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Tips to Help You "Get Your Retro On" with eBay

Real deal or reproduction, eBay may be the best place to look


Tips to Help You

Want this? There's a good chance that eBay is the easiest (and maybe even only) place for you to get one.

Image: Stokkete / Dreamstime

Remember that _____ that you had as a kid, or maybe as a twenty-something, that was the coolest _____ that's ever been made?* Don't you wish they were still making it, or at least that you could still get ahold of one somehow?

* Replace _____ with any appropriate word: wristwatch, lava lamp, sports car, leisure suit, Uri Gargarin poster, KISS alarm clock, tabletop phonograph...

Odds are that you still can.

eBay, or: Buy the Real Retro

There are an awful lot of "retro inspired" goods and designs lining consumer shelves, and there likely always will be. The definition of "retro" changes with every generation, but the reality of "retro chic" doesn't. The fact is that there have always been a few very cool things that didn't make it from the past into the present, even though they deserved to.

Or at least, not many of them made it into the present.

The ones that did are likely to be found on eBay, which means that if you have a retro itch that needs to be scratched, whether it's related to a desire to revisit a part of your own past or the joie de vivre that you see in parts of a past that predates you, you can probably buy and/or bid on it on eBay. Rather than having to settle for "retro inspired" goods, you can just get ahold of the real deal, often at bargain-basement prices.

How to Find Retro on eBay

The way that you go about finding retro goods on eBay depends on who you are and why you're looking for them.

  • Search by product name (make and model). This is the way to search if you're looking for something specific, like a Pulsar LED Calculator Watch, a Royal Futura typewriter, Peter Pan Records' Snoopy vs. The Red Baron album, a Grentec GT Skateboard, a Mattel "The Bee Says" See 'n' Say, or, say a DeLorean. If the make and model alone are ambiguous (say, as is the case with "Nike Air Jordans") you can narrow your search by adding words like "vintage" or "retro" to your search (the former is more likely to generate authentic items, the latter recreations) or by adding a decade like "1980s" or "1990s" to bring up items with those words in the title.
  • Search using the two most important keywords. Those words, "vintage" and "retro" can be added to almost any search you can imagine to bring up old-school versions of the items you're looking for. They even work for what you might imagine to be "newer" categories, making phrases like vintage digital camera and vintage tablet computer. The same can be said for decades, as in, for example, 1960s sweater vest. If you're looking for a particular kind of item in a vintage or retro flavor, this is the kind of search for you.
  • Browse or search the Antiques and Collectibles categories. If you're not even sure what kinds of goods you're looking for, but just dig vintage and retro stuff in general and are open to all comers that catch your fancy, try just browsing the Antiques and Collectibles categories and their various subcategories. If the list of subcategories in each of these is too abstract, you can also search just one or the other category by keyword by using the drop-down list to the right of the search box near the top of any eBay page, selecting "Antiques" or "Collectibles" to narrow search results.

But How Do I Know It's Real?

With particularly valuable retro goods, authenticity can be an important issue. There are a lot of new and "antiqued" knock-offs of vintage and retro goods of a variety of kinds floating around in the world today. You don't want to pay top dollar for the original 1940s or 1960s item only to find out later on that you've received the bottom-quality 2011 Chinese knockoff version that costs only a fraction of the original value to manufacture today.

As is always the case, feedback, detailed seller ratings, and the absence of red flags are the best guarantees that you have of getting a square deal on eBay, but it's also a great idea to know how to avoid fakes and counterfeits on eBay in general and to know what to do if you think you've received something fake after the fact.

Of course, you don't have to limit yourself to authentic items if you're really after the copies, the retro-inspireds, the new-olds and anything that recalls anytime that isn't now. The second two search techniques above can help you to locate reproductions, "retro-styled," or "retro-inspired" versions of the real deal (all of which should be marked as such in their item descriptions), too—so that you can go back to the future and venture forth into the past on eBay for every one of your old school needs.

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