At its peak, I had several hundred wargames, mostly made by Avalon Hill and S&T/SPI. I sold most of them off between 2008 and 2011 via eBay. That was like a part-time job as I put up about 10-20 games and accessories continuously for weeks and then started up again. The auctions included hundreds of vintage wargame ‘zines, play aids, miniatures and ephemera from the early days of IFW, Judges Guild and wide variety of other companies products. In some cases I sold lesser-value magazines by the year rather than one by one.
The games I kept are at the bottom of the page linked here. I want to mention that the Legacy role-playing game pictured above was one that I put up on eBay for $99 rather than my standard minimum bid of $.99. I knew I would not play it but I was so impressed at how the author had sought to build a fantasy world “top down” rather than starting with a single dungeon. So a potential buyer asked if that price was a typo. And I responded, no, I just have hard time giving it up! So he wrote back “good luck!” So in a day or so, I put the starting price back down to 99 cents and it was sold. You could say that I rebelled against my own policy of selling everything for a starting price of $.99.
Was it worth it? Yes. And here are some of the reasons why it was a valuable experience for me (these start out with initial reasoning and then some unforeseen benefits):
- I wanted to finish a software project in India that required a fair amount of money.
- The games may not have lasted much longer in my basement. There you have to be concerned about leaks, mold and other risks.
- I realized that if something happened to me (which is say died or disabled) then my wife and daughter would have a quandary: I had said that some items were probably worth a fair amount of money but there was so much how would they sift through it and really do anything but give it away or throw it away?
- Most I had not played and really, I had become more of a miniatures wargamer. And even those (HO & 25mm) could be cut down to smaller, more compact collections (3-6mm).
- Many of the boardgames I would keep were not particularly rare or in good condition so I cut that back a lot.
- Most of the magazines and play aids could go.
- By 2011, we were moving out of the country to place more humid and even less hospitable to paper based games. There was a practical limit what one could take. And we were down-sizing anyway.
- As I sold some unique items from my Judges Guild days, they showed up catalogued and presented on sites like Acaeum. This was actually more handy for me to answer questions that came up when fantasy gamers would ask me something! I could look on line rather than dig through dusty boxes in the basement.
- For most part, the value of the items were much more than I expected.
- Watching the auctions, especially in the last few seconds was exciting! Winning bid frequently tripled in the last minute for good items. I believe I got “top dollar” for about everything especially for the effort expended.
- The mix of things: new or old, rare or common, punched or punched, good or bad condition, unique or ubiquitous, obviously makes a big difference. So don’t use my figures as anything but how I underestimated. I expected about $25/item on average. It worked out to $80/item (or group) on average! The point is: you could test by putting up a selection of 10-60 items that you think are representative of your collection—then see what your average is at each stage of sales. Put up the ones you have the least interest in so that if you decide to not continue, you have only rid yourself of the items you least value.
- For the few dogs that got little, like Diplomacy 1968 edition that wasn’t complete, I still had a satisfaction in knowing that the bidder relayed “we’re going to have a lot of fun with this in the dorm.” Now the $5.00 winning bid no longer disappointed me; someone was going to play the game. This was a major goal of the auction—get them to people who appreciated them, rather than sitting in the Thrift Store.
What worked for me
These are obviously very personal but maybe it will help you to see how I worked through different aspects. I should mention that it’s been 5 years since I’ve sold anything on eBay. It may be their procedures, policies and popularity has changed. Perhaps for the better though.
- The first hurdle was to decide to sell. It helped that I realized that I did not have to sell everything. A game or miniatures I might still use, I could keep that.
- What should I set for a “reserve” for each item? That puzzled me because I felt that it meant doing a lot of time-consuming research for what items were sold at previously. But a market may have changed, the items sold were of different conditions and described differently etc. I realized something then: what if an item doesn’t meet its reserve? Was I going to keep it? Probably not and yet I would be spending more listing fees to put it up again with a lower reserve. Which led to my next decision…
- List everything at a starting bid of 99 cents. Whatever final bid I would get must be the Fair Market Value of the item!
- But how I could be sure I was getting a “Top Dollar” price? I reasoned that the larger the number of lookers, the better the chance that I’d find two (or more) that knew what the item was worth and likely to bid that or a bit more perhaps. You only two for a horse race or good auction. Yet this was the whole world who was looking at it.
- I decided to make the bidding open to foreign companies despite the extra trouble to go to the post office and wait in line with boxes. It increased the number of bidders and in some cases they might be even more motivated. That’s because they are looking and already knowing they were going to have to pay more shipping cost so they were generally above average bidders.
- What about risk? The USPS tracks deliveries for free in the US and I never had a claim of non-receipt in the US. But I did have one in Coventry, England. So I refunded the guy’s money after a reasonable time to wait for it to have been delivered. I think the $50 I lost worked out to an average of 10 cent average loss. But the increased bids from offering international shipping probably increased my average sale by 10% ($8 then) because that’s about how many international packages I sent.
- Incidentally, the 99 cent starting bid made it possible nearly everyone looking to go ahead and start the bidding. That early bidder might be the only bidder and get it! So the bidding started sooner than if I’d put $9, which is not so exciting of a price if I thought the average would be $25.
- Timing may be important. I thought about when it would be convenient for me to do the uploads, Sunday evening and reasoned that might be a good time for other people too. And I thought about what that time equated in other time zones: perhaps 11 p.m. in the UK or Europe, mid-afternoon on the west coast and early morning (Monday) in Japan-New Zealand. So the “snipers” could wait until a minute or so from the end of the auction to see if they could be the last bid when the clock ran out!
- In the end most of the international purchases came from UK, Japan and Germany. But I did get a fairly high bid from Turkey on an off-beat travel item!
- I felt that the auction duration should be a week. This meant that a busy person might be able to find a time to get on line at some point through the week.
- Scheduling the auction start is a valuable convenience. And worth the pittance that eBay charges. Rather than just post the auction “live”, I chose to schedule each item. Then each extra item 1 minute apart. So the first at 6:00 p.m. and the next at 6:01 p.m., the third at 6:02 p.m. etc. That way if a sniper didn’t get something, he might hang around to try for something else ending within a minute to 20 minutes.
- I found that the process of preparing the auctions wore out my stamina after 10-20 items. So I tried to keep it in that range every week.
- Regularity. Note the every week. I figured that I was like a “store” that had posted hours so it was important to maintain consistent hours, every week.
- I thought of this like a part-time job and would not let down my employer or the customers by not showing up. It helped when I realized I was getting $800-1600 (average per week) for several hours of work!
- When possible I’d try to get 5-12 done on some evening during the week and then top off the load on Sunday afternoon while I was waiting for the auctions to end.
- Part of getting ready for the auction listing would be to make up boxes and pile them all ready to be packed—but I wouldn’t bubble-wrap ahead of the end of the auction. Sometimes people would ask questions and I’d have to pull out the game to open it up and check what they were wondering about.
- As the last auction ended, I’d see who bought more than one thing and corrected the invoice (it may have changed but back then eBay would just combine shipping costs and it would really be less) and fired off emails to all buyers. Some would buy immediately and I could just run their labels instead.
- Commitment and along with Persistence* paid off.
- Writing a description. I decided to write the descriptions as a feisty gamer who would use jargon and impressions that might be lost on the average person. This “voice” was natural for me and made it easy for me run off at the mouth. I figured if someone was interested in the game, they’d read it.
- Regarding “Condition” I tried to laborious describe flaws, missing items etc. I figured I would gain credibility if the buyer got a better item than he was expecting. That’s under-promising over-delivering.
- Very important to advise if you either colorized or otherwise modified the game. Most people want games “as originally produced”. Maybe your “improvement” is better but don’t count on people noticing that from the photo—tell them.
- I spent extra time trying to get a compact but powerful listing title. Here it’s hard to be feisty and quirky but if there are ten copies of Afrika Korps, I wanted to stand out. The 99 cents helped that too.
- Super packing job, I felt that packing was a cost of doing business and so I really didn’t charge that beyond a nominal handling fee of a dollar or two. But the buyers gave me super reviews for how well it was packed with bubble wrap and packing peanuts.
- I could have saved money by not buying 2-up self-adhesive labels (for the USPS shipping print-out) and a few other niceties. But this was in addition to my already 60-hour week job so I tried to minimize time but paying a bit extra for things.
- I set up a filing system so I could find each weeks mailing receipts etc. quickly. People would occasionally ask about their order so I needed to be able to pass on details. However, for those who paid right after auction, I provided a tracking number since it was an immediate turn-around.
- Satisfaction guarantee. I thought that it was crucial to have a no-questions-asked money back guarantee. I can’t remember anyone exercising it. And I protected my 100% rating thereby… with lots of great comments from buyers.
- I also left good feedback on the buyer too.
- After awhile I had a number of repeat buyers who had come to trust what I wrote, how I packed and shipped right away.
- I mention right away and that’s after they paid though of course! Some were quite tardy about that so I followed up and reminded them. I was committed to shipping the next day or no later than the following day—that meant people were very pleased at how fast it came.
- I combined shipping since often it was cheaper to send two items in the same box than separately. I bought a scale so that I knew what the finished box weighed and in the auction description what it would weigh. You get good at estimating the weight of added packing (not much).
- I used the eBay/USPS label maker which was a big time-saver. Those could then be dropped in the mail without going to the window.
- For foreign, I had to make a mailing label, fill in the customs forms and wait in line.
- After a friend asked me to sell a few items, I decided to make a logo for the “White Fang Vault”. He had started a “break-away, renegade game club” called White Fang “to undermine the main club’s (ICD) efforts.” Not that I ever figured out how were undermined but perhaps I was not very objective about our club’s shoddiness. So it seemed like a great way to have a little fun and I started posting with the logo found at the top of the page.
- I bought the Wolf head line art from iStock and took one of its Fangs and enlarged that and placed the Wolf head inside the Fang, on a black background with the weird type saying White Fang in red.
- I told my friend that 3rd party vendors will list stuff for you for 25-30% and he insisted that I keep 50% instead. I protested but he said: “the time is now to sell as the baby-boom is getting to retirement and can afford what they couldn’t before. Plus my writing would be gamer-oriented and might get more than non-gamer might plonk on the page.” I also think there was some “price enhancement” to being on a known, trustworthy seller who packed to high standard and shipped quickly. So he also paired down to what he thought he’d play or just what he really wanted to keep.
- Photos: after selling a few items with a nondescript blanket as a backdrop, I decided it would better to have a signature background: a camouflage cloth that I got from the fabric store.
- I set up a “studio” which was the dining room table, plopped the cloth on it, set up a tripod right next to it. This was before good smart phone cameras and I bought a compact Nikon for $79 seven years ago. Having it always hooked to the tripod meant the studio could be set up in about 45 seconds.
- Most items got one photo but special items like unpunched games or WWII souvenirs got numerous photos. Back then you could put up about six photos for little more than one.
- One photo could be an overall and several more of individual counter sheets, a close-up on the worst box wear or damage. You gain credibility by showing the worst. Besides if they can’t live with that then don’t buy it.
- It’s important to take photos that are “right-sized” and no bigger than they need to be. Otherwise you’re just wasting your time waiting to upload them. In Photoshop (used that because I had it; I wouldn’t buy a copy just for this) I’d crop the photo as necessary rather than struggle with the, correct it with Auto-Color if it needed that.
- Multiple categories: I found two different categories for most items to place the auction in. I felt that might get more bidders to participate. This cost a bit more but I felt it was worth it.
- There may be other things but this enough for now.
- A person posted a comment on my Facebook Wargamer group post about this blog entry. He pointed out the convenience of being able to accept credit cards through PayPal so easily. This made it much easier to get things paid than waiting for checks. Sure, PayPal charges a few percentage points but that would have been outweighed by otherwise having to running an Accounts Receivable operation with occasional bounced checks etc.
I hope this helps you but it doesn’t overwhelm you though. The project turned out to be one of my best paying jobs, took a future burden of my family and made it easier to take on a new challenge when we moved out of the USA in 2011. Really once I got into the routine process, it was not difficult and didn’t take more than a few hours a week.
Perhaps it’s best to see it as a short-term project where you are going to sell six items and see how it goes. The initial time learning about how things work on eBay is time-consuming but once you’ve survived that first week or two, you will have gotten through the worst of it and be sailing along later.
I mentioned above my disappointment at selling a 1968 Diplomacy (without all its blocks and broken box) for only $5. But I also had some major successes. Two that surprised me was a $50 Replica metal Schmeisser MP40 for $1500. Guys were writing in and trying to buy it from me for around $400 if I’d cancel the auction. But I said that I couldn’t do that even if I got less because once it’s on auction, it’s going for 99 cents or $99, but I’m not going to break the rules. Then another person said “they’re just trying to steal it from you, it will go for a lot more than $400”. Anyway, I had decided to let the “chips fall” regardless and there ended up being a lot more chips than I expected.
Then I sold a number of one-print-run “dogs” that Avalon Hill had made like Titan. Why did I get it? At that time I had a royalty with my ex-partner, Bob Bledsaw, at Judges Guild and he asked if I would accept products instead of cash. So that led me to pick up oddities that I would never have paid cash for. The MP40 SMG was one of those items I took in lieu of cash. So some of those were very good investments after all. I can’t recommend it as a strategy though.
Hear are some miscellaneous prices for unpunched games 10 years ago. Drive on Stalingad $101. Green Field Beyond $100. Battle for Germany $62. War in the East, complete, got $250. I found just the box for War in the East and sold that too. A big surprise was when I was cleaning out the basement and realized that I had a number of box covers and bottoms from early editions to D&D, wood grain and white both. They were full of clutter (nuts and bolts etc.) and so I had long forgotten what they were from. So I sold those too and got more than one would expect. If you are wondering if these prices are still “in the zone” of reasonable expectation, one can do research on eBay as to what items have sold for.
*This is what my wife had on her wall when we were dating:
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.” ~ Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “press on” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race” ~ Calvin Coolidge
Here’s a bonus quote from my brother about the risk of taking on victimhood:
“You are never down until you say someone pushed you.”
Note that he didn’t say that they didn’t push you, but the implication being is that such is the rough and tumble of life and should not be ones focus.