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The Popularity of Insulators on eBay

Ebay is one of the most popular sources of insulators on the internet.  It is certainly the top auction site.  The number of insulators listed at the Insulators.com web site frequently outnumbers the number listed on eBay although these insulators are for sale at a fixed price and the stock does not rotate as quickly.  Other auction sites with large numbers of insulators are frequently filled with common insulators or insulators with overpriced reserves because the auction site does not charge a listing fee and items are relisted automatically up to 99 times.  When Yahoo started charging a listing fee around the end of 2000 or the beginning of 2001, there was a sizeable drop in the number of insulator listings.

The popularity of eBay is partly suggested by the number of listings shown below in Table 1. Nevertheless, collectors do have criticisms of eBay.  One generic complaint about all internet auctions is that uneducated or unethical dealers make claims or omit information about the insulator leading unsuspecting bidders to overbid.  Crackled insulators, dyed insulators, faked insulators and things that aren't insulators have drawn bids that are shocking to those in the hobby (See Table 2).

Sniping is another common point of frustration about on-line auctions.  The now apparantly defunct auction site eggHead.com addressed this by extending auctions to 10 minutes after the last bid.  Auctions conducted by collectors such as Dwayne Anthony, Ross Baird, or Ray Klingensmith take this one step further and call back the top three bidders on pieces and let them increase their bid until all but one drops out.  Sometimes this process takes several days but it ends the frustration of not getting to bid one more time.

A more specific criticism of eBay is where insulators are listed on auction sites. At one point on eBay in the United States, insulators were listed in a category titled, "Collectibles:Furnishings, Knives & Tools:Insulators."  This 2000 change was supposed to be an improvement over the former category title of "Collectibles: Insulators."  Insulators, however, are neither furnishings, knives nor tools and this categorization makes it hard to find the proper category. After complaints by collectors, as of 2006, insulators are listed in the category of "Collectibles > Bottles & Insulators > Insulators."

TABLE 1: Insulator listings on eBay over time
Date Items found by
search for
"insulator*" in title 
and description 
(all categories)
Items in
Items found
by search for
in title only
August 31, 2007 (Friday) 3854 1066 1269
June 20, 2001 (Wednesday) 1131 805 723
April 24, 2001 (Tuesday) 1144 788 745
March 20, 2001 (Tuesday) 1175 952 802

TABLE 2: Insulators that were sold for prices shocking to the hobby
Description of the Transaction Why it was shocking
On June 12, 2001, a carnival CD 257 "Mickey Mouse" insulator was sold for $330 on eBay.  The description said, "A few of these were made during the late1980's and have since become highly collectible." Not indicated was that the carnival coating was added by a collector, not by the factory and that these are considered fakes to the hobby.  The seller is a well known dealer in the hobby but his daughter was in charge of the listing so she might be excused for the oversight.  A collector offered one of these for sale on ICON for about $125 after the auction was over.  Several collectors who knew about the auction passed up one for sale for $50 at the Toledo/Tama, Iowa swap meet a few days later.


Updated August 30, 2007