Interested in Greek Memorabilia? Try E-Bay
By Mary Papoutsy

In recent years, E-bay has emerged worldwide as a source for every conceivable object, from electronics to collectibles and memorabilia. For collectors and sellers of Greek memorabilia and ephemera, E-bay can be a treasure trove. Over the last couple of years, war medals, vintage postcards and photos, antique prints and maps, ephemera, out-of-print and rare books, tobacciana, AHEPA memorabilia and other collectibles have appeared regularly on the website of this online auction house ( Just surfing through the items for auction--or immediate sale, a new feature--can be fun and educational. But for serious and enthusiastic collectors, great finds can be acquired if the online auction process is fully understood.

Keeping in mind three key points will help collectors acquire a desired item: 1) Utilize all the parameters of the site's search engines; 2) Bid high enough to secure a reasonable chance of winning the item; 3) Fully understand what all shipping, handling, transaction fees and payments are before bidding.

When searching for items, try to avoid using search terms like "Greek." These overly general terms will yield hundreds, if not thousands, of items in the search results, wasting the buyer's time. And many will simply not be what is desired. Use of a more precise term or phrase can eliminate undesirable items and reduce the number of results to a manageable amount. For example, in searching for Greek war medals from the Balkan Wars in the 1912-1914 era, one buyer had met with success in typing "Balkan Wars," on some occasions and "Greek militaria," and "Greek War Medals" at other times in the search boxes provided by E-bay. The buyer next clicked on "exact phrase" or "all of these words" and then also listed words for excluding unwanted items, like "Bosnia," to ensure that no items from recent Balkan wars were listed in the search results.

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Other searches may be more complex and require a list of items or phrases to exclude in order to yield a reasonable return. As other buyers searched, for example, for items pertaining to Laconia, a province in the southern Peloponnese, they had to exclude the names of U.S. states like New Hampshire that had cities similarly named. For yet other searches, buyers can widen the scope of the search to include foreign and alternate spellings of places like Piraeus ("Piree," the French spelling of Piraeus, and "Piraefs," another English transliteration of the port city) and Istanbul ("Constantinople," "Stamboul," "Stambul," "Constantinoupoli," and so on).

Understanding the bottom line for fees and transactions of an individual action is usually straightforward, but occasionally a few challenges appear. Most sellers make every effort to post all shipping and insurance charges clearly at every listing. Buyers especially need to exercise caution, however, in bidding on auctions conducted in foreign currency and when bank exchanges and Western Union money transfers will be involved in the payment transaction. Taking a few moments to ascertain all conditions set by the seller beforehand will ensure a smooth transaction later. Carefully read the description of the item, since that is the area where most sellers list details about shipping and handling fees and any unusual processes in the final transaction. If the auction is to be conducted in a foreign currency--and occasionally this occurs--be sure to find out beforehand either from the seller or from the internet what the conversion rate is with U.S. dollars. Always ask questions of the seller if there is any uncertainty about payment methods or if more information about the auction item itself is desired. Before placing a bid, be sure to check out a seller's rating, too, by clicking on the "feedback" section or on the seller's E-bay user name. And remember: caveat emptor. Once a potential buyer bids--and wins--there is an obligation to pay.

The bidding process itself requires a little sleuthing to help ensure a successful bid. Once the buyer is fully aware of all of the fees involved and has determined that the seller has a good track record with E-bay, a bid can be placed quickly. Over the last couple of years, sellers and buyers have become more sophisticated and generally know the relative value of items being auctioned. That's not to say that bargains and great finds cannot be found, but buyers should expect to bid what items are worth in order to win the auction. Just because an auction opens with a low bid on an item, does not signal that the final bid will remain low. It usually rises. One good example can illustrate nicely. A few months ago a set of rare Greek postcards came up for bid. This circa 1910 set depicted early scenes from a bustling, cosmopolitan, pre-1922 Smyrna. What made them exceptional was the rarity of the scenes and locales, some of them affluent suburbs like Cordelio whose images had not ever before come up for auction. Although in most U.S. cities vintage postcards can run anywhere from fifty cents to several dollars apiece at local antique shops, foreign vintage and rare postcards on E-bay are generally auctioned for a final price between five and twenty-five dollars each. Fierce bidding took place over the space of one week for this particular set of vintage postcards offered by a seller in Belgium. Final prices ran from US$40 to US$50 each, with the sale to the bidder who placed the highest bid early in the auction, knowing how valuable and sought-after the items were. By placing credible bids early in the auction, buyers can avoid being outbid in the last few minutes or seconds of a well-attended auction.

But great buys can be found, too. One buyer was able to acquire an original photo album of Constantinople from the 1910s for less than five dollars, primarily because the seller did not know the worth of the album and made spelling errors in listing it. To see a few samples of the types of items available through E-bay, visit the Historical Photos of the genealogy pages of HellenicComServe at

So, by conducting research before placing bids, and by exercising prudence in the bidding process, some fine pieces of Greek memorabilia can be acquired though E-bay to supplement existing collections or even to replace lost family items. The range and diversity of items offered for auction can be surprising, with nearly every niche interest represented. Persons interested in acquiring vintage photos of a village or region in Greece, for example, may find exactly what they want if they carefully search the listings periodically. Greek-Americans, especially, can often find vintage postcards and items pertaining to the occupations of immigrant ancestors. For example, shoe-shine stands from the early 1900s appear from time to time on E-bay. Actual pictures of particular factories or mills can often be found to supplement family history albums. And vintage postcards of streets where early ancestors had businesses sometimes give glimpses into the lives of Greek merchants. In all, the rewards for diligent and careful searching can be enriching, educational, and exciting.