Buying Mineral Specimens and Crystals on eBayThe purpose of this guide is to help the collector and buyer of crystal and mineral specimens use eBay to add to their collection in a safe and satisfying way. Some of the major topics that I will cover include
- Finding what you want on eBay – successful searching
- Judging the specimen
- Judging the seller and their policies
- Successful bidding or buying
- eBay and the future of online mineral purchasing
Finding what you want – successful searching
This is basic stuff, but it pays to learn how to use the search engine. Here are some tips to help you use it most efficiently:
- Do some research. Use the internet to research what is being offered. The single best resource that I've found for mineral information is Mindat. Here you can find out anything you ever wanted to know about mineral properties and localities, and it features a vast photo gallery with multiple images of almost any mineral on the planet.
- Search descriptions, not just titles. For instance, if you’re looking for a particular mineral from a specific locality (such as “Amethyst Veracruz”, you may get no hits if you do just a search of the listing titles. Check the box that says “Search title and description” and you are more likely to find what you’re looking for.
- Learn to use the minus (-) sign. If you put the minus sign before a search term, you will only see items that do not have that term in them. For instance, if you are looking for Amethyst that is NOT polished, searching on “Amethyst” will return hundreds of items, many of them polished. If you search on “Amethyst –polished” you will eliminate the polished items and find what you want much faster.
Judging the specimen
manufactured items, which tend to be very uniform and predictable in
their features, every crystal or mineral specimen is unique. Mineral
collecting and purchasing has traditionally been a “hands-on”
experience, and most traditional collectors insist on being able to
hold the specimen and turn it every which way before deciding whether
to purchase it. Purchasing minerals online, sight unseen, will never
quite duplicate that experience, but in the best of circumstances it
can get pretty close. In this section and the next, I will try to
provide some guidelines to help make your online experience as
satisfying as possible.
- Read the description. Read the description. This is worth repeating. A good listing will include an informative description providing all relevant facts that you need to know about the piece. At a minimum, the mineral name(s), locality, size, and any significant negatives (damage, etc.) should be provided. If the description and photos do not give you enough information, email the seller and ask your question, preferably before bidding. If you see something in the photo that looks like damage that you might not be able to live with, ask about it (sometimes it’s just a weird reflection, but it pays to ask if that’s important to you). If you’ve given the seller enough time before the auction ends (preferably at least a day) and you get no answer, you may want to shop elsewhere.
- Beware of fakes and forgeries. The vast majority of crystals and minerals offered on eBay are completely natural and authentic. However, there have been a small number of items, mostly from the Far East, that are known to be man-made or “enhanced”. These include most of the large “Turquoise” specimens, the “saffron” colored Okenites (these are dyed – Okenite is always white), and some of the green Quartz crystals from China, which start out as regular white or clear Quartz which is super-heated in the presence of Chromium, adding the green color. A popular website called The Vug has a good article about most of the recent fakes.
- General specimen quality on eBay. At any one time there is a very wide variety, quality-wise, of minerals and crystals on eBay. There are numerous world-class examples and many items that may not be worth the cost of postage. I believe that we are still in the “Wild West” of mineral buying on eBay, but that we are rapidly moving towards “civilization”. In the five years that I have been closely involved with the mineral marketplace on eBay I have seen many sellers come and go; the ones that are no longer around were generally offering lower-quality items at retail-price starting bids, didn’t sell many items, and eventually lost money. The ones that have lasted have consistently offered high-quality merchandise and have backed it up with a high level of commitment to customer satisfaction. This is a trend that will continue into the future, and the general quality of minerals and crystals available on eBay will continue to increase as a result.
Judging the sellerOnce you’ve found a specimen that you think you’d like to bid on or purchase, it’s time to decide whether the seller of the item is someone that you’d want to do business with. A good seller will have high integrity (honesty), provide good service, and be committed to making sure that you’re happy with the experience as a whole. Here are some tips that I hope will help you:
- Check the seller’s feedback. The feedback system is what makes eBay work. It’s important to check the feedback of any seller that you may be doing business with, and actually reading some of the most recent feedback comments will give you a very good idea of how happy other customers have been in their experience with a seller. If there is a lot of enthusiastic praise you’re probably in good hands. But don’t let a couple of negatives deter you – every seller is bound to get a negative sooner or later, of course we’re all human and we all make mistakes. Reading the negative comments is also important in this case – you may find that the seller received a negative as a buyer and not because of anything he sold, or that the negatives are not recent enough to be important.- Read the seller’s policies. You want to make sure that the seller’s policies are consistent with your expectations and needs. These include the seller’s return policy. As with any unique item, your subjective experience of the item once you receive it may differ significantly with either the seller’s presentation of it or your expectations. Favor seller’s that have an unconditional refund policy. Obviously this is not something that you want to abuse, but if the seller is confident enough to offer anyone a no-questions-asked refund within a week or two of receiving the specimen, that should increase your confidence that you will be satisfied with it. You should expect to pay at least one-way shipping in case you do need to return it
- Service – shipping and postage. Pay attention to the postage charges that will be added to the final cost of the item that you’re buying. These should be clearly stated in the item header or description, or a shipping calculator should be available if the postage depends on your distance from the seller. It is reasonable for a seller to add a dollar or two as a handling charge, to cover packing materials and time, but anything much over that could be viewed as a way to make extra profits on the postage. Favor sellers who only pass on the actual postage charges that they have to pay to get the item to you. Also, make sure that the seller gives you a good idea of how soon after payment your item will be shipped. Any time frame over one week should be questioned, unless the seller will be away when the auction ends.
- Communication – Quick replies to your questions, and a courtesy email notifying you of shipment (if not automatically sent by eBay or Paypal) are always good signs that you will have a good experience with the seller.
Bidding and buying
Just a few thoughts about bidding on auctions versus buying fixed-price items:- Bidding on auctions. I’m not going to discuss bidding strategies here, or offer tips on how to win; rather I want to offer some comments on the popular belief that you have to be online to bid when the auction ends. I sometimes get emails from potential customers overseas asking whether I can list some items that end at a reasonable time (i.e. waking hours) in their part of the world, so that they can be online when the auction is ending. The fact is that there are now several very good and quite reliable web-based services (such as esnipe.com) that will bid on your behalf and according to your instructions just before the end of the auction, so it is not necessary that you be logged on or even awake when your bid is placed. There is usually a small fee associated with this service.
- Buying fixed-price items. eBay started out as pretty much an auction-only venue, although that has changed over the years. The truth is that many (maybe most?) people simply don’t feel comfortable with the bidding experience. It may be too unpredictable for them, or they may mistrust something about the integrity of auctions in general, or they may simply be too impatient to wait for an auction to end. The good news is that eBay is now an excellent place to buy many items outright, without bidding or waiting at all. eBay now provides several fixed-price venues such as eBay Stores where millions of items are offered for instant purchase. I’d like to encourage mineral and crystal collectors not to neglect these venues as valuable ways to enrich their collections. The only tricky thing is that store items are usually not included in your search results; to see the eBay Store items you must select the "All Items" tab at the top of the page. In any case, if instant gratification is more to your liking than competitive bidding, don’t forget to check out eBay Stores.
eBay: The future of online mineral purchasingThere is no doubt that the practice of acquiring mineral specimens online has been growing exponentially in the last few years. Of course, there are probably thousands of individual dealer websites that offer the collector great opportunities to be able to purchase specimens directly, without having to leave the comfort of their own home.
eBay, however, offers several very significant advantages for both the buyer and the seller over the countless dealer websites on the Internet. These advantages, in my opinion, will make eBay THE single biggest venue for online mineral purchases in the coming years, if it has not already achieved that status.
First, eBay is already known to everybody as a place where you can get just about anything. It is the most accessible website for both buyers and sellers for a very simple reason: you only have to remember one web address – www.ebay.com. You do not have to trudge through endless search engine hits to find the dealer that might have what you’re looking for.
For that same reason, eBay is able to offer the greatest variety of available items in any category of your choosing. The reason for this is obvious – it is a single resource where the collective inventories of thousands of sellers can be seen and compared on the same page. It has a very powerful, built-in search engine which can be used to apply very specific parameters against this vast inventory to locate exactly what you are looking for (more on this later).
The great number and variety of sellers offering crystals and minerals on eBay is also due the fact that it is instantly available for use by anyone who wants to sell something. There is no need for a seller to buy a domain name, build a website, or go through the long process of being listed on the major search engines in order to drive traffic to their site. Also, sellers do not need to develop a system for customers to use for ordering and paying for items that they want to purchase. Another great advantage that eBay has is that it is automatically self-updating. When an item is sold, it instantly disappears from the active listings. On most dealer websites sold items are only removed manually by the person maintaining the site, and usually on an irregular schedule. Many customers have found it very frustrating to try to order an item from a dealer website only to find out that it has already been sold.
On a personal note, I have been selling mineral specimens on eBay for several years, and even though I have a domain name for my business I’ve never felt the need to build and promote my own website. For me, it’s just not worth the effort. eBay is a wonderful, built-in global marketplace where millions of potential buyers already have access to my offerings.
There is no doubt that eBay is rapidly becoming the largest online venue for purchasing mineral specimens and crystals on the Internet. I hope that I’ve shed a little light on successful mineral buying on eBay for you.
I’d like to thank you for taking the time to read through this guide – it’s a work in progress and I welcome any comments or suggestions that you might care to send my way. If you have found it helpful, please VOTE on it below.
Oh, one last thing – DONT FORGET TO HAVE FUN!