Buying collectibles such as watches, cameras, trains and toy soldiers should be a fun and relatively stress-free experience. It can make a big difference, depending on whether you're buying brand new items or used/vintage/antique collectibles.
Buying collectibles new
When you buy new items from an authorized dealer such as Trains and Toy Soldiers, you need not worry about anything. Authorized retail dealers for collectibles must follow rigorous rules set down by their suppliers in order to continue as dealers. You can buy collectibles with confidence and safety from authorized dealers.
When you're buying collectibles from authorized dealers, they are sealed and ready to sell from the original supplier. If the item you want is not in stock, they will have catalogs, often in digital form these days, where you can see the item you want and order it directly through the retailer. Dealers who have been in business for any length of time at all are way too smart to risk their authorization by ripping off their customers.
One of the really nice things about buying collectibles from authorized dealers is that they know their products and can be very helpful. This is especially great when buying pieces for your model train layout.
Buying collectibles that are used, vintage or antique
On the other hand, you need to be more careful when buying collectibles that are not new. There are a lot of good people who love collecting as much as you do who are selling vintage and antique collectibles, but there are also unethical dealers who will gouge or cheat as much as they can get away with.
There is also another issue that you must face as a collector. Many people selling used collectibles, especially at flea markets, shows and online auctions are simply ignorant about what they're selling. They don't know for sure if an item is genuine, and they may not even know what it's really worth. It's possible to get some real bargains this way, but it's also possible to pay way too much for something worth very little if you're not 100% sure how to identify and value an item.
Remember that an ignorant dealer is not necessarily a dishonest dealer. I have found that trusting someone is usually the best way to ensure they will be trustworthy when I deal with them! However, you should know your collectibles, even if a dealer doesn't know what he's talking about.
Another thing that can occur is when an honest dealer in used, vintage and antique collectibles is selling a product he isn't really familiar with online. It's a little more difficult to verify that an item is genuine when you only have pictures (sometimes not very clear) to go by. Again, you need to take your time and know what to ask.
Buying collectibles online
Buying collectibles online can really open up your opportunities to get what you want, often at a bargain, but again, you need to be sure you're getting what you expect. When in doubt about anything, ask questions first, rather than regretting your purchase later. If an online seller cannot answer your questions well enough to be sure something is genuine, especially if the price is somewhat hefty, it's often better just to click away.
It is common to find items in online auctions that are incorrectly identified, misnamed, misspelled and incorrectly described. Remember that descriptions of an item and its quality are very subjective and can easily be misrepresented out of ignorance. If you have any doubt, ask key questions before bidding, and be willing to click away if you're not completely satisfied.
Another important consideration when buying online is the seller's reputation (I try to only buy from people with higher than a 95% approval rating) and the cost of shipping and insurance. Be aware that some unscrupulous online sellers offer incredible bargains on Buy-it-Now sales, until you check their exorbitant, ridiculous, over-the-top shipping prices.
Be careful! Know how to identify the genuine article and know what it's worth. Check out our earlier article, Authenticating Trains and Toy Soldiers,and gain some tips on how and why you should become an expert at properly identifying and valuing the items you collect. That is your best defense against unethical or ignorant dealers and private sellers.