It’s a sentiment I have heard often in the Facebook lighter groups in regard to the current state of affairs where the purchase of vintage Zippo lighters is concerned. “Before the appearance of Chinese buyers,” one might say wistfully or, “I used to be able to get those Zippos a lot cheaper before the Asian collectors showed up and ruined everything!” another will chime in.
Where We Are
I have heard these sentiments so often that I have been forced to ask myself, “are Asian buyers ruining the market for vintage Zippo lighters?” I personally don’t believe that it’s possible in the slightest for any particular set of collectors to actually ruin the hobby for everyone else but we are going to look at a few circumstances that may have led others conclude otherwise while at the same time we examine the motivations of those making these claims.
Just because you as a collector can no longer acquire lighters at will without shelling out fair market value doesn’t necessarily mean that you have suffered damage at the hands of the current market. One would think that prices going up would be a welcomed occurrence for anyone already sitting on a pile of old Zippos, wouldn’t you?
I mean, why get upset about how high Zippo prices currently trend if you’ve got a hoard of them that you could potentially sell yourself? Perhaps many of these old collectors are exhibiting misplaced anger, having acquired vintage Zippos on the cheap for yrs only to turn around and sell them for a major profit and now they are ruing the fact they didn’t hang on to more of what they’d garnered in the past to make an even healthier profit now.
Some collectors may be put off by the fact they have delayed acquiring lighters that they really feel belong in their collection but thought they had an indefinite time period to do so. Others may have been waiting for just the right financial moment in their life only to realize that moment never materialized thanks to new entrants into the hobby market.
Any way around it, complaining that Zippos are selling too high comes off as sour grapes to me when so many of the complainers have had their hands on more than their fair share of supremely desirable Zippo Windproof lighters over the yrs. That doesn’t mean though that there aren’t certain elements of the emergence of Asian buyers that collectors are right to be concerned about.
Bidding ‘Em Up!
I believe the core concern with this issue is that when one finds themself in a bidding war for a vintage Zippo lighter, there always seems to be at least two Asian buyers who are willing to go well above and beyond what is considered a reasonable value for certain Zippos. I can’t necessarily explain this phenomenon but can attest to witnessing it myself on Ebay auctions that I have run and it doesn’t only relate to Zippo lighters but other old desirable petrol lighters as well.
The claim being made seems to imply that these bidders may be working together toward nefarious ends. If the listing is not their own though, then I am not sure what advantage two bidders working together could actually achieve.
I have had an eminently prominent American collector and dealer admit to me that they regularly worked with another American bidder to place shill bids on their own Ebay auctions in order to drive up the final selling price. That’s “no bueno” by my way of thinking and tantamount to being a crook.
So, if American Zippo or other lighter enthusiasts have employed these dirty tactics for yrs then why are the Asian bidders getting such a bad rap? Two wrongs definitely do not make a right but the volume at which some of these American collectors decry the tactics of their Asian counterparts makes me think that something is rotten in the state of Denmark. Or perhaps it’s Denver or L.A. or New York City!
Reshippers/Shipping Clearing Houses
Many American sellers(including myself) will not ship overseas and even if they do, may be reticent to ship to China or other Asian locations. The biggest reason for this is a lack of uniformity in regard to tracking packages that are handed off from one country’s postal system to another.
International tracking is better than it used to be but is still lacking on the cheaper First Class type services that any particular country’s mail system may offer. Usually to get true tracking a seller/shipper will be required to opt for one of the more expensive mail services such as Express or Priority and still not have any guarantee that their package will arrive by a certain time or be tracked all along the way.
In order to get around American seller’s refusal to ship internationally, many Asian buyers have arranged to have their Ebay auction winnings shipped to a go-between in the United States, very often an Oregon address. These go-betweens then repackage and ship the auction’s winnings to the actual buyer in China or another Asian country, likely consolidating packages and then shipping the package only when it is fiscally beneficial to do so.
This can create problems though as it takes time for packages to finally arrive at their destination having the delay of being sent to the middle-man’s address and possibly held up until the package contains enough items to justify the money being spent to ship on its final leg to Asia. This can distort what is considered the reasonable expectation of both the buyer and seller though, as the seller will consider his portion of the transaction complete when the package arrives at the re-shipper while the buyer is often not satisfied with his seller until the package finally reaches his hands which the seller had no actual part in.
Scamming For Refunds
The problem of auction winnings going through the hands of a reshipper and thus being delayed to its final destination can also contribute to this other form of dirty dealing which by the way, is not exclusive to Asian buyers. An impatient buyer can easily panic at the thought of having waited so long to receive their items and feel the crunch of the time limit imposed by Ebay to file a claim against a dishonest seller and may file such a claim simply because they are up against the deadline.
Some may simply be inexperienced and not know what else to do in their situation but others do it because they know that Ebay tends to err on the side of the buyer rather than the seller and would rather have a refund and possibly still receive their package than to be left out in the cold and have neither. The delay caused by the Reshipper/Clearing House certainly contributes to the confusion that can make this sort of bogus claim seem viable.
I would also like to point out that I have had more than one occasion where an American buyer has attempted to scam me out of a refund they weren’t entitled to by making claims that their package did not arrive or arrived but was damaged to an extent that made it worthless to them, no matter how improbable or downright silly the story they were telling was. Scammers come in all shapes and stripes and being American obviously does not preclude one from trying to rip others off either.
Most buyers are honest though and only wish to receive that which they have rightfully paid for. I have shipped countless lighters to reshippers in Oregon, California and the east coast and have never had a single problem with one of those buyers trying to scam me.
It’s A Worldwide Market!
The beauty of a marketplace like Ebay is that you can have the eyes of all the world resting upon that one little item that you wish to sell. Even if you do not market to buyers in a specific location like Asia, they are likely to figure a way around your unwillingness to ship to them by contracting with a third-party reshipper as mentioned above.
I prefer to let that market work out it’s own prices without blaming individual bidders from one location or another. There are bad actors in all locales so I just don’t see the wisdom in singling out Asian buyers as the reason that any particular person would think the vintage Zippo market has been ruined.
It hasn’t been ruined at all! It most certainly has changed and perhaps that is what so many of these Asian blaming American collectors are really upset about. They would like to go back to the days before we had an international market or any online market at all and they could pay or charge whatever they chose because nobody knew any better.
The cool little fire making machines we ALL love and admire so much should be a source of shared interest and camaraderie, not an opportunity for backbiting and dissension. That is one of the reasons we regularly conduct the YouTube live stream Vintage Coffee & Lighters Live! is to share with you all the joy we have in working on and using these fabulous little devices regardless where you are from! We have regular contributors from all over the world including Indonesia, Taiwan, Denmark, England, Turkey, France, Russia, Ukraine, all over the United States and others that I am currently drawing a blank on. I hope that you all will check it out and join in on the discussion.
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Until next time…✌️