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E-Beads, Ebay and E-caution

You can buy beads on the web at auction. But should you? The technology for Internet auctions has now become relatively common and there are a growing number of auction houses.

When tempted to buy beads on web auctions keep in mind that there are many different people out these selling their goods. Some are professional dealers, and at least one couple I know has become so enamored of this business that they are marketing their beads exclusively this way. Other sellers, however, are amateurs, either at selling things in general ("I found these in a box...") or at selling beads in particular.

Sometimes this leads to confusion or even mirth. Try figuring out what "blood glass" or "hermatite" are. Why does one seller assure us that his glass beads "are all drilled?"

Other sellers have a hard time describing what they are offering. Two lots by the same person characterized Venetian lamp-wound glass beads this way: "[they] look to be "wound" beads. (They look more painted than "miliflori"-style." The other lot reads, "they don't look to be "wound" or "miliflori" style beads, but rather ceramic."

There are poetic descriptions. A string of beads were "pale matte transparent lilac with a little silvery ghost." The "little silvery ghost" is a luster finish.

Obviously, one must be careful when buying beads from a web auction, no matter how well respected the auction house is. There is no guarantee of genuine goods or accurate descriptions given by Ebay, Amazon, Excite, Yahoo or any the other web auctions. Of course, this is just common sense; you would do the same at any auction or store.

Are they real amber? You can't tell from the picture. Were the beads really plucked off a 1920s dress? Were they owned by Arapaho Indians in Iowa (was there ever an Arapaho presence in Iowa? Not to my knowledge, but I am sure someone who knows differently will tell me.)

There are other pitfalls. Buying beads that have been looted from archaeological sites in the last few decades is illegal. You probably won't get arrested, but there are ethics involved. Do you want to abet the plundering of the heritage of other people? [Consider for a moment why there are plenty of ancient beads from, say, Africa or Southeast Asia on the market, but none from Europe.]

How fair is the bidding? I wonder when I see extravagant prices for prosaic beads. Yes, you can check out the bidding history, but can't this be manipulated somehow?

And then there is the question of correct descriptions. The "Crow beads" look nothing like beads usually called that. Lewis and Clark beads? By now you should know the story. And so on.

My final complaint is the free use of "old stock," (and "new old stock") "vintage," "antique" and "ancient."

Many beads are made for long periods and I just don't believe there are that many well-stocked never-picked-over bead storehouses out there to produce numerous great beads.

"Antique" is formally identified as by U.S. customs laws as being at least 100 years old. Beads from the 1960s are not antique.

"Ancient" is even older, specifically before the fall of Rome (476 AD). "Ancient green hearts" (more correctly placed at 1700s-1800s in the full description) is an oxymoron.

Frankly, I think we should get into the habit of using "vintage" more. Why? Because everyone with whom I have discussed this well used term agrees -- no one really knows what it means. A little ambiguity is not a bad thing.

So, have a good time. Caveat emptor, of course. See you at the auction house.


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