eBay, the great American fleamarket, is both a source of frustration as well as a source of treasure. I recently found this
Which I basically bought for a song. These things routinely sell for $100 or more in antique shops, and I got it for $35, which I think is quite a deal, especially considering it is quite pristine in condition. However, most of the time, it’s hard to find things like this. Over the years I’ve gotten a few good things from eBay, in terms of teaware — a few cups, an old gaiwan, a tetsubin, and other oddities. That, however, is only possible after many hours of trolling on the site, looking for bargains. I think in general, when looking for antique teaware on eBay, there are three categories of goods. (I am not talking about new things, like a cheap new gaiwan, or things like teas, which are a different matter)
1) The obviously nice stuff. These are things that are obviously good, old, and nice. They are also watched by many, and are rarely cheap. Older Yixing pots, for example, fall into this category. There is a big group of very (and sometimes less) knowledgeable collectors on eBay who will buy any and all antique Yixing pots. Those pewter wrapped ones, for example, routinely end at over $1,000, and the same can be said for anything that looks like they are the real deal from the Qing or the Republic. There are no bargains to be had here.
2) The fake. This is the vast majority of stuff on eBay when it comes to older teaware. They are fake, and most of the time, obviously so. Stores like 5000friends, for example, have an endless supply of “Qing” and “Republic” pots that I’m sure are fake, and 5000friends is definitely one of the better fake vendors, when compared with the other, worse fake vendors. Basically, for Yixing for example, if the stuff is coming directly from China, you can assume it’s fake, because there is no good reason why the person will put it on eBay if it is real — it is far easier and better to sell within China if you have a genuinely old Yixing pot than if you sell it on eBay. It just doesn’t make any sense.
3) The hidden treasures. This is where the bargains are, but it comes at a price. They are only bargains because they are usually poorly described and has few or no pictures. This pot above, for example, only had one picture on the site. In other words, I was gambling that the pot is indeed in pristine condition and that the other side looks ok, which it turned out to be, but there was no guarantee (and I think why it had no bids). This is getting increasingly rare, but sometimes you see a fuzzy picture and that’s all you’ve got to rely on, or if the title is mistyped, or if the person doesn’t know what they’re selling — for example, describing a Yixing pot as a children’s toy because it’s so small. Even then, there will be other treasure hunters out there doing the same thing you are, which is scouring through these listings looking for good stuff, but once in a while, you can find cheap things and you’ll get lucky, just like any real life flea market.