Not too long ago, as I was riding the wild, untamed net, I stumbled across an item that got my creative juices flowing. Up for auction in Holland, if memory serves me, was a Japanese tin motorbike from the 1950s. Mint and shiny with no obvious flaws (and definitely not one of the many repros kicking around these days), it seemed, if you'll excuse the pun, a wheely good deal. Before I could get my little fingers on the keyboard, I asked myself, "what's wrong with this picture?" A toy worth maybe $450 on the U.S. market had mysteriously stalled at the $25 mark just minutes before closing time.
Turns out the bidder, bless his little Dutch heart, had misspelled the word motorcycle. Instead, he typed "moter cycle," a variation few would have thought to ferret out. To top it off, it was listed in an oddball category, so it didn't even surface in a logical "ending today" listing. I am a firm believer that when something seems too good to be true, it usually is. So I backed off, leaving my toy nemesis to get a good chuckle every time he admires his under-priced "motercycle" on his shelf.
The lesson here is a good one. Never assume that an auction item is spelled right, especially in international circles. Remember that Canadians often have their own way of spelling things (chequebook rather than checkbook), and these discrepancies can show up in the listings themselves. Often dealers don't have time to proofread. And sometimes the dealers think they're smarter than they actually are. Like the guy selling the "Emes" chair rather than the much better known "Eames" chair.
Lately, I've been using eBay's new Smart Search item feature, which allows you to plug in multiple spellings of the same word and ask for a list of all variations. When I seek out mannequin heads from the 1940s and 50s, I always type in mannikin, manikin, mannekin and anything else I can think of. And yes, I have found the odd bargain here too!
Collectors of movie memorabilia and rock-music souvenirs are in particular luck when it comes to Internet sales: misspelling of proper names is common and can be a goldmine to buyers who anticipate these errors. Try this simple little test. Type in Liza Minnelli to see what you come up with. 162 entries. Not bad. Now try Liza Minelli. Uh huh: 41 offerings. There are also listings for Liza Minneli and even Lisa Minelli.
And check out poor Britney Spears. There must be at least 15 (okay, maybe only five) different spellings of her name on eBay. Even a veteran entertainment reporter like me starts getting jaded. For extra fun, seek out the products themselves because they too are spelled wrong. The last time I looked, I found a Rolling Stone article promising an expose on "Brittney" as well as a mouse pad emblazoned with the sultry Ms. Spears rechristened as "Brittany."
Never mind, another person's laziness or typo is my gain. And mistakes afflict everyone in a world where speedwriting has squeezed out old-fashioned proofreading.
So, please, before you email me with a compendium of my own mistakes, bear in mind that it is 4 a.m. and my Microsoft spell checker is now the smartest kid on the block, telling me for the hundredth time that Susanne should really be spelled Suzanne and that eBay might be better off as embay.