all of their upcoming auctions in one spot so that you can easily search and find many of the same types of items for sale. Again this is a great idea and I personally LOVE this site, it is in fact one of my favorites. You just have to go into it with eyes wide open. So here's how it works. Search for and find your item, then you can either leave an absentee bid, or wait and bid live. If you win you will have to make separate arrangements with the auction house to safely ship ( extra cost) your item. You will also have to pay substantial buyers premium on top of your winning bid, this is an unfortunate reality with any auction house. However if you use Liveauctions be prepared for a fee as high as 25% you see many auction houses charge a slightly higher fee to their customers using an online service, as a way to recoup their cost. After you run the gauntlet of fees, and taxes you'll have your item. Just be aware these charges are there.
What I like to do is fine items on Liveauctions, and then go directly to the auction house to setup bidding, I have done this 3 separate times, cutting out one middle man saves money and so far so good. I've come by an 1892 rand McNally, an 1880 Star Eraser and a 1928 J. Chein globe all in this manner. Auctions are also not retail they are a price in the gray zone below retail, but above some rock bottom picker price. A nice place money wise to be, if you know what your doing.
5. 1stdibs.com : Are you reading my blog while reclined in your authentic Charles Eames chair, are you reading this blog in the middle of the day because you've never had to work! Well then have I got the site for you. 1st dibs is an elite site no way around that. It's pricing is Retail ++ and guess what? Yours truly has actually purchased a globe on this site once ( more on that later)
The barriers to entry on 1st dibs are exceedingly high. First you must actually have a brick and mortar store, second, before they let you sell a member of 1st dibs will visit your store and judge your merchandise, third they charge a hefty monthly fee to their participating dealers. OK then what have you got left. Well what's left are the best of the best American Antiques dealers, this is their site. There are no middle of the road dealers, just the best and most exclusive dealers. These are by in large dealers who's merchandise is the best available at the time. Buying from a 1st dibs dealer will come with a hefty price tag, but it will be as worry free as it gets for online antiques, these dealers will stand behind their merchandise 100% . I bought a rare celestial globe from a 1st dibs dealer a few years back, and I certainly paid Retail, but I really wanted it and to this day I'm glad I did. Please don't get me wrong I am not your typical 1st dibs customer, far from it. I may never buy from a dealer on this site again but every so often I check in just to see if there is that next awesome thing waiting, so far no but I'll keep checking. Bottom line here If money is no object go for it!!
6. EBay : I won't even provide a link to this one. I have written extensively about EBay in the past, but I'll repeat myself a bit now. I love EBay, I cannot think of a company that has changed commerce more than this company. eBay is a juggernaut. It is the wild west of commerce, we can debate weather or not they charge to much, or weather shysters prey on unsuspecting people, yes counterfeit goods are rampant, but all of this notwithstanding eBay is retail church and I've been worshiping since 1999 !
Here is why I'm in love with eBay, no other place rewards knowledge as much as eBay, if you are willing to become knowledgeable in your collecting field then eBay will, over time reward you greatly. I'm reminded of The Gotham Bookmart their slogan was " wise men fish here" those words apply to eBay x10. Knowledge is a double edged sword in a way, those without it or those who think they know more than they do will be burned and burned badly. There are so many pitfalls. Now I buy globes with confidence, but there are whole swaths of the retail landscape that I admit that I don't know well enough to venture onto eBay and make purchases. Buyer beware, but I love the fact that knowledge is rewarded, my last globe purchase the 1846 Joslin is perfect example knowledge was absolute power that moment!!
Well there you have it my take on some of the most popular antiques outlets on the web, there are others for sure but I wanted to pick the ones I seem to hit the most often. Noticeably absent from my review are the specialist globe dealers George Glazer, and Murray Hudson. I'm not going to review them as they are people, not companies. I will say that if you buy a globe from either of them you can buy with 100% confidence, they stand behind their wares as dealers 100%
P.S. did you catch my 4 Clint Eastwood movie references...............