Tips for Buying Vintage Items Online

When you buy a vintage or secondhand item online, there is a tiny bit of apprehension when it arrives in the mail and you open the box. Will it be as good as it looked in the photos? Did the seller disclose any (and all) flaws? Will I be glad that I bought this?!

Frankly, it can be a bit of a crap shoot!

For example, back in 2016 I won an eBay auction of vintage copper pieces: a sugar and creamer and coffeepot by famed coppersmith Jos. Heinrichs, Paris, New York. I was particularly nervous opening this box because the seller had not included many photos of the items in the listing and most were taken from the same side/angle (red flag!) and, silly me, I hadn’t asked to see other photos.

corrosionThe items were well packaged in bubble wrap but as I unwrapped each, my heart sank a little. The buyer mentioned in the listing: “All pieces need a good cleaning” but hadn’t mentioned or shown that the inside of the creamer and coffeepot had corrosion. That’s more than a little dirt. Nuts!!!

Now I could have returned them, but I’d be out the shipping costs both ways, so I decided to keep them. Eventually, months after I bought the set, I cleaned off the corrosion with lemon juice and baking soda while maintaining the lovely “old penny” color of the outside. But it took a lot of elbow grease…a lot…but it is an attractive and collectible set so I’m glad I didn’t return them.


Actually most of my experiences buying vintage and secondhand items online have been positive (so give it a try if you haven’t before!) but I have learned a few lessons along the way and I share these tips with you.

Happy (online) hunting!

Tips for Buying Vintage Items Online

  • Make sure photos are clear and show all sides/angles of the item. Ask to see more photos if need be.
  • Check the measurements in the description for accurate size info. Many photos are enlarged to show detail and can be misleading.
  • Don’t hesitate to ask questions about the item. Walk away from it if the buyer doesn’t answer or answers unprofessionally or rudely.
  • Make sure you understand the store’s return policy. I rarely buy from stores you have an “All Sales Final” or “No returns” policy.
  • Understand that vintage items typically have been used (unless they are “new old stock”) and will have some wear.
  • Be extra careful if a seller lists no description but says “the  photos are the description.” It’s easy to miss a hole, chip, scratch, etc. when looking at a photo.
  • Check the seller’s feedback.


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