An antiquity, as distinguished from an antique, is an ancient object, generally 800 or more years old. Some nice pieces appear on Ebay from time to time. But for each authentic piece, there are easily 100 auctions for fakes represented as the real thing. They range from pretty good reproductions, to ridiculous garbage, that is not even antique. The fact that even the garbage often sells for many hundreds of dollars convinces me to write this guide for you who hope to find beautiful relics of ancient cultures in the dark alleys of Ebay. What follows is my advice, only my advice. What goes for antiquities, probably is also largely true for antiques.
First and foremost. Don't bid on any ancient object unless you know something about that type of object. Avoid impulse bidding. You may not have been interested in buying ancient art until you saw it on ebay and realized that it was attainable. Don't bid. Remember, if you do not know what a thing is supposed to look like, you are vulnerable to con artists. Anyway it is fun to learn about the ancient culture that interests you and to learn about their material culture. Look on the web. Go to museums, libraries and bookstores. Buy books before you buy things. One reputable antiquity dealer told me that in the beginning I should be spending as much on books as on aniquities. I also very much recomend that you go to the yahoo website and search for the groups where ancient artifacts, antiquities etc are discussed. These groups are frequented by some pretty impressive experts who can teach you a lot, or who can look at an auction photo and tell you if an item is more likely than not a fake.
And while you are learning about your area of interest, if you just must buy something, consider buying it from a reputable dealer, or searching for the ebay auctions of reputable dealers. You will learn about reputable dealers on the yahoo groups. You may be surprised at how reasonable a piece from a dealer can be. In addition, perusing reputable dealer websites and the websites of Bonham's, Christie's, etc. will give you an idea of what your chosen item types are really worth. This is another nice thing to know before you go prospecting on Ebay.
When you do look on Ebay and you find antiquity deals that interst you, here are some things to help you evaluate the seller.
1. Private auctions -- Be suspicious. Shills can be hidden here. (Shills are imposters posing as legitemate bidders to push up prices.)
2. Private feedback. Avoid like the plague. It is the lifeblood of ebay: reputation. It is what we have to go on. Ignore excuses sellers give, like they are trying to protect there bidders or something. I've bid on a lot of antiquity auctions. No one has ever bothered me.
3. Feedback in general. The rating percent has to be high. If it is a seller with a lot of sales, I don't usually mess with anyone with feedback under 99 per cent. Remember that a lot of people will not leave negative feeback if burned, because they fear retaliatory feedback. Often they will leave a "neutral", and express dissappointment in their comments. A neutral does not count against the percentage of positive feedbacks. So you absolutely must read the comments to get the picture. There is a nice program online that will distill out and present a seller's negative and neutral comments for you to peruse. Ask me about it if you can't find it.
4. Disclaimers. For example: "Sorry we can't guarantee the age of this thing because we lack the equipment to date it." "All sales final." "As is." I include weasel words and C.Y.A.'s like "suggestive age" age stated as a "guideline".
5. Unworkable or short authenticity guarantees. The best antiquity dealers guarantee authenticity for life. Con men guarantee authenticity (if at all) for a week to a month. That is useless, as expert evaluation or testing of a piece can take a very long time. Experts will accept a wide variety of circumstances throwing doubt on the authenticity of a piece. Con men will want a letter from a state museum or equivalent before they will honor their authenticity guarantee. Remember, no museum is going to write you a letter. There is nothing in it for them but risk of litigation and loss of professional prestige.
6. A long history lesson as part of the auction. This is not completely limited to crooks, but in general a long elaborate discussion of historical context should alert you to look for other things. Remember, I mean long and elaborate. A lot of honest antique and antiquity sellers may give a paragraph or so.
7. Wierd statements in auctions. For example, there is one seller of fakes who insists that he gets some of his antiquities from people who work in excavation sites. That is not logical, because in most countries it is illegal to sell and export antiquities that are newly dug up. A person who publishes that is either lieing, or hoping for a long jail sentence. Another seller claims to own a museum (that you have never heard of) and to be selling de accessioned pieces.Odd and suspicios.
8. Claims that the antiquity represents or belonged to a known or royal person such as Cleopatra, any king or pharoah, or someone from the Bible. (Of course if the piece is something mass produced like a coin, it probably does represent someone important.)
9. The piece in the auction is hard to see. Perhaps the picture is dark or blurry. Perhaps the piece has dirt on it. By dirt I don't mean encrusted deposits of the ages. I mean it is dirty with fresh or loose dirt like it was just dug up but not brushed off. Or the dirt appears to be intentionally supplied. Of course don't be afraid to email for a better picture. Sometimes a bad picture of an antiquity is just a bad picture.
10. If in doubt look at the seller's other pieces. If you see some fakes, the odds go way up that they are all or mostly fakes. There are sellers who sell a mix of fake and real. Some are crooks. Some just honestly don't know the difference themselves. Either way, it is risky to buy from them until you have built up your own knowledge and experience considerably.
11. Take multiple factors into account if you can. Sometimes one bad thing can be wrong, but other information fixes that. For example I know of one excellent and honest antiquities dealer who has a 97.something per cent positive feedback rating. He mostly sells off ebay and has less than 100 feedbacks. Basically, bad luck--two or three cranky trading partners. It could happen to anyone.
12. Ask questions. The answers will tell you a lot. Evasion or rudeness/defensiveness are signs of trouble. Of course polite responsive answers can be lies. It is all up to you to judge all the circumstances. I kind of look at it as a fun game, which you will lose once in a while. Most collectors have been fooled at one time or another.
This is what I know about avoiding crooked sellers on ebay. I'm sure that some of you have other methods of avoiding buying fake antiquities or antiques. I hope that you publish guides too, so you can help other collectors. Perhaps if you have some information in a particular area, like ancient egypt, mayan etc. you might publish a guide. In any case, best of luck to everyone in their search for antiquities. And have fun.