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Off Topic/Non-philatelic Disc. : My Little eBay Experiment

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BenFranklin1902
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Tom in Exton, PA
24 Nov 2021
12:47:44pm
I've been a fan and user of eBay since the early days. Soon after discovering it, I experimented with some auctions of my own. They didn't have fixed price items then, nor did they have user names. Your items were listed with your email address visible, so people could interact, for better or worse! And early on a lot of the listings didn't even have photos on them, pretty much like classified ads.

Soon enough I bought a scanner, then my first Sony Mavica digital camera, all fueled by selling things on eBay! I did rather well back then. With more buyers than sellers, just about anything you'd put up for sale got multiple bids. You could do no wrong! Then when the auction ended, it was up to you to email the buyers with an invoice. Primitive, but effective, and it was a collector to collector market with nice comradery back then!

I sold for a while, then stopped. Every few years I'd start up again and sell for a bit, usually because I came into some stuff I wanted to pay for! And I was up for it again this past August.

Over the summer I bought a large box of old postcards on... of course... eBay! The description was rather vague, but when it showed up it was much larger and held many more cards than I anticipated. So I bought a second box from the same vendor. Suddenly I have thousands of cards, in addition to the 40 year hoard of buying big lots of covers.

I've always said, "Stamps are like cocaine... first it's all fun and games, and before you know it you are dealing to support your habit!" So in August, lured by their promise of 250 free auctions a month, I decided to take a stab at it once again. I wanted to see how the market had changed, how bad sell through was and how eBay's new managed payments worked.

I buy a lot of items for my postmark collections in the Stamps/USA/Covers/Postal History category. I had been interested in the large regular sellers who dominate this category and seemed to do quite well with auctions. I did an analysis on a couple of them, going back as far as eBay would allow with items sold vs listed and expired, items sold at starting price vs items with multiple bids, average sales price and total sales.

I was impressed. Some of them ran hundreds to thousands of auctions. Sell through was decent, and I noticed multiple bids for some rather common items. Some sellers were doing thousands of dollars a month. One started auctions at a penny, one at 50 cents and another at a dollar. All of them had reasonable shipping, and would combine shipping.

The penny guy also gave free shipping. I did notice he needed multiple bids to get over a dollar per item. And there was at least one person who would go in and bid a penny on all his items. He gave away a lot of stuff! So nix that strategy!

All of them encouraged you to buy multiple items, and to only pay every three weeks to combine shipping. At four weeks, eBay would cancel the sale, so that was the line in the sand for payments! I took advantage of this policy with these vendors and would even go back and buy additional items just to make it worth it for the postage cost! So I assumed that's what everyone was doing.

So I devised my business plan. I would use the free 250 auctions for starters. I'd start my auctions at 99 cents.. cheap enough to attract bidders but enough to cover my end of auction costs. My product cost was nothing to near nothing... covers I estimate I paid less than a dime for, and just surplus sitting, so anything I made was all profit.

Another part of the plan was to sell many cheap items that weren't valuable enough to attract fraud. I had done this in my previous eBay life. I had a median sale of $10, and had minimal issues with buyers. With that I had to spend minimal time on each item.

I decided on charging $1 for shipping. I buy discount postage so my cost per shipment is less than the 58 cents. The eBay cost of a 99 cent sale is around 45 cents. So I'm covering my costs. A buyer can order up to 5-6 covers for an ounce. Over that, shipping is just 80 cents for 2 ounces and I'm still covered for the dollar... plus it's better to have an increased sale per order shipped, less work too!

My scanning operation involved scanning multiple items at the same time. I made clear sleeves that would scan three covers at once, and one that would scan four postcards at once. Scan, flip it, scan again.. done! My Canon printer / scanner gives you an option that photos would all become separate images. Sounds good, but in practice the result was often poor, so I was better off having it scan the entire flat bed as an image and then I cut it up and save the 3-4 images.

The images get saved off into a folder, with main image being town name "MyCity.jpg" and the back of the cover / card being "MyCity1.jpg" to make it easy to drag them from the folder to the eBay listing form. My scanned images are always nice enough color wise, and sometimes I have to flip them 90 degrees, or the image will be tilted a little. I find it's usually 1 degree either direction. It's worth it to fix it!

I had flat paper items that would fit into a standard number 11 business envelope with a stiffener. I will prepare 10-25 envelopes at the same time... stamps, return address stamp and my "Do Not Bend" red stamper. My stamps are all discount postage, usually bought at 50-65% of face value. It does involve putting several stamps on the envelope but collectors like to receive those! Those all get staged near the computer, as does the prefolded sheets of 60 lb bond used as the envelope stiffner.

That means my packing process is a minute. Pull up paid auction details. Hand write name and address on envelope (I have no need to retain this information), find item(s) in inventory, put them inside folded stiffner, shove it in envelope, seal, DONE! On to the next one. I noticed that my peers I researched didn't use tracking, so I don't either. So far I've shipped 400 items with no issues. When an item does go for a huge number.. I did have a first day cover sell for $60... that one will get tracking!

Soooo.. that's as far as I'm going right now. If indeed you find this interesting, please comment and I'll continue with how it's going and what I've learned along the way!
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jbaxter5256
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24 Nov 2021
07:08:42pm
re: My Little eBay Experiment

I am very interested in your further results.

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angore
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Collector, Moderator
25 Nov 2021
07:14:34am
re: My Little eBay Experiment

I have never had an incoming or outgoing stamp mail loss. I did have an eBay purchase from Malaysia that arrived months later. It did not have tracking. I see tracking as more of proof of mailing (peace of mind) to reduce bad sellers.

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Brechinite
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Neddie Seagoon from The Telegoons
25 Nov 2021
10:41:52am

Auctions - Approvals
re: My Little eBay Experiment

Tracking is not the B all and end all.

Royal Mail will not accept items for "tracking" for any P O Box No. no matter what country.

Also if a "tracked" item "disappears" the seller must still prove to Royal Mail how much the item(s) cost the seller NOT the value of the sale. The seller may however receive the cost of the postage if they cannot prove how much the item(s) cost them.

It is an impossibility for sellers here on stamporama and elsewhere to prove the cost to them when items sent may be from several different purchases over several weeks, months and even years!

The next "fault" of "tracking" is the cost. Many internet buyers moan and groan about the cost of standard postage never mind paying for tracking. If you bought $10 of stamps would you pay the seller $10 for "tracked" postage? Of course NOT! If you bought $50 of stamps would you pay $13.55 for postage with no guarantee that you would get your items? Of course NOT!

The postal systems in each country are a lottery. You post the item(s), you cross your fingers and you hope for the best!!

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BenFranklin1902
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Tom in Exton, PA
25 Nov 2021
12:38:29pm
re: My Little eBay Experiment

First I'll respond to Tracking... it's a matter of risk, cost vs savings. Right now my sales are in a collector's area with little fraud. Covers with town postmarks are obscure enough that scammers wouldn't know about it. Plus my sales in the 99 cents to $10 mark, are not really worthy of scamming and ruining one's reputation in a small market.

When you see those auctions with $4 postage, those usually arrive with packaging meant to survive a nuclear blast, with tracking. If I was buying a $50-100 stamp, that would be fine, but small dollar covers? It would drive all the customers away.

And what am I risking? Many of my sales are 99 cents plus $1 postage. So one goes missing, I simply refund the $1.99 and that was a lot cheaper than going through all the process to mail a package with tracking. Some postcard sellers I've met do the new eBay 57 cent label with tracking. Still I'd be typing all the info into eBay, printing a label (either cost of label paper or heavy taping printed paper to the envelope) which is time, and even weight to my one ounce envelope.

I'm using discount postage at 60% of face so I'm paying 35 cents to mail an envelope. So I can afford to do a refund every 10 mailings and still be ahead! That's how I've calculated my risk and time savings.

There are high risk collectible categories like sports cards and sneakers. Aside from having no interest there, I wouldn't want to accept the associated risk. Funny story, when we hold our model car show, we always have two local cops as security. They always compliment us on how friendly and well behaved our crowd is. When asked what the worst shows are... sports cards! Lots of shop lifting and scamming... as well as breaking into each others cars in the parking lot!

Next post... assumptions!

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BenFranklin1902
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Tom in Exton, PA
25 Nov 2021
03:39:10pm
re: My Little eBay Experiment

It's human nature to use your own experiences, likes and dislikes into your work. It's pretty normal to think people will think like you! And that can be the wrong thing to assume!

Up front I'm selling covers because it's my own area of interest. That's fine since collecting is a hobby of passion. I can be enthusiastic about what I'm selling and enjoy working with kindred souls!

But I pretty much learned that some of my original assumptions were wrong!

For instance, when I buy cheap covers on eBay, working with the dealers I did my research on, It would irk me to buy a dollar cover with a dollar postage on it. After all, my sense of logic tells me I just paid DOUBLE for the cover, which is accurate. Noting that the dealers encourage you to buy multiple items for no extra postage and handling cost, or a modest uptick per item, I agreed! Thus, I will go through that dealer's inventory and find other items that I'd like to own to reduce the cost of postage per item. Sometimes there would be items I wanted as much as my original purchase, and other times I'd go through my USA albums and find some first day covers I didn't have to pad my order. So my original dollar purchase might rise to $5 or $10! And that's how my mind works!

I found to my surprise that not everyone thinks that way! Nearly four months into my experiment here, the majority of the orders I ship are for a single item. And a lot of them sell for the 99 cent starting price. People will pay instantly much of the time. They seem happy to pay two dollars for a dollar item.

In fact, I have customers who buy from me every week. Despite the text in my auctions stating I will combine shipping and to ask for an invoice every three weeks, they still pay quickly for that one item they want right now. Early on, I'd message people to restate that, thinking I was helping them, but I'd get replies like, "Thank you, but I like getting little treats in the mail regularly!" Okay, as you were! Play on! So now I just let people do what they want to do.

Assumption number two was that since I was selling only American covers, I should limit my sales to USA only. Wrong! Right away I was getting people outside the USA who would either bid anyway, or at least would ask if I'd ship to them. When people did bid from outside the country, eBay wouldn't allow them to pay. They had to message me to invoice them. So I decided my charge for international postage would be $1.50, which was fine with me since my postage cost would be 78 cents. So now I changed my settings to allow international buyers. That also puts my listings on the eBay International sites. Already I've shipped covers to Japan, Italy, Germany, Poland twice, Brazil and Iceland.

Assumption number three was cover size. I and many collectors prefer the standard US size no 6 envelopes for our covers. Albums cater to this size so some folks won't collect covers that don't fit into the sleeves in their albums. So I was dutifully sorting out the odd size covers.

At the end of one month I had ten listings left but nothing ready to list. I had a stack of a dozen number 10 covers sitting on the desk that had been culled out. I decided what the heck, I'd list them.. five got instant bids! Eight of them sold first week through the system.

Most of the larger covers were commercial mail. I found people collecting meter cancels... one lady buys a bunch of those from me every week. Others are collecting topics. The guy in Poland bought covers related to photography. A cover from a roller skate company went to a lady with "skater" in her user name. I was pleased she got that cover!

Same with covers in poor condition. I listed one cover with a RPO cancel that was all wrinkled up. I even apologized for listing it in the auction text. Guess what? Bidding war send it to $12. Must've been a rare cancel. Who knows.

Covers from big cities... originally I sorted those out. I figured everyone would have a Newark, NJ, Philadelphia or New York City cancel in their collection. Then I started listing other cities... I had three covers from Milwaukee with different branches or slogan cancels. One guy bought all three... he was from Milwaukee! So I started listing everything I had from cities... at one point I had 26 New York City covers for sale. Half of them are now sold.

So a very important lesson was to stop assuming things by my own collecting habits. Just put the covers out there and let the public decide!




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Brechinite
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Neddie Seagoon from The Telegoons
25 Nov 2021
05:59:25pm

Auctions - Approvals
re: My Little eBay Experiment

YYUUUPPP!

The Market Rules!!

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BenFranklin1902
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Tom in Exton, PA
27 Nov 2021
11:35:28am
re: My Little eBay Experiment

As I said earlier, eBay enticed me to sell again with their free listing offer! For anyone, they are offering 200 free auction listings a month. If you allow them to process the payments, they give you an additional 50 a month, total 250.

These listings will also renew automatically and free for 8 additional insertions, so your auctions will run 9 weeks. I found out why they did this pretty quickly... sell through is very poor! I picture this selling process as the luggage carousel at the airport. The luggage (or listings) goes round and round until someone claims each bag. Same with my listings.. items can be listed for 5-6 rounds before they interest someone enough to make a bid. And the phenomena of something that's been listed for weeks without interest, suddenly getting multiple bids. eBay is all a matter of who logs in each week!

So with 9 revolutions around the sun for each listing, someone may just buy your item! And that's about the performance that a single week would have produced in the good ole days!

At first I thought it would be insurmountable to list 250 items a month. I had been set up for rapid standardized listings in the past. And I examined listings of the companies I researched, who are now my competition. Maybe not competition since every cover is unique, so lets call them peers.

So I set up my scanning operation for speed as I mentioned earlier. Then I'll stack like pieces together, so I can keep hitting the "List a Similar Item" button. For instance, I had a stack of 1940s Chicago airmail covers from the 1940s. All of them were from the same correspondence between two companies. Each of them had a unique cancel.. some branch cancels and one air mail facility cancel. As I listed these, all I had to do was change a few words in the title and description, and change the photos. Quick and easy. And ya know what? The same guy just bid on all 4 of them! So someone is collecting Chicago.

My first few weeks were dismal. I had very few sales and everything sold for starting price of 99 cents. If I hadn't done research, I would've thought everyone was right that eBay was dead and quit at that point. But seeing how the peer companies had a decent sales rate with fairly common items that mirrored what I was selling, I kept at it. I realized it had to be about building a clientele!

I continued to watch my peers. I noticed they were very quick with any descriptions. And reading that many if not most people are now shopping on mobile devices, all you can see on eBay is the title, and the first line of the description. You can click on the description if you care to see more, but I don't think people do. I base that on the number of people who don't read my last line, "Postage is only $1.00 and we will combine shipping on multiple purchases!" I can't tell you how many people submit payment including a dollar an item! So minimal description and two good photos... front and back of each item.. good enough!

I also see where mega sellers blunder. People who process listings so fast that they miss basic things like having good clear scans. I see lots of crooked images, dark images and even postcards which are in the wrong orientation. I resolved that my listings would always have nice illustrations, it's worth the extra minute.

I see bad town names and wrong states. These folks are just listing what they see. If a cancellation is poor and town or state unreadable, they just fake it! I can't tell you how many times I find a listing for a New Jersey town I've never heard of, only to find they've misspelled a common town name, or posted a NY cover as NJ. Sometimes it was just a typing error. Wikipedia has a listing of town names in every state. I have it book marked and will look up a town name if necessary. Another thing is people collect DPOs or "Discontinued Post Offices". I do own the guidebooks for NJ and PA, but looking one up is as easy as going to USPS.COM/Locations and typing it in. If the town post office comes up, it's current. If the search either gives you another town, that would be the current office servicing that area. If it finds no entry at all, it's certainly gone! So I made a decision that my listings would always be accurate and free of typos!

And despite having messy listings that look like they employed unknowledgeable high school kids to help, they do well! So I knew I could do better!

I did mention my results for the first month was dismal. A lot of single item sales and nothing really went above starting bid. Except for one item! I had a first day cover (Puerto Rico stamp of 1939- Washington DC - Actually a second day cancel) sell for $60. I couldn't believe it until the winning bidder paid! And he was from Puerto Rico! I still don't know the significance of that cover, I would've sold it for $2. The fun of eBay!

My sales started to build up. I guess a lot of folks saw a new vendor and gave me a one item shot. I made sure I mailed things as soon as possible. Anything paid for in a day, would go out on my way to work in the morning. I pass two post offices so it's no effort to mail daily. That paid off. I started getting "Fast Shipping" feedback, which is great. Some of the peers I researched didn't do so well there. They seem to have so many sales that they sometimes take weeks to ship. And that's mentioned in their feedback to their detriment. So I was going to avoid that pitfall.

I started to see the same people bidding every week. And now they started bidding on multiple items, I guess once they decided I was legit! Things started to go well!




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oldguy
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29 Nov 2021
06:34:06pm
re: My Little eBay Experiment

"I've always said, "Stamps are like cocaine... first it's all fun and games, and before you know it you are dealing to support your habit!" So in August, lured by their promise of 250 free auctions a month, I decided to take a stab at it once again. I wanted to see how the market had changed, how bad sell through was and how eBay's new managed payments worked."

Great observation!

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BenFranklin1902
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Tom in Exton, PA
01 Dec 2021
11:51:56am
re: My Little eBay Experiment

Every so often I’ll have a non-collector learn I sell on eBay and they’ll ask the age old question of what they can sell. They all think they can buy a case of something, put an ad on eBay and the orders will start rolling in! Of course, they don’t realize that everyone out there is thinking the same thing. This especially goes for people who don’t have a hobby… aka “the general public”, who think they can buy a box of spatulas at the dollar store and sell them for $10 each. The old adage of “if it was that easy everyone would be doing it” applies here. Nobody is going to be the Spatula King on eBay!

I saw a good article on Auction Watch explaining this. And the theme was pretty much “sell what you know”. Duh! Especially when you get into collectors’ markets, you need to be intimate with that market. No matter if it’s a stamp or an old model car, a member of the general public cannot tell the valuable ones from the overly common ones.

So sell what you know, if it’s something you are passionate about… even better! Then do your research. Last week my wife emerged from the basement with a handful of Beanie Babies. Her intent was to give them to our granddaughters but asked me if they were valuable. I quickly input “Princess Diana Beanie Baby” into the eBay search and hundreds of listings popped up. First there were the ones for hundreds to thousands of dollars! I showed my wife one for $999 and she got excited. Then I showed her an auction starting at $9.99 with no bids. Pretty apparent that there are many sellers and no buyers. That’s the fickle eBay. And of course the fishing tales went from “I saw a Beanie listed for $999 on eBay” to “A buddy-0-mine sold a Beanie for $999 on eBay!” perpetuating the myths!

With my hobby of stamp collecting, I started my research with my 20 plus years of buying stamps on eBay, and having watched the changes in that market over time. We all know most US stamps after 1940 are as common as dirt. I think about the huge lots of old commemoratives I buy for postage at 40% off face value! In one lot of $100 it was all plate blocks! Nothing like a stack of 50 Apollo Soyuz plate blocks for postage! So selling this stuff would be fruitless.

Narrowing it down to my own passion for old covers, I found an area I enjoyed.. thus could be enthusiastic about. Plus I had a large inventory on hand from my tendency to buy large lots to paw through for goodies! So I had FREE inventory to play with! And since my 250 listings were free, it gave me free reign to list 10 of something specific like old meters on cover. If it worked great, if it didn't nothing lost!

The good part is that old covers can be unique! So a cover can stand alone instead of being one of a hundred of the same stamp for sale. I get excited when I find just the right one for my collection. The combination of a decently clean envelope or card, with either unusual usage or a nice clear cancel from a town I don’t have in my New Jersey collection. I reasoned other people would feel the same way.

So my focus became finding new homes for great old covers. And along the way I discovered I could find new homes for not so great covers too!

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Tom in Exton, PA
02 Dec 2021
11:45:52am
re: My Little eBay Experiment

So what’s a great old cover? There are as many answers as there are collectors. Someone once said to send someone out with the instructions to bring you back “a good lunch”. The results will vary greatly!

I love old covers. I like the history behind them and the fact that they’ve survived a long time. They can be of a philatelic nature such as an event cover, or just correspondence from a business or between friends. As I’ve gone through big boxes of old covers there is one thing I’ve noticed. Many old covers have never been in a collection! Yes, they’ve been saved by someone for decades but never have been that one and only cover in someone’s album!

When I find five of the same event cover from 1932, all serviced by the same addressee in the box together, it’s a telling sign! They have been saved and stored some 90 years, no doubt passing from collector to collector. They are waiting for their forever home someday! And somehow this has become a passion for me!

Listing these covers on eBay, is the first step in finding them all great new homes! Some of them sell for the 99 cent starting price, while others can be more profitable with multiple bids. No matter what they sell for, they are off on their adventure to somewhere new across America, or sometimes around the world!

And where do they go? A lot of buyers collect local. It’s very common to send covers back to their originating state or city. I collect New Jersey for instance. I have a customer who collects Chicago. When I put up something from the windy city, and I see a bid, I can almost be sure it’s him! Recently I had four old airmail covers that were part of a series of correspondence between two companies. All sent from Chicago over the course of a year, I listed up four of them all with different cancels. Two were branches, one was the airmail facility and one was a slogan cancel. Same guy bought them all. So like puppies from the same litter, they get to stay together in their new home!

There are no hard and fast rules either. Sometimes I get a one time buyer, purchasing a cover or card from their hometown. I just had a 1920s cover postmarked Janesville, WV. It had a hotel corner card, but was torn open hard and was missing a big part of the left edge! A cover I wouldn’t want to collect, one I nearly cut the stamp off and tossed, but a lady in that same town bought it, and it traveled back to Janesville! So never judge a cover by its cover! I had a bunch of New Jersey postmarked covers up for auction. One Saturday afternoon my phone kept chiming with new bids. As I saw the common theme of NJ, I thought a collector was going through my listings… nope! I was very surprised they were all different bidders! So ya never know!

People collect themes too. I like that. Our own Vinman collects fire related covers so I keep an eye out for them. I’ve had people buy pharmacy, libraries, Disney, Christmas and turtles! It’s fun to see what people collect! I had a fellow in Poland buy two US covers related to photography from me in two separate purchases. This week I purposely put up two such covers… and yes he bid on them! So I do keep this in mind when I list.

I had a fellow message me to complain that my user name, TurtlesTradingPost, was screwing up his search for turtles! I send him a note back to modify his search to “turtle -turtlestradingpost”. He was grateful as he didn’t know about the minus thing in search. I decided to mess with him and listed a few turtle cancels the next week… he bought them! I think we’re friends now!

One surprise was that I’ve done well with meter covers. I thought someone might like the 1930s ones on number 6 envelopes, especially with business corner cards. I was right! Those got scooped up! Then I ventured deeper.. number 10 envelopes with meters from the 1970s through the 1990s? Yup, about half of those are now sold. In my next batch of 250 auctions I have about 2 dozen ready to list!

Airmail, Registered and Certified Mail, postage dues and markings like “Return To Sender” and mail with International destinations sell too! I had three airmail covers from Connecticut to California that were nearly identical. Same chain of correspondence between two people, dated all in the same year. I didn’t want them to compete with each other so I put one up for auction. It sold. So I put up another one the following week. It sold. And so it went with the third one! Then I noticed they all were purchased by the same guy!

I had a number 10 envelope with a meter, from Gloria Nord Roller Skates to a roller rink in 1951. It received multiple bids and was won by a woman with “skate” in her eBay user name. She sent me a note of thanks, letting me know that the cover was now in the archives of a skating organization. That makes my day! A cover that sat in my box for 20 years had special meaning!

And I did mention that a lot of old covers go back to the town of their origin. The buyers are happy people and leave nice feedback. I think of this as my effort to restore the universe to it’s original state, one auction at a time. And that’s why I do this! It’s fun!

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D2M2
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02 Dec 2021
12:29:26pm
re: My Little eBay Experiment

Thank you, Tom. I learned a lot about covers from you.
I may have to start hunting some!

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sheepshanks
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02 Dec 2021
12:59:55pm
re: My Little eBay Experiment

Just curious as to why envelopes are called covers by philatelists? I appreciate that they have at some point covered correspondence (but not always). Prepaid airmail stationery is the enclosure.
FDC are really first day cover envelopes that possibly contain a stiffener, but most have never even been addressed, let alone seen a sharpie!
Maybe some knowledgable persons could enlighten my brain cell.

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Tom in Exton, PA
03 Dec 2021
09:20:11am
re: My Little eBay Experiment

Quote:

"Just curious as to why envelopes are called covers by philatelists?"



Tis a funny thing.. same question came up on a Facebook thread about old postcards the other day. Up until now, for the past 50 or so years, I've just called them covers because everyone else did! Surprise

It would be interesting to go back and see when the term came to being in the hobby. It probably started with the phrase "I am sending you the documents under cover" which of course meant in an envelope. Maybe to distinguish from the old stampless era practice of just mailing folded sheets?
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