Have you thought of selling this niche product on eBay?

Sell corkscrews on eBay

PLUS: How to cut postage and packing costs in your eBay business

I knew I’d found something special when a colleague who normally sells vintage postcards turned to listing corkscrews on eBay instead.

She’s someone I check out often and use as a role model, because she regularly achieves high prices for her postcards. I have learned a lot from her. But I stood to learn – and earn – a great deal more from this new found interest of hers: vintage corkscrews.

The very first of her offerings, a corkscrew with handle shaped like a mermaid, made over £1,000. Others, also with novelty and ornate handles, have fetched double figures and, from my experience, they’re commonly found at offline auctions and flea markets where price tags of £20 or £30 are common.

Marvel at these recent eBay finishing prices: a rare ‘flip out’ corkscrew made from brass and resembling a flick knife made £2,051.61; an Italian stirrup-shaped corkscrew went for £2750; a ratchet corkscrew from 1869 fetched $1812.77 – not one of which were well described or blatantly unusual.

Tips to help you buy and sell corkscrews for profit…

  • The screw is sometimes called a ‘worm’ or ‘helix’ and was made from twisted wire or cast into shape. Because corkscrews were constantly used and in regular contact with water and alcohol, the worm on older corkscrews is frequently found broken, damaged or heavily rusted. Rust can be cleared or reduced with oil, which also helps keep moving parts in working order. Serious damage or sloppy repairs to the screw or handle can render a common corkscrew almost worthless and will seriously reduce the value of most highly prized specimens.
  • Add something a little unusual, or with separate use, and corkscrew prices rise, such as a folding antique corkscrew that fetched £150; or a French creation depicting a champagne bottle with pocket knife in the handle that made £159.99; and a UK corkscrew shaped like a lady’s legs that went for £185.
  • My research revealed antique French creations fetching two to three times their corresponding English-manufacture values.
  • The Victorians’ love of all things new-fangled, somewhat risqué, and heavily ornate, spawned some of the most beautiful and highly prized items. They include a multitude of corkscrews sold not all that long ago on eBay, with ‘Victorian’ in the title and fetching £40 to £80 each. All were ordinary looking with simple wooden handles and commonplace screw. Similar vintage items not labelled ‘Victorian’ reached lower prices. So that word ‘Victorian’ could double your corkscrew’s value, as long as it’s true!
  • The earliest designs comprised a steel spiral fixed to a wooden handle. Subsequently handles became precious works of art, made from silver or gold, encrusted with diamonds or inlaid with ivory or mother of pearl. In time the simple spiral was replaced by mechanical devices to make opening bottles easier still, some even had a small brush attached for cleaning dust from bottles. More desirable and consequently more valuable are specimens with these unusual attachments, such as brush or bell cap (a metal piece to fit over the bottle neck), and sometimes containing precious jewels or painstaking artwork.
  • That said, I’ve seen very plain corkscrews priced about £1 a time at flea markets fetching a fiver or more on eBay, so it’s worth buying anything that’s genuinely old and very cheap. ‘Dirty’ usually suggests the item is old and because few plain corkscrews become auction bestsellers, you’ll rarely find them faked or made to look older than they really are. They are almost always worth buying!
  • Corkscrews have been around since the mid-1600s, but it’s those from 1850 onwards that fetch the highest prices at auctions on and off the Internet. Before the middle 1800s, most household objects were made to be used, not looked at, so they were plain, functional, and not ornate or grandiose, such as some appearing later which now fetch fabulous high prices on eBay. So, generally speaking, the more ornate and elaborate the corkscrew the higher its price is likely to be.
  • The most collectible corkscrews are those with ornate handles, unusual mechanisms, popular makers’ names (including Merritt, Gaskell and Chambers, Lund Lever, Samuel Pemberton), and precious metals add significantly to resale value.
  • A past famous owner increases value significantly, and there are collectors specialising solely in items once owned by the likes of Al Capone and other gangsters alongside more respected citizens such as U.S. Presidents, well known entertainers, writers, and so on. Study the long list of corkscrews with past famous owners at the Virtual Corkscrew Museum: http://www.bullworks.net/virtual/signat.htm.
  • As for virtually any collectible, the addition of a popular theme or subject – for instance a dog or frog depiction, or a sport or hobby – leads to multiple bidders from several eBay product categories and can fetch unexpectedly high prices. By far the best corkscrew-related website I studied values a corkscrew with a rare Swedish penknife attached at £150 and another with a boy’s head made from a golf ball at £170. (Source: http://www.corkscrewcentre.com – based in Brackley, Northants, UK.)

How to cut postage and packing costs in your eBay business

Many eBay sellers consider it wrong to make money by overcharging on delivery fees, and not only because overcharging this way is a major cause of negative feedback. It’s best to charge the exact cost of materials and postage or just a little bit more to cover time, staff assistance, travel to the post office. Buyers expect that.

Like many PowerSellers I don’t believe in making money on postage costs. But based on the theory that ‘a penny saved is a penny earned’ there’s nothing wrong in seeking ways to cut your delivery costs and add more money to your bank account.

These tips will help…

  • Cut costs on packing materials. Buy on the local high street and you’ll usually pay VAT on top. But if you buy from large office supplier outlets you may get large discounts that counteract the Value Added Tax. Alternatively, you won’t be charged VAT at all if you buy from non-registered sellers on eBay, or buy second-hand or liquidated stock at boot sales and flea markets. Buy as much as you can afford (as often as you can) of items you know you’ll quickly consume. But don’t tie all your money up in packaging, so there’s no money left to buy stock or pay your eBay fees. Be sensible.
  • Learn to pack properly using as little material as possible. But don’t cut corners: skimp too much and your package will fall apart or be damaged in the post. This is not good for your customer, not good for you, highly damaging for your business, and costly in terms of having to replace product and tackling disgruntled buyers. Oh yes, and managing poor feedback scores!
  • Do not forget to change delivery costs in line with increases in postage and packing and other fulfilment costs. Responding to increased postal charges can be a nightmare, especially if you have hundreds of products listed. When postage costs increased recently, my PowerSeller daughter decided to wait, just a while – which in her book means ‘never’ – until she had time to spare to upgrade all 1,000 of her regular listings. She waited and waited and over several months she ignored a 20p price increase. Work 20p out over 400 items a month, over six months. Yes, exactly right: £480; almost £1000 over the year.

This article first appeared on Auction Genie. Read more and comment here