Guidelines for Disposing of a Lighter Collection

At some point in time you may be desirous of disposing of your collection or the collection of a friend or loved one.  Oftentimes the collection represents a considerable portion of one’s disposal income.  It may even be considered a necessary portion of one’s retirement savings.   It is strongly recommended that you never rely on the advice of only one member, regardless of their standing, title or longevity within the club.  While it is known that members sometimes prefer anonymity to the aggravation of being constantly pestered, if you want the greatest return on your collection, perform the necessary due diligence.  This is a small burden to bear.  Otherwise you may discover that entrusting any one member whether male or female to act solely in your best interests above their own as a seller or broker is misplaced trust.

For those reasons these general guidelines and ideas are provided on various approaches available. 

1.       Ebay Sales.

As we all know lighters are continuously being sold on Ebay.  Although there are exceptions, this will typically represent current market value (although occasionally there are aberrations both high and low).  You can choose to sell in this manner although there is work and skill involved to maximize the price.  There are 3rd party sellers who will handle these transactions for a fee.  The range of fees is normally in the 30% – 50% range and net of any Ebay fees (figure 10%) and Paypal payment acceptance fees (figure 3%).  Sellers will also deduct the shipping fees from the total but these are generally noted as a separate cost to the buyer. While the 3rd party listing fees may seem onerous, keep in mind that the seller will generally clean/brighten the lighters, do light restoration and present them favorably.  They will photograph them often with several photos.  They will crop the photos, sharpen them and attach them to the listings.  They write descriptions, often with details to boost the desirability of the piece.  They answer potential buyer questions.  After the sale, they may need to remind the buyer or wait for payment.  Then they must pack and drive to the post office or other carrier.  If all goes well, the buyer will be satisfied and it will not be necessary for the seller to deal with returns or other forms of dissatisfaction.  Finally, if the seller’s yearly sales go beyond the reportable minimum, he is required to report the income on his tax return.  Pick your seller with care and choose one with expertise.  Insist that you be provided with a regular report.  The frequency of the report should be a function of the quantity and frequency of the listings. You can have your collection appraised and then make the necessary deductions and determine if you are willing to sacrifice the 3rd party fees to sell on your behalf or keep all the net sales price by doing the work yourself. If their compensation is tied to the final sales value, they are more motivated to do what is necessary to maximize the return, including repair, restoration, and miscellaneous enhancements.  They will group the lighters so listings will not compete with each other or flood the market too quickly.  If you have a small group of valuable lighters with a large balance of ordinary lighters, you might choose to sell the best of them yourself and sell the balance in bulk or have a 3rd party seller dispose of them in lots.  In any event, all transactions will be transparent and you will know what revenue to expect.

2.       Auction Houses.

You can utilize the services of an auction house which will do all the work necessary to promote and auction your collection.  Their fees will mirror those of the Ebay seller and could actually be less.  But quite often the auction house is unfamiliar with lighters and may randomly group them in ways that do not maximize the bidding and depending upon the auction house and their marketing, your lighters may not reach the most ideal target audience.  If it is a local auction house with limited marketing abilities, you may find very limited public attendance and off-site exposure.

3.       OTLS conventions.

Obviously this is an option for any member but requires attendance at the show.  Unfortunately, this method works best if you are aware of the values and if you are willing to sell at a price a willingly buyer at the show will pay.  Knowing that attendance at the shows as of this writing is in the neighborhood of 30 members, selling at a show will not generally result in many sales unless they are very desirable or they are priced cheaply enough for a collector to keep or at a price he can pay and sell again profitably.

4.      Bulk Sales versus “Cherry-Picking”.

You may choose to sell direct to a fellow collector.  If you are familiar with the collection and aware of the market value of the entire collection as well as its component categories, you might well decide to sell in parts.  If you sell as a lot, the parts in which the buyer has no interest will be under-valued.  The lower valued pieces will be greatly discounted because the effort to re-sell is no different than that required of a more valuable piece.  While some may consider a wholesale value to be half of the retail value, the actual value to a buyer is also a function of how much time/effort will be required to sell the lighter relative to the selling price – – what will the seller make per hour of work?  In that sense, you might be offered much less than wholesale.  Conversely, valuable pieces that are easily and quickly sold or bought to keep should have a higher wholesale value. I caution against allowing a collector to buy only the best pieces for this reason.  The easily salable items (and the most desirable for a collector to keep) will be purchased leaving you with lighters that will be less valuable because there are no better pieces to offset the work required to dispose of the remainder.

5.       Selling to a club member when you are unfamiliar with values.

Remember that all collectors love bargains.  Expect to receive any number of offers.  One may be relatively generous, some may be fair, while others may be considered lowball.  Each potential buyer has his/her own valuation measurements and their offers will also be based on your state of mind, your physical and financial health or their perception of how quickly you wish to dispose of the collection. The depth of their pocketbook and desire will also impact the offer. The only way you will know how an offer measures up is if you open the sale to more than one collector.  To extract the best offer, know that some inconvenience to you will be required.  You will have to clearly photograph or video the collection.  If the collection is sizable, huge group shots will be unacceptable.  You will need clear photos and/or videos showing the condition of the lighters.  You may be asked questions about specific lighters including details on the condition.  Rest assured that these questions can result in any offer being hundreds, if not thousands of dollars greater than if you were unwilling to make the effort.  Only you can judge the importance of putting in the extra time/effort.  But a worn Zippo lighter may be valued at $5.00 to you but may be valued at $500 or more to a serious collector.  The same holds true of many lighters which may have hidden features or rarity/desirability aspects of which you are unaware. All the more reason that the collection should be appraised by multiple experts. A lighter which is worthless to you may have an actual market value of hundreds or thousands of dollars.

6.      Segregating the collection into categories by type or brand.  You may more closely maximize value by grouping the lighters in general categories.  This is a compromise between bulk sales and cherry-picking.  Grouping the lighters will generate more interest from collectors who specialize in a brand or type, particularly if one or more pieces in the grouping are desired.  Some collectors specialize in automatic or semi-automatic lighters, liftarm varieties, precious metal or enameled specimens.  They may seek only aluminum, trench, or military-related lighters.  Of course there are Ronson, Evans, Zippo and European maker specialists as well.

7.       Consignment sales.  This method is an option when the collection is large or extremely valuable and a quick cash-out is not necessary or the seller you choose has limited funds.  This allows your seller time to maximize the sale price with no outlay (or an agreed amount prior to taking possession of the consigned pieces).  In this case you can negotiate the revenue split based on the final sale price.  However, this presumes you have taken a complete and detailed inventory.  Ebay or other on-line sales site would be the preferred outlet since you can readily see the final price.  If you consign goods and they are sold direct to collectors, at shows or thru other means, you will have no true accountability.  In any event, you retain control over a percentage of the collection and can dictate how and in what manner the pieces are sold.  If you decide the arrangement is unsatisfactory or you have generated sufficient funds to fulfill your needs, you can terminate the arrangement or investigate other options.