PLUS: How eBay sellers find the strangest
things hidden between the covers
of old books and magazines
I thought I’d go back to basics today and tell you about my all-favourite way of making money on eBay: it has to do with buying old books and newspapers, magazines and art journals…
Once acquired, you separate the pages from those publications – other than articles and multiple-page items, which you try to leave intact. Next trim the worn edges from prints and articles and other features from your donor publication, before listing and reselling all those items separately on eBay.
The right print from a book costing a fiver or less can make £10 or £20, sometimes more. An article about an important historical matter published 100 years ago or more can fetch hundreds of pounds.
It’s a business well worth trying yourself.
Now let me give you two ideas for making money from really old publications…
How to get paid several times for every book you buy to resell on eBay
Over the years I’ve sold hundreds of prints, advertisements, even knitting patterns and maps from old books and magazines dating from around the 1800s and early 1900s.
My first success came from selling dog pictures from just one publication and making hundreds of pounds in the process for a book that cost me less than £20.
That first success got me thinking, as well it might, about other ways to make easy cash from items removed from old publications.
In a short while I came up with many different product types, all immensely profitable, and covering everything from knitting patterns and articles, prints and photographs to mounted maps and calendars, and a great deal more besides.
It was easy money, but taking pictures and creating descriptions for items removed from hundreds of very different publications is time-consuming and, frankly, quite boring.
That’s why I began looking for duplicates for my best-yielding vintage publications, so I had two or three of the same production. The idea was to list an item and relist it again as soon as it sold. I decided against listing vintage prints and such in multiple product listings, because it gives the impression the print is common or, worse still, a reproduction of an earlier item.
So each time an item sold, I created a new listing and made whatever amendments were necessary to the earlier images, title and description. Within a short time I had more than 100 prints, maps and articles each selling two or three times a year.
Another major benefit of listing prints and other items from similar publications is being able to create just one template giving details of the publication itself and choosing a product category just once.
Then all you do is change the title, image and sometimes the description for the first item to suit sometimes hundreds of different items from the same base product.
That first listing could take ten minutes, but subsequent listings for similar items from the same or a similar donor product could be listed in minutes at the rate of around 20 products per hour.
I recommend you opt for very early publications and remember you are selling the actual contents of those publications, not scanned copies or reprints.
Most early publications contain fabulous images, such as engravings in the very earliest publications and photographs in middle-to-late 19th century issues. All can be priced £5 or more, sometimes much more.
- Avoid any newspaper or publication dated 1930 onwards. Most are just too modern to generate interest and most are available intact via online bookshops. Generally avoid anything dated 1902 onwards.
Exceptions to the 1902 rule are later publications dealing with iconic social issues such as suffragettes and the Titanic disaster, and also some animated views from WWI battlefields or containing quality topographical prints.
‘Topographical’ describes named locations – the easiest to sell and potentially more profitable being smaller towns and villages which were depicted far less often than major towns and cities.
- Most prints (also advertisements, photographs, etc) can be sold mounted, or what some people call ‘matted’: it simply means adding a mount to the print.
- Packaging is hugely important for fulfilling orders and even the slightest damage can cut a print’s value by close to 100%. Prints with mounts should be posted in cellophane bags and hard-backed envelopes with extra packing inserted.
Many hard-backed envelopes have flimsy fronts: this is where most damage is caused in the posting process. Counteract this by adding a thick piece of cardboard between the envelope front cover and the contents.
How eBay sellers find the strangest things hidden between the covers of old books and magazines
When you are searching through old books and magazines at auction and flea markets, you will often find other items lurking inside those pages.
Those items can sometimes be more valuable than the actual publication itself and sometimes worth more than the cumulative value of all the prints and articles and other items you remove to subsequently sell on eBay.
You might find a bookmark, for instance, left behind many years ago, which is now valuable and might fetch a good price on eBay.
Or it could be a postcard or photograph someone placed in a book to keep it flat and stop it from getting dirty – but they forgot about it and you find it many decades later. That means what was once a common item might now be a rare collectible and in excellent condition and could have high value on eBay.
My own experience of hidden finds in products I’m looking to dismantle to resell on eBay has included in memoriam cards, which were funeral cards used to announce a death in (mainly) Victorian times.
Only recently (in a book I paid less than £5 for in my local auction saleroom) I found 16 funeral cards for men killed in mining accidents at New Shildon Colliery in the northeast of England in 1880; and another very ornate design to commemorate children killed when a public building collapsed on them in Sunderland in the middle 1800s.
Keep an eye out for valuable items like this lurking in books and magazines that are dirty, damaged and attracting no interest at book sales and flea markets, or in auction salerooms and collectors’ fairs.
Those books are unlikely to sell for much, unless someone else also spots the contents, and you could pay very little for them.
Then you remove the hidden items along with pages that are not too badly damaged or dirty and you throw the rest of the book in the bin.
I told you it was easy money, didn’t I? So why not go get started today?