Friday, 29 January 2016

eBay: A lament


Looking back, I can see it was a Golden Age. And like all such wonderous times, I was totally unaware of its existence until it had gone. I could, obviously, be talking about the years Bryan Ansell ran Citadel Miniatures, and his magnificent design studio produced exceptional models, games and supplements to support them. 

But I am not.

I am talking about eBay. 

Prologue

As a miniature collector, I have passed through the atypical phases of the grognard. That initial early period of high aspirations limited by poor funding (otherwise known as youth) to the wilderness years of indifference as booze and girls take over. But like an insidious poison, the desire to collect (and sometimes paint) little lead men slowly drips back into your subconscious. You pass a Games Workshop in the mid-nineties and peer through the foggy glass of the store front. Before you stand the 'next generation' of the company's target demographic, buckets of dice in hand, egged on by the wild-eyed enthusiasm of the redshirt. He looms large, like a overeager cultist at a religious rally. 

You pity them all, for they were not there in the 'beginning'. They're just not aware of what has been lost. Looking over, you see the miniature display cabinet in the window. The miniatures on show are largely unfamiliar to you, though you can still recognise the basic humanoid factions; inexplicably they are nearly all painted red. You may even pop in to purchase a model for old times sake, and a set of paints too. You while away a few hours at home working on it, reminiscing on the miniatures you have had, and the ones that got away. 

Then gradually you learn of a place online where 1987 chaos thugs are being traded. You meet a bloke who proudly fields an impressive unit of them at a local GW, who goes on to explain that the website in question is called eBay and the whole enterprise is reasonably safe as you can pay with a cheque. Later on, as the familiar chimes of dial up gurgle across the living room, you remember that moment in time and type eBay into the Alta-Vista search engine you always use just to see what all the fuss is about.

Well done grognard. You have discovered eBay!

Chapter One

I can remember that moment well and it was awesome. Now, I know that the Americans have overused that word to such a degree that the adjective has lot its power to communicate a feeling. See the game last night, Chuck? Yes - it was awesome! What did you think about the new Star Wars film, Starbuck? Yes- it was awesome! Want to play a game of the new edition of Warhammer, Butch? Yes - it is awesome! But in truth, that moment in my life was mind-shatteringly joyous. It was awesome in the true sense of the word. For there, on my computer screen, were all of the miniatures I had ever dreamed of owning for sale in their thousands. No matter how obscure the search, results would ping up almost instantly and a bloke in Petersfield could sell me a Perry Chaos Chariot for a few quid. 

Of course, it was all auctions then. You have to wait and see if you succeeded in your plans to pick up the miniatures you wanted. Early on is was fairly simple and almost sporting, much like the beginning stages of the air campaign during the First World War. Missed out on Sandra Prangle? Nevermind, she will turn up again soon. And she did. But like trench warfare, the experience of bidding quickly took a darker tone with the emergence of the dreaded sniper. Oh, you thought you were winning that 1988 Rogue Trader Chaplain with the flag? Well, you were up until the final two seconds when someone dropped £2 on top of your 50p bid. I am sorry, but you have been outbid.

But such things were tolerable, and hell you even joined in with the action when you really just HAD to have that model. I can remember pulling late-nighters just to jump in at the last instance with the hefty bid of £3.77 to get my hands on Skrag the Slaughter. There were just so many listings all of the time that, to me at least, it didn't matter if I missed out as there was always five or six other juicy lots to have a flutter on. 

After all, everyone who was anyone posted up their listings with a starting bid of 99p! 

Chapter Two

Overwhelmed by choice, I took on a rather whimsical approach to collecting. I called it '99ping', after the trend I has just described above. There would be easily twelve pages of 'dwarf' models alone when I typed in Citadel dwarfs 80s into eBay's search engine. I'd run down the results placing a bid of 99p on anything and everything that took my fancy. I'd not bother to snipe or track the auctions, I'd just pop back later and reflect on what serendipity had netted me. 

Joblots were great fun. People had yet to realise that 'more money' could be made by selling models individually with a crisp photograph. These were the collecting equivalents of pot luck and the fag smoked stained parcels were a revelation to unwrap once they arrived at your door. You'd discover models you did not even know existed.

Very early on I picked up the Machineries of Destruction Skeleton Chariot in one such auction. I hated the thing on sight, thinking it crude and ugly. I discarded it in the back of my garage where, years later, I was able to retrieve it. It was to be one of my first proper 'Oldhammer' miniatures published on this blog. 

My collecting followed no real pattern as I had no goal beyond buying the models I had always wanted. I am awfully glad now that I did as I now have a very eclectic collection of odds and sods in the leadpile. 

Chapter Three

'Buy it Now' was starting to develop as I began to shift miniatures on a larger scale and twice in my life I had to resort to trading Citadel to make ends meet. Both times it worked, but I bet it would be impossible now. Too many sellers wanting you to hand over a set amount of cash rather than taking a chance. Just look at the results today; out of 19,469 lots under 'Citadel' only 2,175 are auctions, and a fair whack of those have high starting bids of £5+ 

I can remember selling as being fun. The auctions were a big part of that. I'd post up my wares with a seven day turnaround and habitually sign in to watch the green sale price grow. It was exciting to see the models I had kicking about the place unloved to go 'double figures' as collectors sought to out do each other. Sure, I was stung a few times with lots that didn't sell for what I was hoping, but  I always stuck to the belief that a model would rich its price through bids alone. And generally, they did. 

As a rule, I would always, always, always list with a starting price of 99p and a low postage cost, as I noticed that the higher you charged for 'expenses' the less punters seemed to bid. I don't recall huge amounts of unsold lots sailing by unloved either, I sold everything I listed every time. Look over eBay today, and there is an enormous amount of product just sitting there, unloved and unsold, not even soliciting a cheeky bid. 

Prices can be stupid now. I have written extensively about the subject here, here and here over the years. Back then, it seemed, to me at least, that the only stupid prices were the once created by bidders in their frenzy to own something, not the sellers in the hour of greed. 

Epilogue

I still have the occasional flutter on eBay. And you can still find some incredible bargains, believe me. But it is exhausting work. Scrolling past page after page of overpriced BIN models that just seem to sit there and fester. I have heard all of the justifications for this trend over the years. 

My favourite is the classic 'Scalper's Defence' of 'my prices are high so I can keep models available all year round for you!' Yes, you have got that right - the sheer cost of keeping unsold stock on eBay with all the fees that abound causes sellers to have to hike up their prices to turn a profit. They have to sell one massively inflated model every now and again to keep the whole enterprise afloat. Lunacy!

The other old chestnut is 'the market always dictates what miniatures are worth so if it sells it is the right price!' I am sure that words of this nature have been uttered in many a doomed boardroom across the world as idiot managers 'raise' those prices to order to rebalance books or please badgering shareholders. Even back in the 'Golden Age' of eBay I can recall buying models for a couple of quid at auction and a couple of places above or below the lot, the same model would be selling for twice the price. I could never work out what was going on in this regard. Could they just not see the same listings as me? 

A while back I heard a 'rumour' (though I expect it is more of an urban legend) that this whole trend of very high BIN prices comes from a single event. Some nameless company had one of those 'wild' office parties and set a lowly underling the task to buying in the sundries for the event. His (or her) budget was very high, and knowing that 'The Boss' was a hue fan of Warhammer they allegedly hoovered up nearly every model that was on eBay at the time. BINs only, of course - busy people like that have no time for an online auction. 

I have been scrolling through eBay tonight and doing so has left me feeling a little sad. I am sad that we have lost such a wonderful resource and a wealth of old school models. Of course, I wonder what part I had in the slow decline of eBay as a medium to buy old Citadel figures. When I created the Oldhammer Trading Group years ago, I never expected it to grow to the size it has. How many of the punters who used to list stuff like I did (99p all the way!) now trade through the OTC? Or hoard stuff as trading fodder, rather than peddling it off on eBay to create more hobby funds in that never ending story of the leadhead. Buy. Sometimes paint. Sell. Buy again. 

What about you dear reader? Do you think there was once a 'better time' for collecting Citadel miniatures on eBay? Do you even still use eBay to buy and sell your models? I would be most interested to know. 

Orlygg



33 comments:

  1. I still both buy and sell on eBay - selling is always the 99p starting bid, with postage as cost. For buying, I stick to a strict budget on what I'll pay for a figure. I'm not buying a huge amount right now - trying to focus on getting more of the backlog painted - but I'll still jump in if I see a reasonable price for a figure I really want!

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    1. I too am sitting on a considerable backlog and my purchasing of models has declined rapidly in recent years. In my heyday (interestingly, though not surprisingly, during my time working for an extremely unpleasant man) I would receive one or two packages a day! Opening them in the evening served as a tonic for the troubles I was facing. Like you, I dip in my toe every now and again - but the weary process of trawling through the dross depresses me.

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  2. Your tale is a very familiar one mate and I'm afraid I was one of those snipers! Mind you, back in the days of dial up, it was quite a skill and definitely got the blood pumping! It also took time, patience and perseverance - just like the all-nighter you mentioned. All these sniper programs and apps are just cheating. Used to love 99p'ing too!

    I still buy on ebay although treat it more as a puzzle or game - what weird description or key words will net me the next bargain? Best one recently was an epic scale Gargant (missing a few bits), a Mekboy Gargant (missing his buzz saw arm), an epic Slaanesh Daemon Knight thing, a Cyclone Terminator and a few other space marines - all going under the description of " a Dalek like figure and other bits"!

    The prevalence of BIN's is depressing - I particularly hate the ones where the seller has obviously removed all the hundreds of spare bits out of some horrible new plastic kit and has listed them all for a £1 each.

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    1. I never really minded the sniper and freely admit to doing it myself, especially when I was collecting McDeath stuff, but as I have said to the Responsible One, the dull drudgery of scrolling through the dross has sucked the fun out of the experience for me. Perhaps your method of treating it as a game may inject some new found enthusiasm for the place? I shall give it a go my friend.

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  3. I will never sell a model on eBay again having been stung for the cost (and considerable postage cost) of a lovingly fully converted and painted Nurgle Baneblade which ended up alledgedly broken in the post (impossible as I know how well it was made) an eBay and then a Paypal dispute which both went in the other party's favour; despite him providing no proof of damage he got the full cost of the item and kept the item too! When you have poured your heart and soul into a model just letting it go to another owner is hard enough; but then to be scammed out of the model, hard work and the money too? Total meltdown. After that I closed my eBay shop and now only sell to people on the FB page that I know. Hell I've given things away on the FB page that are worth more than that Baneblade but I just don't want to deal with the rotters (pun intended but only just) on eBay. On an additional note every time I ever put a model on for BuyitNow/BestOffer I would always get the obligatory £1 BestOffer by someone trying their luck. Also entirely annoying.

    On the flip side I regularly pop on to eBay if the lads on the Oldhammer Trading page don't have what I am looking for. Also its a great place to find models you never knew you needed just by browsing using "rare, vintage, citadel, ral partha" etc. Of course most people selling models from the 90's and 00's are trying their luck and you put in a reasonable collector - collector offer that would normally be accepted and they come back with a measly £1 off the asking price. Welcome to blocked-seller-ville. If you aren't willing to compromise on price on eBay within reason of course then you aren't the seller for me.

    Wow that got kinda ranty, sorry about that!

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    1. I am very sad to hear about your mistreatment at the hands of a 'bellend' but there seems to be a high number of such types in the wargaming (particularly 40K) scene, sadly. In the OTC we can remove them from the community with little fuss, unlike eBay. Still, my choicest pieces of lead all came from Oldhammer friends who asked far under the usual 'trading price' for their wares out of friendship and camaraderie. Building personal relationships with other collectors is the best way forwards I think, as we call all just help each other out.

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  4. I rarely sell stuff unless I know it will be worth the time to list it. I don't have the spare energy to devote to maintaining a shop full of $1 bits (though I certainly have enough). Photographing, posting, packing, shipping... ugh!

    I do buy a lot of stuff.

    A... LOT!

    Even BIN auctions don't bother me much as I've purchased plenty of the more recent GW kits and they too seem out of control - most recently, three chaos knights for $99. I think most of my BIN purchases were better deals, though I did pay something like $80 for a Lichemaster model.

    Like The Responsible One, I try to stick to a budget. If I haven't purchased much in a month, I might be willing to pay more for a single auction or BIN. I tend to be drawn to units or groups of models, and might throw the budget out the window to fill a need for an army. I guess it goes back to the time thing. It can be fun to build a unit in ones and twos, but sometimes it's worth the extra money to just land a regiment.

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    1. I have just started to do this, though only with units I wish to paint and field. I used to have the time to buy up lots and then resell the unwanted stuff but no now. I would rather paint up my collection than waste hours trawling for more. And as you say, sticking to a budget is essential.

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  5. Your experience is pretty similar to mine Orlygg. The exception is that I've only ever sold one thing on ebay, a wooden man I made for a game of Mordheim. I knocked him up in about five minutes using bits from my scrap wood box. I put him up for auction for $1 (50p) as a joke. He sold too! Only one bidder - and he got back to me and asked if I had any more stuff!
    As for buying, the greatest joy was happening upon those listings where people had no idea what they had and had listed their item in the wrong place. For example, I was trolling through ebay one night about five years ago looking for 1st ed. AD&D modules. I came across a BIN box of "plastic & metal space orks, approx 70 figures". Well, it was in the right box, but in the very fuzzy photo I could make out a load of what looked like fantasy orcs & some man mangler bits. I bought the lot for $30 (£15). It turned out to be Ruglud's armoured orcs & Harboth's orc archers complete with extras enough for two units of 25. In addition, complete sets of the man mangler & lead belcher, a bunch of white plastic O&G from the regiment box, and two or three drastik plastik orcs. A fuzzy red blob in the back of the photo turned out to be an ambull!
    Ebay is certainly not what it used to be though sometimes it can still surprise me. Only a few weeks ago I picked up a handful of RT merc/adventurers BIN from Troll Trader for around £2.50 each. I thought that price not unreasonable. That being said, I mostly confine myself to the OTC for my old Citadel wants these days.

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    1. Ah yes, the dodgy photo effect! This happened to be with Skrag the Slaughterer. The lot was a load of grotty Ogre Kingdoms dross - very poorly painted plastic tat really - but there in the back row of the unit stood Skrag. I was lucky and no-one else spotted him. I snapped up the auction for a couple of quid, binned the plastic crap upon delivery and cleaned the nail varnish off old Skrag. A beautiful model.

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  6. Your post brings back similar memories for me - the best being the purchase of a heap of dark future bikes and pedestrians for $200 via my dial up connection. A tad expensive but I thought at the time that I wouldn't get another chance to buy figures like that. And I reckon that was right as one doesn't see much DF stuff on eBay.

    I reckon the BIN problem you mention comes about due to eBay's selling policies. Whilst not knowing for sure I'm reasonably confident eBay allows certain sellers to list figures for free - I know I've received email offers from them with such terms a number of times. That enables a seller to continually list a figure at a very high price with no downside - except the holding cost of course (and if the seller didn't pay much for the figure the holding cost is negligible). Compare that to selling your house - ultimately the listing fees with an agent will get you if you keep listing your house at a price that the market won't bear. Eventually your forces to do one of two things - drop the price or take the house off the market. But without listing fees that moment doesn't arise for the professional seller on eBay.

    The other issue that I suspect has caused the problem you discuss (specifically lack of supply on eBay) is that collectors like us have purchased a fair percentage of the figures out there that are available for sale. Add that to the fee problem above and one has a fall in supply of figures overall and a fall in supply of figures at a reasonable price.

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    1. The BIN tool ruined eBay for me, though I expect it made huge profits for someone somewhere. Though unpredictable, an auction has an air of excitement. The BIN book turned eBay into Amazon. And that is sad.

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  7. You do know you can hide BIN listings, right? As eBay is the *only* place I can pick things up, its where I buy everything. There are still plenty of bargains to be had on there, as I discussed here a while back: http://port-imperiale.blogspot.co.uk/2015/09/the-bargains-are-out-there-some.html

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  8. I use ebay. I don't like it but it is really still the only viable choice for buying. But I agree with your critics of the bay and I get frustrated with the silly BIN prices that clog up the search, but I can't take them out because there are some ok ones in there.
    I have I tried the collecting citadel minis group but that group doesn't work. 1, I can't hover around the page AL day waiting to jump on listings. I have a career, kids and I'm still active in sport. 2, the prices there are as bad as BIN half the time. The pricing estimates are often inflated, I think because we all want our collections to worth more than they probably are. Recently there has been push back on the prices, but that doesn't stop the hovering issue.

    Thanks for the great article though.

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    1. I believe that we are in the tail end of the 'Oldhammer bubble' and loads of wargamers have jumped on board. In time, many of them (and their premium prices) will move on to other things and only the dedicated lovers of the period will remain. We are beginning to see this with the reduction of prices as the 'gold rush' subsides. Of course, prices will always remain high for the more desirable models but I don't any of us be begrudge that!

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    2. That is a good point. When battle games had the article about oldhammer the prices did shoot up. I've seen a leveling off in the actual ebay actions recently. I wish there was a better alternative. Alas I'll just have to keep hunting goblins

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  9. I share your frustrations as well. I still regularly troll eBay, however my purchasing is way down. The BIN at insane prices phenomena is a little disheartening, but most of the time I see sellers listing figures, that I have, and I know nobody would buy at that price. Like many of you I have been collecting for years, and the heyday was certainly back in the late 90's and early 2000's where you could pick up a lot of 10-20 chaos models for $25 after shipping from the UK. Now my collection is pretty large and I am only missing perhaps 20-30 sculpts, and they rarely ever turn up. Occasionally I will see one for a BIN, and sometimes I will even consider spending up to $15 for a model, but it has to be a significantly rare sculpt (that doesn't come around often) and one that I actually like. Most of the time I just favorite it so I can watch it and see if it ever sells. Then, of course there is all the recasting, that is not as big of a deal to me if the price is right and the re-cast is of good quality. I just want the model and don't care about if it is original... once it has been painted nobody is going to ask.

    My other big issue is that I live in the states and the cost to ship a miniature has gotten WAY out of control. I blame a lot of this on eBay and their "global shipping program" taking the pain and hassle out of it for the seller and they will do all the heavy lifting. The seller sees only that their cost to ship as nominal, say $5, but the buyer sees a price of $20. I know damn well a single miniature doesn't cost $20 to fly across the pond, and there are still plenty of sellers that will post at a far more reasonable price. However, if I was considering a $15 BIN, it goes right out the window when the shipping makes it a $35 miniature. NO WAY!

    I have bought and sold, but now I rarely sell on eBay. Like the rest of you I would always start my auctions out at $1 (0.50p). However, they power on eBay has shifted all to the buyer, and the seller gets the shaft. If there is ever any dispute it will always go in the buyers favor and if you try to fight you will just see your PayPal account frozen and funds forcibly removed. Way back when, the feedback system was a way to weed out the dishonest, but now you are all but prohibited from leaving negative feedback for a buyer... however sellers can receive neutral and negative feedback all day long. SO far I have not been burned on any sales, but it's part of the reason I rarely sell... maybe once a year I collect a significant amount of spares and other nonsense to do a large sell off, but it always starts low,and I hope that has saves me from anyone looking to cheat me.

    Sorry for the rant... but its very cathartic to have the chance to get it out. :)

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    1. You talk about the 'power' shifting to the buyer, and you are quite right. In such a dishonest climate I am not surprised that there are so many dishonest sellers. And don't worry about the ranting either, I hope it made you feel better! (;

      Don't get me started on what some idiots think is a reasonable postage rate either!

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  10. I came to the game late, and so I missed out on any Golden Age. But even in the last couple years, prices on eBay have risen (it also doesn't help that I live in Canada, and our dollar has evaporated in value). I spent much time and more money on eBay, at times in very foolish ways. But now I'm sort of glad the prices are so high -- it's forced me to stop collecting and focus on what I've got.

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    1. Focusing on what you have is very sensible, and is something that many of us have been doing in recent times. Why grow the unpainted leadpile, eh?

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  11. I've almost stopped going to ebay and used it a lot in the past.....for many of the reasons you highlight. I'd also throw into the pot that postage prices have truly skyrocketed over the last decade, plus the sellers are getting pushed on the ebay and paypal fees.

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    1. Ah, the question of fees. One I missed. I am always surprised by those who moan about having to pay for a service. I was always very happy to pay my fees, as eBay was great fun and nothing is for free. But you are quite right about a percentage of sellers who seem to think that the money they have to pay for using eBay to list their goods must be picked up by the buyer!! Greed pure and simple. It's like walking into a hotel and asking for your room for free because without you, the staff wouldn't have a job!

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    2. I don't think people are truly complaining about paying a fee for a service. I think the issue is that that percentage ebay and paypal were each taking was steadily increased over time. It wasn't like ebay was getting so much better as to justify the increase.

      When you consider that that percentage also applies to (rapidly increasing) shipping and packaging costs (at least for the paypal transaction) it's easy to see it can kill off any take from the beloved 0.99p auction.

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  12. The problem is that everything is collectable thanks to ebay providing a method of finding a buyer. Plus would be sellers see that people are asking silly money for various items and not unaturally assume this is the going rate.

    I have noticed prices falling back a bit recently, but I rarely buy on ebay anymore, as 5 to 10 pounds a figure is too dear for my budget.

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    1. I think you are correct about prices falling, especially for rank and file models. And I also think that many traders/sellers use listed prices to set their own, rather than looking at the sold listings. I too, rarely buy anything from eBay these days, and when I do its at about £4 a figure.

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  13. The one good thing eBay have introduced is the MAO option. It's a halfway house between a classic auction and BIN. I enjoy the odd bit of bartering along those lines. I've had bad experiences though, actually getting is banned from bidding on one seller's items - and he's a big seller too ��. He didn't like my low starts on his MAO sales. Kind of missing the point of haggling really. Anyway, a pox on his testicles

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  14. when I see a BIN auction (and a not a single rare mini) starting at $50 USA or above, and then the shipping is over 10, I think to myself good luck with that.I am patient and someone else always pops up with a reasonable price. I do admit, I'm a bit of a sniper. You have to be, half those sitting in the watching queues are. It's the only way to get the rare stuff for a reasonable price, before the other vultures swoop in.

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    1. I meant "when I see a BIN lot" ;)

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    2. its also amuses me when half the lot is made up of copies of the same figure from a regiment set and they are asking ridiculous prices.

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  15. The most I ever paid for a miniature... And it hurts to admit... Was $60 for the legendary Genestealer Hybrid Patriarch, seated on throne...! On the other hand I got a dozen metal Genestealer Hybrids for $24 for another lot, so win some, lose some!

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  16. Just coming back into this hobby E-Bay is usually the first port of call for many people including myself. What really shocked me was the prices on many miniatures. Most I remember the first time round being sold for pence either in baggies with header cards or in blister packs. Many of the miniatures were extremely common and plentiful back in the day. Somehow I cannot always justify paying high E-Bay prices knowing just how common these figures were and probably still are. Many figures once released also seemed to stay in the catalogues for a fair few years as they were popular. This goes especially for many of the dragons. Kegox and the rather beautiful Great Spined Dragon remained for sale for over 10 years well into the 90's. They appear regularly on E-Bay so are not rare figures. however I do see them as legendary models. But I always ask the question of whether they are actually worth what people are asking for them. This especially goes for miniatures like the Slann and many other miniatures of the period including many chaos ones. The problem being for new or returning collectors is knowing roughly what the correct price should be and unless you start to specialise and begin to study the online auctions I guess you will never really know where in the ball park you should be looking at regarding value. I guess we are at the mercy of dealers.

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  17. This one is good. keep up the good work!..
    Buy and Sell Ebay

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