Cast Iron Selling Tips
Here are some helpful tips for sellers of vintage cast iron pieces. While primarily aimed at online auction listings, most of the tips herein can be applied to all forms of vintage cast iron sales.
Your first task is to inspect your item thoroughly. Buyers won't be able to assess the item's condition in person, so it is up to you to describe it as completely and honestly as possible. Failure to do so will likely result in a return request or, worse, a "not as described" claim against you. You'll need to disclose any warping, cracks, chips, or pitting from rust in your description even if you think you are able to photograph them clearly.
Changes in the recent past by eBay now make the seller responsible for, in addition to the refund of purchase price and original shipping cost, return shipping charges in cases of "Item Not As Described". It is therefore incumbent upon the seller to disclose item condition accurately and completely.
Place your item on a hard, flat, level surface, and check it for warping-- if not warped, it should not rock, wobble or spin when you press downward on the rim or bat sideways at the handle. Don't say it sits flat on your stovetop-- your stovetop is not necessarily a flat, hard, level surface.
Don't say, "I don't see any...", in reference to a particular defect or damage-- either it has a defect/damage, or it doesn't. If a piece is coated with decades of burnt-on crud, however, feel free to disclaim any knowledge of what's under it. But don't expect your item to command a price as if it were in foundry fresh or fully restored condition.
Pictures of your item are a primary tool for buyers to assess the condition of your piece of vintage cast iron cookware.
Always use photos of the actual piece being offered. Never use photos of similar pieces, photos from other auctions, or stock photos from manufacturer websites. Don't show items other than the piece being offered for sale, as it may cause unnecessary confusion.
This is the age of the digital camera. Photos are essentially free. Proofing photos is instantaneous. There is no excuse, therefore, for having a dark or blurry photo of your item, nor a single photo only of your item-- it only makes people think you're hiding something.
Photograph your pieces outside in good daylight. Flash photography tends to under-expose black cast iron as the camera's programming attempts to avoid over-exposing light-colored backgrounds, resulting in the "murky black blob on a white bedsheet" phenomenon.
Compose your photos so the item fills the camera frame. Show the entire piece from top to bottom, and both sides. Clearly feature any flaws in casting you observe, or any damage such as utensil marks, cracks, chips, rust, or pitting. Conversely, ultra-close-up photos that show the grain of the iron are of no real value.
Don't be tempted to apply oil to your item to "enhance" its appearance in photos. Savvy buyers are suspicious that this practice serves only to hide flaws, and rightly so.
Collectors don't care-- and non-collectors shouldn't, either-- if the skillet came across the Rockies with your Great Great Grandfather "Cookie" in a Westbound wagon train. It's quite likely the story your Grandma always told you about the piece is flat-out fiction, no matter how much she believes it to be true. It's possible the piece is not considered as having any collectible value, no matter how old it is. It may be very evident to an experienced collector that your information is either partially or totally incorrect. So, please, don't become defensive when someone who knows vintage cast iron tries to tell you that your piece is actually from the 1950s, not the 1890s as you were led to believe, and is worth about $25 only if in perfect condition, as opposed to the $250 you'd like to think it's worth. It's not realistic to expect a buyer to pay a premium for any sentimental value you place on a piece. If a family member wouldn't give you the price you're asking for it, neither should you expect that a stranger on eBay would.
Technically, every piece of vintage cast iron cookware is in some small way unique. Multiple patterns were created for each pan, and each differed in some minute way from the other. Each time a pattern was removed from the mold it created, there was a possibility that some small fragment of compacted sand might move or fall off, resulting in a casting anomaly. But flaws are flaws, and damage is damage; to say they impart "character" is fallacy.
Not all old skillets are Wagner or Griswold. Both foundries were very proud of the high quality products they produced, and cast their names and trademarks prominently into every piece. The only time they did not was for pieces specifically made for the hardware, department, or building supply store markets. There were literally hundreds of foundries operating in the late 19th and early to mid-20th centuries. Therefore, don't put things like "Wagner??? Griswold???" in your listing when you don't know who made it. Never speculate as to the maker of an item. You may feel you are just being honest when you say, "possibly, "thought to be", or "likely", but you may in fact be misrepresenting the item. Simply ask for identification help in your listing, and someone knowledgeable will likely contact you. Nor should you use brand names when it is clear the item was not made by them. Doing so in either case is in fact in violation of eBay policy.
Consider avoiding several worn-out phrases in your description. Although frequently seen, they are of little or no value to an auction bidder:
"Double pour spouts". 99% of skillets have two pour spouts. If yours has only one, or three, then it's worth mentioning.
"Estate find", "farm fresh", etc. No one cares where you got it, but they do want to know what condition it's in.
"Great addition to your collection". Not necessarily.
"Primitive", "rustic". Most collectible vintage cast iron was produced in factories by skilled labor and does not fit the definition of primitive or rustic.
Savvy buyers don't care why you're selling the item, nor about any verbiage in regard to the quality of the cooked food one might expect from it. They also aren't impressed by "auction speak", e.g. phrases like "for your consideration", "up for bids", etc. Instill buyer confidence by sticking to concise, complete descriptions and depictions of the item's condition, and to providing clear photos that support it.
Your item will be more easily found in searches if you spell key terms correctly. Double check your listing, and look at others for comparison. No "Griswald", "Griswodl", "Wanger Ware", or "Wagner Wear" for your Griswold or Wagner Ware skillet.
eBay allows a certain number of photos to be included within a listing at no extra charge. While you may possess the skill of creating photo montages, multiple views of your item in a single image may actually detract from a potential buyer's ability to assess the condition of your item. Concentrate on providing clear, separate images, and not on displaying your PhotoShop prowess. Under no circumstances should you ever tweak images of your item, either to enhance its appearance or to minimize flaws.
Remember that the values given in collectibles reference books apply only to pieces "in excellent condition", and that those values were considered valid at the time the book was published. Check eBay's completed listings search to see what your item or ones similar to it have succesfully sold for in the past. Compare your item to those in like condition to determine a representative value. Be realistic in your pricing. Setting a too-high starting price, only to receive no bids and having to re-list your item again doesn't get it sold quickly. Knowledgeable bidders will dismiss you as opportunistic at best, unscrupulous at worst. Setting an unrealistic starting price only wastes everyone's time.
Values of vintage cast iron are based primarily on three things: rarity, intactness, and collector interest, each dependent upon the others. A rare but damaged piece holds little value. An intact but common piece is also worth little. And a piece collectors find uninteresting will not sell for much, regardless of how infrequently seen or its condition.
eBay gives sellers the option of listing their item in a traditional auction format or as a fixed price "buy it now" sale. The former allows the seller to set an attractive minimum price to generate interest, but with the hope that competition between bidders will drive the price perhaps even higher than anticipated.
Conversely, the "Buy It Now" format can get the item sold quickly, but not if the pricing is unrealistic or the description is lacking. Serious buyers ready to "pull the trigger" in BIN items don't want to wait for questions to be answered or for better photos. If you are as ready to sell as your viewers are ready to buy, don't let an incomplete description or sub-par photos slow things down.
One of the best things you can do to insure your item sells for what it's worth is to consider the timing of your auction, or more specifically, the ending time of your auction. You might be a night person, and it may be convenient for you to list your items in the quiet time at the end of your day. But that will also dictate the time of day (or night as the case may be) your auction ends, unless you make sure to use the alternate starting time option. As much as eBay pushes the notion that entering your maximum bid any time before auction's end is the smart way to buy, the truth is most people still "snipe", placing their bid at the very last seconds of the listing. This is especially true with hard to find collectibles. You can capitalize on this behavior by not having your auction end between 9:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m. Pacific Time, when most of the country is either fast asleep or busy getting ready for the day. Instead, create your listing so it ends when most people are awake and watching, which is Sunday afternoons and evenings.
You may be tempted to use an application to help you list multiple items more easily. The downside of this is that all the items you list in one session may have ending times seconds apart. If you have a group of like items all of interest to the same type of collector, you will be shutting many buyers out of bidding on all but one of your items. See "sniping" above. Consider listing similar items so they end 15 to 30 minutes apart, so as to allow more last-second bidders to "attend" all of your auctions.
After The Sale: Packing & Shipping
Many people think cast iron is indestructible-- it is not. The properties that make cast iron hard also make it brittle, just like the properties of glass. If subjected to sufficient impact, it will not bend, but instead shatter. It is therefore extremely important that cast iron be packaged in such a way that insures its best chances for surviving the rigors of shipping.
In no case is an envelope acceptable-- padded, priority mail, or otherwise-- and no matter how small or flat the piece. And, although they have in many ways been a boon to eBay shipping, the USPS Priority Mail Flat Rate boxes are very often poorly suited to the shipment of vintage cast iron.
Crumpled newspaper, tightly packed, and bubble wrap are preferred packaging materials; styrofoam peanuts or other loose media that may allow the item to move around inside the box during shipping are not. And, while the contents of your paper shredder bin may seem like a perfect opportunity to recycle, unless very tightly packed, it is quite ineffective, not to mention a huge mess upon unpacking, in any case.
The piece itself should be wrapped in multiple layers of bubble wrap first, and the bubble wrap secured with tape. Special attention should be paid to protruding parts like handles, which should be wrapped as well.
The box used should be at least two inches larger in all directions, meaning there should be at all points between the bubble-wrapped piece and the box a minumum space of 2" which should be filled with suitable packing material. In no case should the piece be able to move within the box, nor should it be able to come in direct contact with the walls of the carton during shipment.
Similarly, if multiple pieces are shipped in the same box, they must be individually wrapped and securely packed in such a way that they are not able to contact or impact eachother.
For large, very valuable, or irreplaceable pieces, packing in a box, surrounded by packing material within another box is an excellent idea.
Another idea is to take a cue from online retailers such as Amazon and secure the item to a piece of cardboard cut to the inside length and width of the carton, which will also prevent it moving around and coming in contact with the carton walls.
Leaving Feedback for the Buyer
If you think about it seriously, the buyer in an online auction has fulfilled his/her responsibilities to the transaction if he/she has (1) asked any questions about the item sufficiently in advance, (2) placed the winning bid, and (3) paid for the item in a timely manner. As such, the buyer is therefore owed a positive feedback from the seller immediately after payment. In fact, eBay won't let a seller leave anything but a positive feedback for a buyer; it either has to be positive or not at all. For a seller to withhold feedback subject to the buyer first leaving positive feedback for the seller is a litte bit like extortion. Telling buyers that their leaving positive feedback for the seller first will let the seller know the item was received or deemed acceptable really doesn't make much sense. Good sellers should give good buyers positive feedback where and when it is deserved, and that's before the item is shipped.