Auction Tips
Buyer Beware! Auction Tips Resources A Short History

HOW to make use of on-line auctions is usually very adequately explained at the sites themselves. Our purpose here is simply to offer a few guidelines on what NOT to do!

Wrong descriptions are commonplace!

THE beautiful card on the right may be mistaken for a tobacco card - in fact it is not. It is a Victorian Trade Card. Apart from being larger usually, (it's often hard to tell from a re-sized scan used as part of an auction description) trade cards were primarily advertising aids and were usually non-inserts.
They also make no pretense of being part of a subject series - their message is purely commercial, both front and back. Whether it matters or not depends on how serious a collector you are - of either beautiful Victorian images or pure tobacco cards. But it should be borne in mind that usually a tobacco card of this size (4in x 6in) age, and fine condition, and as attractive as this, would most likely be worth more than a trade card - and therefore an accurate description is important. Other areas of concern re. descriptions are described below.
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Trade Cards are NOT Cigarette Cards!

WHILE the above mistake may be excusable, mis-describing tea cards (premium cards inserted in packs of tea) or those from other trades as cigarette cards is certainly not. Apart from size and shape they usually bear little resemblance to genuine cigarette cards, are often much more recent in age and as a whole lack the printing and card stock qualities of cigarette cards. Being more recent generally, they are usually of much less value except of course for the older or scarcer varieties.
 Reputable dealers know this perfectly well but sadly a few on eBay do habitually use the term "Cigarette Cards" in their titles and then go on to describe the offering as a tea card or "trade card" buried within the text - tricky but not fraudulent. However, some "forget" to mention it at all - or plead ignorance later. Usually, in common with many other types of not-quite-honest sales (scams?), these suspect auctions are started off at a very low price to lure in the ignorant or greedy in search of a "real bargain". A search through the listings will furnish a list of who you may wish to avoid in this respect, and that has to be our advice here - AVOID such dealers. After all, if their descriptions are deceitful to this extent, how honest can they be in other areas?
P.S. It may be worth mentioning too that a few modern issues, in particular from Black Cat Cigarettes, Grandee and Castella Cigars have lower values generally and where they are offered the lack of age or a date should be mentioned. Again, similar to the problem above, a few will simply describe them as cigarette cards while apparently forgetting to mention the date (perhaps hoping the bidder believes all cigarette cards are old?). Decide for yourself how ethical this is.

... And Neither are Reprints or Reproductions!

WHETHER or not you go the reprint route is up to you. Personally we avoid them altogether as, often, the original cards can be had for the same price anyway at auction. Although reprints are intrinsically worthless they do sometimes sell for surprisingly higher prices than their arbitrary $9.00 or so wholesale tag, and that's fine - as long as the buyer is fully aware of what he is buying and the dealer is perfectly open and honest about the description too. Naturally, if you buy cards as originals and they subsequently turn out to be reprints you should demand an immediate refund. The law is on your side. For further information on repros see our "Buyer Beware" page.
If you are among the many who try to avoid repros altogether always seek assurance from a seller that the offering is in fact authentic and original if not otherwise described as such - or better still deal solely with a known and trusted dealer who only sells originals, such as C. & N. Smith's Cigarette Card Central at or Cartophily Kate's at - eBay auction I.D's "cardking" , "kingcard" and "queencard". Cards from these dealers are triple checked by experts - on arrival, on cataloguing or entering for sale, and yet again prior to final shipment to the customer. This is all sound advice, yet a surprising number still ignore it when they see a supposed "bargain" and then end up asking our opinion about some suspicious looking cards they just bought! It might also be an idea to simply include the word "originals" within your search criteria.

Condition is Everything - Mostly!

EVERYONE knows that the better the condition, the higher the value. If the subject is more important to you than the value of the card it matters little (unless you decide to sell them later) but to most others the condition of cigarette cards plays a large part in the buying decision, the perceived value and the bid amount. Unfortunately this is a prime area for mis-describing by sellers and all too often the buyer receives an unpleasant surprise when he or she eventually receives cards that have been erroneously described in glowing terms by over-enthusiastic (hopefully not downright dishonest) dealers or amateur sellers. It doesn't help matters either that there are different standards in operation in different countries. A card described as being in "good" condition in England may be the equivalent of a vg-plus card or better in the States.
To compound the problem, foreign sellers at an American auction may use either standard. As cards with rips, tears and/or bad creasing are worth very little, ascertaining the exact condition is important and if all that is offered as an aid in judging this is a blurry out of focus picture - or none at all - together with a brief and all too sketchy description, again our advice would be to AVOID the Lot - especially when there is no indication of description whatsoever! Sellers are perfectly aware of the importance of a condition description and if you take a chance you will, without any doubt, eventually end up a victim!

Know Your Dealers Well be they Domestic or Foreign!

THE global nature of internet auctions makes this more important than ever before as the laws that normally protect a consumer in one's own country may be impossible to resort to if the seller is based overseas. While one occasionally hears horror stories from buyers bidding on cards from abroad the majority of such dealers are honest and particular attention should be paid to feedback as one indicator. Otherwise there is no reason not to bid on an overseas sale - except perhaps extra shipping charges, possible payment difficulties and extra time delays involved. Whether domestic or foreign, take the time to get to know a dealer from his previous auctions and results before bidding too heavily at first. And find one that is happy to give guarantees of authenticity. Note too, that grading descriptions may well have very different meanings in different countries - particularly with the use of the term "mint", which is often used much too readily. 
Feedback at auctioneers such as eBay do go some way towards offering an insight to a dealer's character but do not take everything you read as gospel. Many dealers (and customers) are simply afraid to give negative feedbacks in case they receive undeserved reprisal feedback in return. Plus, of course, a negative feedback may be a prank by one of the "cyberlouts" that seem to be attracted to such on-line activities! It is also true that it is impossible to please everyone, all the time, and a sprinkling of a few negatives among otherwise very high positive numbers should certainly be expected. Personally we think feedback should be used consistently, and accurately regardless of possible reprisals. Concerning accuracy, an over-exaggerated and poorly considered recommendation for a user, amidst several negatives, doesn't do the praising party's reputation any good either!

It's all in the name!

A WORD of small caution is warranted following the above section on knowing the dealers.  When a dealer gets a strong following and an excellent reputation, it is only natural that imitators will follow with very similar sounding names, perhaps hoping to confuse or at least in some way take advantage of those that may not spot the small differences in names. This is perfectly acceptable as a business practice of course and is part of everyday life. Occasionally however, there may be a less honorable purpose and although this is not often seen, it has happened and examples are documented.
However, taking just examples of the "flattery" aspect alone, with no suggestion whatsoever of anything else, the user "cardking" who has many hundreds of positive feedback comments on eBay, is now followed by dozens of "look-alikes" with similar, but not exactly the same, names (no-one else can have EXACTLY the same name) all registered more recently. Some may utilize a number as part of the name, or the word cardking as part of an e-mail address and registered as a user name in its entirety. Other short and unimportant words may also appear tacked on too -  but it must be stressed that in all likelihood most such dealers are reputable in their own right too and have well deserved positive reputations - and may even be unaware themselves that there are similar names already in use. Our purpose here is simply to advise bidders that a seller with a very similar or "almost" exactly the same user name is NOT THE SAME REGISTERED DEALER, AT THE SAME AUCTION HOUSE, and of course the same exact name might be registered elsewhere but belong to a different person!   

Size Does Matter!

AS IN many other fields of collecting,  size does matter when it comes to cigarette cards. Bigger may not always be better in this field, but in may cases it is an often used guideline when a price reference isn't handy. In a great many instances also, there are more than one size available with a particular series and these are usually valued differently. Why then do many cigarette card sellers at auction scan their cards deliberately at a larger than actual size? We have often seen individual cards portrayed at up to four times their actual size - with no mention of this fact in the description.
If you become the victim of such a sale - i.e. the card you receive is much smaller than expected - there may be an innocent explanation and the seller's attention should be drawn to the confusing illustration and a refund asked for. If there is a problem with that, again the law is most likely on your side - again depending on whether the seller is domestic or foreign, and there is always the feedback solution. In the meantime, again, you may want to consider avoiding dealers that regularly use this ploy.

When is a "Set" Not a Set?

A POINT worth mentioning is one of terminology concerning the word "Set". It is sometimes used erroneously (deliberately or otherwise) in the States to describe a simple collection of odds which are in no way complete. "Sub-Set" is another often seen term, although it's accuracy is sometimes only in the mind of the seller. As practically all the rest of the world uses the term only to describe a "complete" series, naturally this is fertile territory for an unscrupulous seller to take advantage of less than knowledgeable customers. Again, be sure of your dealer and, if you believe you have been misled, ask for a refund. A dictionary should settle any argument if one follows! In the meantime, again, you should think carefully before bidding on the offerings of dealers that regularly use this ploy - especially if that dealer is a large one, as they really should be already aware of this as a problem area.

When the Price Doesn't Ring True!

FINALLY, price manipulation or "shill bidding" should be mentioned, as this is an endemic evil common to many auctions. In most cases the innocent bidder may not even be aware that they have been duped or hoodwinked into bidding higher than they would have otherwise. It is a con which owes its success to being able to manipulate a human frailty - greed, or at least the thrill of getting a perceived bargain - and competing for that bargain (which is what auctions are all about anyway).

It involves in its basic form a friend or two of the seller bidding for the item against a genuine buyer, so forcing the price up to the innocent bidder's limit, which may already have been entered as a proxy bid. Of course, the starting price needs to attract the innocent buyers first and this is always so low it is practically a gift. Naturally, with friends making sure the item doesn't sell for anywhere near that low price there is no risk of the seller making a loss, but by the time the real buyer gets fully involved  the price has often gone much higher than would have attracted him originally.

Sometimes the seller and his cronies have very little real aptitude for it and it soon becomes obvious that a ring is involved in the bidding. At other times, particularly among full time professional dealers who may have large and established rings at regular auctions, it is difficult to detect, as user names can be changed at intervals in this particular media. And by the way, for the amateurs who may be tempted to get involved in this type of activity, shill bidding rings violate federal statutes for both mail and wire fraud. A conviction on either count allows for a maximum penalty of up to five years in prison and $1 million in fines - for each count!

The points to look for are: Always a too-low price to start the bidding; bidders who get involved in a great many of the seller's auctions for a period, then apparently disappear from the scene altogether - and importantly, when the same item may also be selling by another user perhaps even at a lower price after the bidding has proceeded for a while (and perhaps even in better condition) but somehow, and against all sanity and reason, doesn't attract those same bidders interested in the inferior product! It may be difficult to detect but not impossible - keep a track of names, prices, dates and whether there were ignored superior items from other sellers at the same time. After a while a pattern often immerges and it should be immediately reported to the auction organizers, as this activity is illegal and parasitical.

There is also a scam that operates against the seller on deliberately low starting price auctions. A bidder will come along and enter the bid at the low end, which would be an unrealistic bargain price as long as the bidding stops there - which under normal circumstances it usually does not. However, to make sure the bidder does in fact get the item at that price, either a friend or the same person with another bidder name, next enters a bid with an impossibly high proxy to outmatch any and all further bids. Having secured the auction against outsiders in this way, the high bidder will wait until the very last possible moment - and then simply withdraw his bid, so leaving his friend or alter ego with the lowest bid - and the goods!


HAVING read all of the above, the importance of an accurate and COMPLETE description being given by a seller at auction should become clear. It is difficult enough deciding to buy such items based on a description and a picture alone, without seeing them first hand, and an honest dealer worth his salt is FULLY AWARE of this fact. Some are also aware that it is very easy to hide a wealth of faults by simply not giving a description! If a dealer cannot be bothered to describe his goods adequately in the light of this, our advice is to be immediately suspicious, play safe and  AVOID such auctions. Sooner or later they will inevitably lead to disappointment, no matter how big a bargain is apparently being offered.

Seek Out The Good Ones

 Human nature is to be trusting (and more than a little greedy) and such dealers rely, and prey upon, such trust in others. Don't become a victim by ignoring that tiny warning voice in the back of your mind! There will always be another, adequately described and similar item along later anyway. In addition, seek out the honest dealers by their truthful descriptions and your subsequent experiences dealing with them. When you find the good ones - stick with them, as regular customer bases are their means of competing alongside those that trade unfairly.
P. S. The above is largely of benefit to Buyer's but please spare a thought
for the Sellers too: If you bid on an accurately described item at Auction
you are Honor-Bound to pay for it (as well as Legally Bound).
A lot of time and effort goes into entering Lots for sale, as well as
expense, and there is nothing so sad as those high bidders  who do not honor
their obligations - particularly after outbidding genuine customers.

Cardking's Bargain Lots
Kingcard"s Bargain Lots
Queencard's Wholesale Lots!
FOR an interesting and regular selection of both Odds and Complete Sets of ORIGINAL cards offered at auction (mostly started off at UNDER HALF BOOK VALUE) for peace of mind try the three top seller links on the left for Genuine Bargains (click on the images).
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