EcommerceBytes-Update, Number 76 - August 11, 2002 - ISSN 1528-6703     4 of 8

Online Auction Strategies: Make Money Selling Catalogs

By Julia Wilkinson

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Catalogs. If you're like most Americans, they come free in the mail every day. So where's the excitement in selling those? Well, as I've discovered lately, there can actually be great fun and big bucks in hunting for, buying, and selling catalogs.

In my research on catalogs, I've found that often they go for bigger bucks than old, rare and collectible books. I am guessing one of the reasons is that they are more rare, and a little more unusual. How many people in days of yore thought to hang on to their old Sears catalogs, once renowned for being a cheap, if not particularly comfortable, alternative to toilet paper? (Hmm,...maybe these particular "old days" were not so good!)

Catalogs can give us a wonderful slice of our daily lives, Americana culture in all its quotidian and mercantile glory: American Flyer toys, old toy trains, wonderful vintage automobile parts. This stuff is nirvana for the avid collector.

But it's not just the vintage stuff that sells. Yes, that's where the biggest bucks are. However, there is a category of modern catalog, even some hot off the press, that command decent sums.

Let's look at the essentially two types of catalogs that sell:

1) vintage goods catalogs, and

2) modern catalogs with some kind of special appeal or cache.

Here's the really fun part: you probably have gotten at least some of these latter catalogs stuffed through your mail slot in the past few weeks.

On the high end, we have the vintage catalogs. These are old catalogs in reasonably good condition that appeal to a collector audience. The highest-selling catalog I found in the recent auction period I researched on eBay went for $650.77. It was an old electric railway equipment catalog: "a 1921 Ohio Brass Company catalog of High Tension Insulators, Trolley Line Materials, Rail Bonds & Tools, Third Rail Insulators, and Car Equipment Specialties for Electric Railway Operations." Railroad items, whether real-world or toy, seem to have a very avid following and command good prices.

One of the more recent items that commanded big bucks is a copy of the Princess Diana Dress auction catalog from Christie's auction house. It was listed with a photo of one of the dresses that was on display at a mall, and commanded a whopping $650. Enough to make me consider placing my own prized Diana dress catalog up for auction!

Another one reaped over $600: An antique lighting trade catalog from the Western Gas Fixture Company of Toledo, Ohio, went for $605. (Who knew?) Other vintage catalog sales included:

  • "Crisp" Lionel 1966 Advance Catalog - "Very Rare": $510
  • 1906 Pontiac Dealer's Catalog: $510
  • 1905 Victor Record Catalog: $418.65
  • 1937 Parker Shotgun Catalog (then owned by Remington DuPont): $357

Gun catalogs and information can command good money, as can things military, railroad-oriented, and vintage automobile-related.

The list goes on.

So, you're asking yourself, where can I find these red-hot collections of old pulp?

Admittedly, finding those kind of old valuable catalogs is not easy. If you look in an antique store, you can only hope the owner has not discovered eBay, or isn't knowledgeable about all of his or her merchandise. I came across a stack of old auto parts manuals in an estate mall recently, behind some boxes. I started getting excited until I heard the words "eBay" and "sold all my Corvette manuals for $500" in the same sentence from the dealer talking to someone in the middle of the floor.

You're better off at an estate sale. Try checking in the den or basement. If there is a file cabinet, and it's not closed off, or a basket full of papers and postcards that is fair game, weed through that. Or, if you know any elderly people who collect such valuable paper items, offer to sell it on eBay for them and split the sale price. Although it seems like everybody and his brother is on eBay, there are still quite a few folks who "don't want to mess with the technology" and who will say, "it's too complicated." (Let them think that, I say...the more for us!).

You can also try the old trick of calling ahead at yard sales that list the phone numbers and ask them if they have any old books, then casually add, "or do you have any old catalogs?" I wouldn't mention that you are going to resell them on eBay: that will just make them jack up the price.

But what about more recent catalogs? Yes, even some from 2002 can sell for decent prices.

Here are a few examples:

  • modern fashion catalogs, especially "edgy" or sexy catalogs such as Victoria's Secret and Abercrombie & Fitch;
  • high-end fashion catalogs: Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Prada, Versace, etc.;
  • glossy upscale auction catalogs: those offered by top auction houses such as Christie's, Sotheby's, Butterfields (these catalogs become collectible in and of themselves after a year or two);
  • other high-end items, such as the Christopher Radko Christmas ornaments;
  • modern catalogs that appeal to collectors: Girl and Boy Scout catalogs and materials; train and railroad catalogs; militaria; etc.

A few examples:

  • New Abercrombie Fall 2002 Catalog Quarterly: $20.50
  • "Just the Right Shoe" catalog: $34.33
  • US Army Ranger Museum Auction Catalog 1997: $33
  • 2001 Christopher Radko Catalog Set: $31.55

Are you starting to get the idea? Most of these catalogs can be had easily by calling the manufacturer or subscribing on their Web site. In some cases, such as with Christie's, etc., you will need to pay shipping, which for those heavy catalogs can be as much as $10. But in the long run, I think it will pay off!

Good luck, and happy cataloguing!

About the author:

Julia Wilkinson is the author of "The eBay Price Guide" (No Starch Press, 2006) and "eBay Top 100 Simplified Tips & Tricks" (Wiley, 2004-6). Her free "Yard Salers" newsletter is at available at where you will also find her latest ebook, Flip It Again.

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