How To Buy Vintage Furniture On eBay


Liz is the queen of the charity shop furniture find. She ferrets out a bargain like a true Yorkshire lass – those poor Mancunians mustn’t know what’s hit them.

I, on the other hand, am a dab hand at the eBay furniture auction. I’m generally a mild mannered sort, but an eBay auction brings out the competitive side of me.  I’m not proud to say it but I do get a bit of a thrill from making a last minute bid to swipe away a bargain from my fellow vintage furniture hunters.

When we first moved into our house from our little two bed flat, we had a small amount of (mostly Ikea) furniture and a lot of space to fill.  I wanted to invest in pieces to last, but also didn’t want to bankrupt us (particularly as we’d just spent most of our spare cash on buying the house itself).

eBay turned out to be our saviour – the dining room is furnished completely from eBay buys – the table, chairs, sideboard, settle, drinks cabinet and dresser all came from the auction site.


It does take some getting to grips with though, and you have to invest a bit of time to sort the wheat from the chaff and be fairly savvy to not pay over the odds. Here are some tips I use to make the experience easier:

1. Narrow down search results - when you’re searching for items you can us the ‘minus’ sign to exclude certain words (or certain sellers).  For example if you want to search for cabinet, but exclude filing cabinets you can search for “cabinets -filing”.  Filter options are also handy – I always use the item location filter to see if any items are within pick-up distance of my postcode (to avoid paying delivery costs).

2. Choose your words carefully – when an eBay search brings hundreds of items back, I add in descriptors  (like ‘rustic’ or ‘farmhouse’) to narrow it down to a specific style (though ‘vintage’ – it can return a lot of dodgy second hand stuff!).  If it’s quality you’re after, look at the period filters in the ‘antiques’ category.   Within ‘antique’ you’ll see items that are new but antique ‘style’, but if you filter to ‘Edwardian’ you tend to get the real deal.  If painted furniture’s your bag, try searching by paint names like ‘Farrow and Ball’ and ‘Annie Sloane’.

3. Check out the going rate -for an item like a kitchen dresser where there are a lot of vintage options on eBay, it can help to look at previous prices to get a sense of what’s good value.  To see what price similar items have gone for, go into the advanced search, type in your search terms, and check the box to search ‘sold listings’.  It’s a useful gauge to check that you don’t pay over the odds, but remember that if you’re looking at vintage furniture, factors such as condition and provenance can affect price.

4. Bidding techniques – don’t bid too early and never get into a bidding war – it can force the price up, and you’ll be showing your hand to other bidders early on. My golden rules are:

– set myself a budget

– set an alert on my phone to remind me of when the item is due to end

– get myself logged in within 10 minutes of the auction ending

– bid close enough to end of the auction to beat other bidders, but give myself enough time to re-bid if the offer isn’t high enough. Even if you’re the only person bidding, you may bid under the (hidden) reserve price set by the seller, so you need time to put a second bid in before the auction closes.  I usually go in at about 20-40 seconds to go (depending on how long I can hold my nerve!).

–  make my maximum bid just higher than a round number.  If the most I’m willing to pay is £100 I would actually bid £101.10, as some people will bid £100.10 or £101 to try to pip you to the post in the dying seconds of the auction (it’s a vicious game!).   Remember – eBay will only bid just enough to beat the highest bidder, so you don’t actually have to pay the maximum unless someone puts in counter bids to drive your bid up.


4. Finding reputable seller – to avoid getting stung, always look at a seller’s review ratings.  You’re ideally looking for a good number of sales and 98% + positive reviews. eBay can arbitrate in a dispute, but with a big value item like furniture, it’s best to avoid any that have a poor rating, or no prior history of selling . When buying higher end antiques it also helps if they have a bricks and mortar store with a good reputation so you can trust that you’re getting what you’re paying for.

5. Beware poor pictures – if there’s only one picture of the item and it’s a bit fuzzy then AVOID!!  It’s free to add additional pictures to the listing, so I always suspect that there’s a reason they don’t want to show the item clearly….  If you’re really interested though, don’t be afraid to contact the seller and ask for additional images.

6. Factor in delivery- with furniture purchases, delivery can add a huge amount onto what looks like a bargainous price for an item.   If you can fit in in your car, it’s worth searching locally (see point 1 above).  If it’s a large item, or it’s further afield, then get a courier quote before you bid, so you can take delivery into account when working out what you’d be willing to pay.   Shiply is a handy site for getting quotes – you can post the eBay item (before you’ve bought it) and couriers will try to out-bid each other for your custom.  The couriers can search on routes they’re already taking, to see if there are pick ups / drop offs that fit with their existing schedule (making it cheaper than other services), and you can see customer reviews to help you decide which bid to accept.  I have had one experience of a flaky delivery company, but the rest have been sound.  I’d recommend it for sturdy vintage items, but some don’t have the most delicate handling techniques, so for fine antiques I’d advise getting in touch with a specialist.

7. Be persistent!  Don’t settle for something that’s not right, just because you’re in a rush to finish off a room.  With vintage furniture it may take a while for the ideal piece to come onto eBay, but you will find what you’re after eventually.   It took 6 months before I found the perfect settle on eBay (above) – I needed one that was the right width, that had storage, and that matched the wood tones of the other furniture, but eventually the right piece came along at the right price, so patience pays off!


Happy bidding!   And if you’re seeking general inspiration, the following eBay sellers may have something in store to catch your eye:

Vintage Revival – a great selection of high quality restored furniture:

A painted chest of drawers

Nan’s Living Room- full of mid-century and retro gems:

1960's wooden sideboard

Hidden Cargo – for vintage trunks and suitcases (where I got my TV trunk from):

vintage steamer trunk

Bloodhoundsoultown – for vintage ladders, steps, and stools (skeleton not included):

vintage wooden ladder


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