Thursday, December 16, 2010

Grail Quest Part II: The Big Crapshoot AKA eBay

Of course, sometimes the Grail Quest might not be satisfied by authorized retailers, no matter how great, because of a simple problem: the Grail is sold out, and the manufacturer isn’t making the doll any more.

Whaddya mean, my Grail is sold out??
All hope is not lost, however. There is always the secondary market. This is where the Quest can become complicated, not to mention expensive. But Grail Quests are not for wimps. It takes perseverance, research, and plain old tenacity to achieve the successful conclusion.

There are several branches to the secondary market for dolls, but two of the main ones with which I have had experience with are eBay and doll boards/forums/groups.

eBay, which has also come to be known as Evil Bay, is a free for all when it comes to the secondary market for anything. You might get lucky, and find your Grail on eBay. Whether it remains eBay or becomes Evil Bay depends on your preparation for the Quest. While most eBay sellers are honest people just trying to make a buck, there are also those who have no idea the true value of what they are selling, and the plain old unscrupulous.

Preparation is not only to study what your Grail looks like, but some of the features, such as the edition size, the year it came out, etc. I cannot stress enough how much money and aggravation a little preparation can save you!

For example:

“Rare doll, only 100 made, cost $500 at time of issue, but I will sell it to you for only $300,” read one auction description for a nude doll that came out in an edition of 1500, cost $95 at time of issue, and is worth, Never Removed From Box (NRFB), about $125. These are auctions to avoid like the plague.

Another variety of auction to watch out for--and I found this out the hard way, so I will pass on my hard won wisdom--are auctions for NRFB, hard to find and valuable dolls that start at impossibly low bids. I was after a Tonner Angelina doll, and this particular seller, who has since been banned, kept offering one I wanted, which was worth somewhere in the $150 range, at a $.99 starting bid. By the time I lost the third auction, I knew something was up--this was before eBay made the identities of the bidders private. The same person would somehow get onto the auction I was bidding on, and nudge it up by $2.00 and higher increments, until the doll was out of my price range. Now, admittedly, I am a cheapskate, and the only thing I love more than a successful conclusion to a Grail Quest is a Grail I got at a price I can brag about.

I kept a few other Angelina dolls this person was selling on my watch list, and it was interesting how this same bidder kept getting onto all of the auctions and nudging the prices up, a practice called shell bidding. I didn’t complain, because I didn’t know at the time what the practice was called, or that it is strictly forbidden by eBay policy, but you can bet my complaint would have included the comment, “Exactly how many copies of this same doll does this bidder need, anyway?”

This is not to say avoid all potential Grails at impossibly low opening bids. It might simply be a case of someone with an eBay account selling something for a friend, and the seller really has no idea what the doll they are selling is actually worth. These auctions can turn into bidding wars, and I'll bet there are a lot of surprised sellers when they see the winning bids, because they probably would have started the auction at a higher bid.

In any case, with regards to eBay, other wisdom I can offer is:
  • Check the seller’s feedback rating, especially if it is a seller you have never done business with. How good is the feedback? I always check the negatives, especially if the seller has received any within the last 6 months. 
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Sometimes there is scant information on the doll, or the pictures might not be clear. Whatever you need to know: the doll’s condition, the seller’s return policy, combined shipping, whatever. Communication is the key to a successful transaction. 
  • Know your abbreviations! Sellers might use the abbreviations incorrectly, whether deliberately or unintentionally. Know the difference between new and used, NRFB (Never Removed From Box) and MIB (Mint In Box). This can have a serious impact on the price. 
  • If you have allergies or chemical sensitivities, and the information on the doll is sparse, again, don’t be afraid to ask. Does the seller smoke? Does the seller have pets? Was the doll in storage and have a musty smell? 
  • If the seller states that he or she does not sell to someone outside of the country, pay attention. Ask a friend here in the US to bid on the auction and have the doll sent to them, and then your friend can ship it to you. It is much easier than the hassle of winning your Grail, then losing it when the seller cancels the transaction because he or she will not do business with foreign buyers.
eBay is a great way to conduct a Grail Quest, but it can be a crapshoot, depending on the rarity of the doll. It might even be Murphy’s Law in action, but patience, perseverance and even a little luck can make the site eBay rather than Evil Bay.


  1. I love it, Blue. My favorite is this:
    "Doll is NRFB, except to take these photos." I'm SO sure. ;)

  2. Another favorite is "NRFB nude." I just want to reach out and SLAP these sellers, because I know most of the doll manufacturers do not sell nudes.

  3. Ah, Ebay. So good and yet so bad.

    My biggest issues have been about sellers who are completely clueless when it comes to prepping something for shipping. I had two porcelain dolls arrive wrapped in brown paper without a box! I also had someone ship me a tea set that looked like she'd wrapped each piece in one piece of newspaper and tossed them into a huge box with no additional padding. Nine pieces; five were chipped in shipping. Augh. It's especially awful when the seller has gouged you for the shipping costs and then tried to save a buck by packing it themselves (poorly.)

    I don't mind paying extra shipping and "handling" charges if it means my stuff arrives immaculate.

  4. I agree 100%. What's even worse: when doll stores do the same thing.

    At the risk of a flame--I'm sure it's the fault of a new employee--a particular store I have, until recently, been happy to do business with and refer people to, under-packed an order, and charged me twice for shipping, over and above the quoted inflated price on their website.

    The result: a broken gift for one of my daughters on Christmas day, whose replacement wasn't even sent out until December 27, despite their promises.

    I think I won't be returning with my dolly dollars there, in spite of their exclusive inventory. Ugh!

  5. An interesting article, thank you! Sometimes sellers' behaviour is really odd. No better are some private transactions in the community. One girl wanted to sell her doll, a rather rare playline one from Europe, and I kinda liked the price and all. But first she has only showed the pic with a NRFB doll so I presumed that WAS an NRFB doll...
    When I found out that the doll is deboxed I politely refused to buy it. (I generally don't buy deboxed dolls if they're not ultra-rare or vintage). I said that I collect NRFB only and that is what I heard, "hey, you don't even KNOW if the doll was deboxed or not when you buy it! It's easy to take the doll out and carefully pack it again if needed, and sell her like an NRFB" It all sounded like "it's so easy to fool you and you'll spend a lot on your dolls which may be MIB only".

    Of course I understand that it's painful to hope that one buys your doll now but he refuses, but it's not so difficult to tell an NRFB doll from a MIB one - especially when you collect the dolls from 90s. For example, their hair is safely attached to the carton and thus the condition of hair speaks a lot about the doll's state.

  6. Thanks for your comment, Ekaterina. I think you're definitely right about 1990s Barbies and later.

    In my own personal opinion, selling dolls as NRFB when you know that they are not is unethical. However, if I am looking for a Barbie in the box (from the 1980s or earlier, which often did not have the hair tied or sewn into the box), and I can't tell whether the doll is MIB or NRFB, many times, I don't really care either way. In that case, I consider it my risk to get a doll whose box is in good shape (much easier to do in person than online).

    Many times, too, pink box dolls leak--so the dolls themselves, even if they are NRFB, may be dusty or dirty, or their hair is oily, which really makes me want to remove them and clean them.

    However, with Tonner Dolls, their hair isn't attached to the box at all, and they are simply tied to the box with ribbon--a simple ribbon, not like Silkstones, even. So it's easy to take them out and put them back in, and not even know if the they have ever been removed.

  7. Dear Alison,
    I think that it is unethical as well. But the sellers omit important things in the description too often and that's a pity - for example I win a doll OOB and receive it really dirty or I win a doll that's described as a perfect NRFB and I find out that the box is open... You're right, if an old doll looks like a great NRFB then you have all rights to think that she IS NRFB, and even if she has been taken out by the previous owner..... that should bother the seller, not us :)


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