A look at the design, market and legacy of Victorian pottery

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Dilemma of Majolica Auctions and Ebay

When I first joined Ebay in June of 1998 it was a phenomenal place to buy and sell majolica. Not only did you have access to things you'd otherwise never see, but there was a whole audience out there for things that didn't sell well in your geographic area. The prices were often great because people hadn't yet learned how to snipe auctions at the last second and you would get great deals on things. Ebay's fees were quite reasonable too.

Those things started to change when Ebay decided there were too many reserve auctions so they started to charge ridiculous prices for auctions with reserves. Their auction fees continued to rise to the point where it became no longer viable for many dealers to sell there, me among them. If you're only making a 10% markup on something, why would you allow Ebay to take half of that, not to mention the expense of mailing and dealing with the mail carriers?

I stopped selling majolica on Ebay regularly quite a few years ago. Every once in a while I'll test the waters and throw something on there to see how the market responds but it's rarely worthwhile anymore. The only regular selling I do on Ebay is for my books, Etruscan Majolica: The Majolica of Griffen, Smith & Company, Volumes 1+2.  That's really just for promotional purposes anyway to let people know the book is out there. I make very little profit on those Ebay sales.

Regular auctions are generally more profitable than Ebay but it really depends where you consign. Michael Strawser has made a nice little business out of selling majolica with Majolica Auctions. His auctions are usually well attended and well advertised. If you have something special or unique to sell, his auctions are the usually the way to go. He gets very good prices for the seller, especially for European majolica.

If you're selling American majolica, like Etruscan, or more common pieces that may have their share of bumps and bruises, you're better off putting it into a well advertised local auction. So many Etruscan collectors have complained about Strawser's attitude towards American and unmarked majolica but you really can't blame the guy. He goes where the money is. He's just making a business decision by lumping the pieces into lots and offering them the day before his main sale to a smaller audience. His Friday auctions are a great place to buy if you're looking for bargains, but an awful place to sell because the pieces often bring a fraction of what they'd bring at a general sale.

It helps to know where the audience is for your majolica as well. Phoenixville pieces will sell better in Pennsylvania. Morley pieces will sell better in Ohio, and Eureka Pieces will sell better in New Jersey. It's a pretty simple formula.

The prices have come down quite a bit since the late 80's when I first started buying majolica but these things are cyclical. This is a good time to buy at auction. The prices are bound to go up again.

Regardless of where you buy or sell it, DO IT!


  1. Hi Jimbo,
    I too found eBay a great place to buy Majolica years ago but now I am needing to sell. I wondered if you had an update to this post? Thanks for any assistance.

    1. I'm afraid the majolica market hasn’t improved very much since I wrote this post. Ebay is still not a good place to sell unless you don't mind getting below retail bids. Specialty majolica auctions only bring high prices for the rare and unusual pieces. Low and mid range pieces are basically given away. The advice I gave about knowing your audience still holds true. Pennsylvania pieces will sell best in Pennsylvania and Ohio pieces will bring the best price in Ohio. The best I can suggest is consigning to a large full range auction house like Freeman's in Philadelphia or Leslie Hindman in Chicago. Their well advertised annual decorative arts auctions give you the best chance of getting a decent price for your majolica. Still, any auction setting is going to be a gamble.