My mother is a genealogy buff and discovered several years ago that the bare knuckle boxing great of the late 1800s, Charlie Mitchell, was our great-great-great-great-uncle. Shortly after doing so, she discovered a large posterboard cigarette ad featuring him at a flea market, and the search was on. We have since been scouring the marketplace for anything relating to him. However, he is often in the background, as he was most famous for a 39 round draw he fought against the more well-known John Sullivan. Mitchell also fought Gentleman Jim Corbett and other more famous bare knuckle boxers.
Of course, our best hope for finding any memorabilia related to Mitchell was eBay – where else can you find this obscure stuff? The problem was that more people are looking for items that relate to Corbett or Sullivan. My mom had a heck of a time finding the items she was looking for, and even more of a time trying to figure out how I had managed to do so. I have to say, it has made my gift-giving seem almost supernatural to her by now, but I really just used a few simple tricks available to anyone with an internet connection.
First, eBay has been flooded. Search terms that used to provide precisely what you were looking for with only a few concise choices now provide hundreds of auctions, most of which end up not being what you were searching for in the first place. As a result, you have to get a little bit more proactive in your search. eBay’s search engine is actually pretty robust, as it supports wildcards (dog* returns dog, dogs, dogfood, dogging, dogma, etc.), and it allows you exclude words (dog -food returns dog related items but not dog food, etc.). It even allows you to exclude more than one word (dog -(food, toy)) or search for any of more than one word (dog (toy,toys,bed)). If you are looking for an album title, you can put the title in quotes (“A Hard Day’s Night”), and it will return only listings with that exact title, rather than those that have each of the words in random order.
All of these search commands can help provide the buyer with a more accurate result, but what really helped me out with my goal was the little box below the search input line that allows you to search both titles AND descriptions of listings. Because of Charlie Mitchell’s relative obscurity in comparison to John Sullivan and James Corbett, listings that have him with either of these two boxers (and these are many) are normally listed under Sullivan’s or Corbett’s name, but Mitchell will be noted within the listing description. As a result, I find his memorabilia by checking the “search titles and descriptions” box then entering or . Normally this inexplicably returns about a million contemporary movies, so I then narrow the search down by excluding these films: . This is how I hit the jackpot.
Another tool that is highly underrated is a little sneaky link eBay places at the bottom of searches that return at least a full page of listings: See additional Buy It Now items from eBay Store sellers. Often there are items hiding under this guise that are precisely what you are looking for, but they do not show up in a regular search unless you click on this link. The beauty of this tool is that you do not have to bid and wait on these items – if you find what you want, just buy it and you’re done.
Of course, most of you probably won’t be looking for something quite as obscure as memorabilia of a never heard of bare knuckle boxer, which means that your searches might just be unmanageable. Who wants to sift through 15 pages of results just to find a red polka dot fabric? I don’t, which is why I also utilize the category results on the left side of the search result page. If I am looking for a certain kind of fabric, a search for will return anything at all that is listed as containing that kind of fabric. I don’t want to buy someone else’s polka dot dress, purse, shoes, or hat. I want to make my own! So after the first huge result comes in, I go over to the category results and click on “Fabrics” or “Crafts” or “Collectibles->Linens and Textiles.” This really helps you narrow down your search so that you’re focusing on precisely what you’re looking for.
The final tool that has really helped me get a leg up on all the other Charlie Mitchell aficionados (all 2 of them?) was a little resource I found while surfing the web one day. Fat Fingers states at the top of its website (http://www.fatfingers.co.uk/) that “Other people’s typos save you money.” As a writer, I am continually amazed that people publish things with typos and grammar mistakes. Okay, eBay isn’t exactly The New York Times, but a listing is still a textual representative of a person, and the errors still strike a chord with me. However, once I found Fat Fingers, I wasn’t nearly as irritated with these mistakes, as some people’s typos were all that was keeping me from finding my dream for my dream price. This website initiates an eBay search for whatever item you input, only it inputs every possible misspelling of that item into the search. For example, my partner and I have been looking to add another serger (sewing machine) to our business, and I just found one (this minute!) with fat fingers that was listed under an incorrect spelling (sewing machin) for $19.95. This machine is worth about $300-$350, and there is no way it would sell for less than $100 on eBay, if buyers were able to find the listing. Fat Fingers makes it possible for the resourceful buyer to find these steals. I should also note that Fat Fingers will search any of the various country’s eBay sites, and it will even search Google for your typoed item.
In short, I was almost getting disillusioned with eBay, given that I was no longer able to find precisely what I wanted without having to muddle through pages of junk that was NOT what I was looking for. But I persevered and found a way to make eBay work for me. You can too.