Tips for eBay Sellers of Fish Decoys – Gary L. Miller

Tips for eBay Sellers of Fish Decoys
by Gary L. Miller
© 2008

As a collector and researcher who has purchased thousands of fish decoys and looked at thousands more over the last 30 years, let me offer a few tips and pointers from the buyer’s perspective to sellers of fish decoys.

As a buyer, when I look at a listing for a fish decoy (and I look at hundreds every week) I want to see:

1. The maker’s real name and location. If you must use nicknames please also include the carver’s legal name; for example, William P. “Poo-Poo” Smith. The location should be the principle town and state (or province) where the carver resided at the time the decoy was created. At minimum, the state where the decoy was made is required. Many collectors only buy decoys made in a particular state. By leaving location information out of the listing you are missing out on potential sales. Please avoid regionalizations like “East Coast” or “Up North”.

If the carver’s name is not known you should say so but also say where, when and under what circumstances you acquired the decoy. This might read something like: “Acquired at the estate sale of William P. Smith in East Podunk, South Dakota in 1995”. If the carver’s name is uncertain but you think you know who made it, say who you think the carver is and why you think so. It’s also a good idea to cite printed references to the carver’s work if used to establish your attribution. If the maker is well known, has written a book, for instance, or has some other claim to fame, tell us about that too.
If the decoy is signed, tell us how it is signed. What exactly does the signature say? “William P. Smith”, “Bill Smith”, “W. Smith”, “Poo-Poo Smith”, “Poo-Poo”, “WPS”, etc. As you can see the possibilities are limitless. Also, is it burned in (branded), painted on, signed in ink, paper label, etc.?

If it is a new decoy and you made it, say so. Give us your name and general location. I don’t know why, but this seems to be a very difficult thing for many new carvers to do. Unless you’ve got something to hide there is no value in remaining anonymous in the art world. You don’t think, do you, that Pablo Picasso, Alexander Calder or Jackson Pollock got famous by being anonymous? Sign your work clearly with your full name, location and include, at minimum, the year it was made. Initials are useless. Even more useless are monograms which are often difficult to decipher and even then all you have are useless initials. Unless you are Zorro or just as famous it does little good to sign with an initial or other symbol.

If you think you can sell on eBay and hide from the tax man, you are sadly mistaken. The IRS has many resources unknown to you and me, one of which is the Discovery Audit. Ask your CPA about it. There are many high profile collectors who by necessity keep meticulous records. Your name, address, date and amount of purchase are recorded therein. Think about it!

2. Size, that is, length in inches. Yes, the size of a fish decoy, as with other things in life, is important. Unless the decoy is outsized in some other dimension, it’s not necessary to give it’s width or height. Please leave out of the pictures other objects intended to indicate scale. I don’t want to have to guess at the size based on the girth of your cat.

3. Materials and manner of production. Tell us what it is made of and how it was made. Is it hand carved wood, injection molded plastic, cast aluminum, poured resin, etc.? Weighted? With what? Tell us the location, size and shape of weights and what they are made of. Are the eyes glass, plastic, beads, tacks, painted on, carved in, etc.? What are the fins made of? How are they attached? Give us all the facts, please. The more you tell, the more you sell!

3. Photos. At minimum, large sharp clear views of both sides and the bottom are required. Save the fuzzy ones for your wife, she’s not interested anyway. A top view is nice but a bottom shot is much more useful. Significant features such as signatures, defects, etc. should be highlighted in separate close-ups. The entire decoy should be visible. Pictures that clip off parts of the head, tail or other parts make me think you are hiding something.

4. Date made or approximate age. Leave out adjectives such as “vintage”, “antique”, “old”, “ancient”, etc. as these terms are relative and are essentially meaningless unless used in conjunction with a date.

5. Number made, if known. This will apply generally only to recently made decoys being sold by the maker. If it’s a limited edition, you should say how many were made and each one should be numbered.

6. Species, if known. If you made it and it’s intended to be a particular species, say so. If you don’t know what it’s supposed to be, say that too. Please don’t call it “Folk Art”. That term has been so overused and corrupted that it no longer has any value. Nobody knows what it means anyway.

7. Leave out jargon and or abbreviations. Not everybody knows what you mean. The idea is to be absolutely clear and concise. Don’t leave any room for misinterpretation. And for God’s sake use your spell check. If you are purposely misspelling words in order to look stupid, you are succeeding.

8. Pay Pal. I admit it, I love Pay Pal. To me and others like me Pay Pal is the greatest thing since the invention of fishing itself. I seldom bid if Pay Pal is not offered. Not only is the Buyer Protection Plan a great feature but the overall convenience of paying with Pay Pal is unparalleled. Imagine, with just one click of your mouse you can pay instantaneously and avoid the hassle of writing out a check, looking for an envelope, addressing it, stamping it and putting it in the mail. And best of all, no waiting for checks to arrive and then clear your bank. Instant payment = instant shipping = more or less instant gratification. What convenience! This is not to mention the yokels who insist on a money order or a bank check. These guys go to the bottom of the list. Don’t think that buyers don’t consider the extra cost of meeting these asinine requirements and factor those costs into their bids. They do, I do.

I’m not certain about this but I’d be willing to bet that sellers have fewer problems too with buyers who pay by Pay Pal. The sooner an item arrives the less time a buyer has to experience “buyer’s remorse”. Let’s say you pay by check and the check takes 5 days to reach it’s destination and then the seller holds your shipment for another 10 days waiting for the check to clear and then the item takes 5 days to arrive. That’s 20 days. By then the shine has worn off and most buyers have forgotten what they bought or why. I imagine the reaction of many is “Why the heck did I buy this?”

9. Full refunds, including shipping and handling for items not as represented. I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that I’m tired of eBay sellers who grossly misrepresent items (even fraudulently) and when the buyer complains they cheerfully and immediately offer a full refund of the purchase price, less shipping & handling, of course. In most of these cases the seller is still making a tidy profit on the shipping & handling fees. Profits for them, high shipping & handling costs for us. Nooooo Waaaaay!

Now, I’m sure that sellers have lots of good reasons (to them) for the things they do and the way they do them. I have been in the antiques business for over 40 years and I’m well aware of what those reasons are and have heard them all, so please don’t write me and regale me with your rebuttal. The thing is, sellers have lots of rules. Just try and wade through them all. They’re posted right there on the auction page. That’s fine. Sellers have that right. Just be advised that buyers have rules too.