The Etiquette Guide to Selling Antiques Online

As vintage and upcycling trends continue to soar, and with the ease of marketplaces like eBay and Etsy, countless people are turning their hands to dabble in the world of antiques and collectibles. This means, however, that there is a world of competition out there and that your efforts must stand out from the crowd. In this guide, I hope to offer advice to assist you in making the most out of your goods and getting the best from the world of online selling.

Play to your strengths

What do you like? You may have an eye for Georgian glass or a preference towards 1970s retro. Whatever it is, there is a market for everything. However, it is important to play to your strengths; if you already have knowledge or a passion for an era or type of object, then you’ll find selling it much simpler.

Where should you market your goods?

This is entirely dependent on what kind of seller you are. If you are a private individual with just a few bits and pieces, the Facebook marketplace may be a good start. Alternatively, if you just want a quick solution, you may be better off approaching a professional dealer or a local auction house to see if they’ll be able to buy from or sell for you.

If you are just venturing out into the online world of antiques, you may be best trying an online marketplace such as eBay or Etsy. These are great for the beginner and provide useful information and guidance on how to list your products. They are a great platform from which to market your pieces, but you face fierce competition. So, how can you ‘stand out from the crowd’?

Getting noticed

‘You get back what you put in’. This is my number one piece of advice when anyone asks me about selling online. The more information you give, the more effort you put in, the more likely it is that you’ll sell your items. Not only that, but you’ll be able to yield a better price.


Good research yields useful information, which leads to a helpful, educated description. This shows the buyer that you’re not just another amateur, and that you’ve taken your time to prove why your product is worth buying over someone else’s.

How to list your items

You may have to tweak the details here and there to suit your selling platform, but this enumeration should cover most details you’ll encounter when listing your items online.

The Title

This is so easy to get wrong and I strongly believe that there is such a thing as overkill. I know from experience that buyers HATE it when sellers use loads of irrelevant terms in their title; I recently saw this described as a ‘word salad’. If you want people to take you seriously as a seller, be concise and accurate. I use my own formula when writing a title, taking the relevant bits of information that will guide the potential buyer to my listing. I have detailed the formula below; if you can use even some of these, your title will be accurate and helpful.

  1. Manufacturer / Origin / Designer
  2. Pattern name
  3. Object type
  4. Material
  5. Age / Era
  6. Size
  7. Colour
  8. Quantity
  9. Shape
  10. Pattern number or product code.

If you examine these three titles, you will see examples of these points put into action.

It is worth noting that subjective language is best avoided in titles. In addition, the word ‘rare’ is unpopular amongst buyers and collectors; it is overused and abused and should be avoided at all costs.


So, your title has enticed your buyer to view your product. Now, the description should sell it. I would recommend that you start with an opening statement, which is an elaboration of your title. This way, the buyer knows from the start if they’re in the right place.

Points you should include in your description are:

  • Who made it? Manufacturer, designer, or country of origin.
  • What is it made from? Is it crystal or plain glass? Stoneware, earthenware, or porcelain? Are there multiple materials in use?
  • How old is it? Can you be exact? If not, can you give an educated estimate as to the approximate age or era? If you aren’t entirely sure of the age, then you can use eras or styles such as Art Deco or Retro. Remember, styles have been reiterated through the years so be sure to emphasise whether your product is original or reproduction. Another point is ensuring you use the words ‘antique’, ‘vintage’, and ‘retro’ properly. Antique refers to items 100 years old or more. Vintage generally covers from the 1920s up to the 1950s, and retro now seems to cover not only the 1960s and 1970s, but the 1980s and 1990s too.
  • Pattern name or style? Identified stemware and tableware patterns make searching easier, e.g. Stuart Crystal ‘Glengarry’. For antique and unnamed pieces, it is worth going into detail about the styles of cutting or design applied.
  • Additional details? If you have any extra information about a piece, such as a catalogue detail or pattern number, include it! If you have a good credible source for your information, then it is always worth referencing them. This really makes you look like you have done your homework. Crediting your sources is important; all too often people ‘poach’ information from others who have worked hard to compile it.
  • Some people work in metric and some in imperial. Many antique and vintage items have been made to imperial specifications. However, I feel that imperial measurements do not achieve the degree of accuracy we have come to expect in more recent years. For this reason, I choose to use metric measurements. This is especially important if selling replacement pieces, as customers are going to want the closest match to their own pieces as possible. Give as many measurements as you feel necessary.
  • Condition report. It is crucial that you scrutinise your objects and mention any noticeable flaws, wear and tear, or damage. Remember, you are acting as the eyes for the buyer. It is worth dissecting the piece so that upon arrival with the buyer it exceeds expectations rather than proving a disappointment. Some people are more forgiving about wear and damage than others, but it is your responsibility to provide them with enough details to make an informed decision.


Photographs are incredibly important. The buyer is unable to view the object in person so the images must accompany the description to help sell the item. With the rapid progression of technology in recent years, you do not even need to invest in an expensive SLR camera. If you have a modern mobile phone, chances are you have access to a decent digital camera. Get to grips with the settings; does it have a macro mode? What are the white balance settings like?

My top tips for taking a photo are:

  • Use a plain backdrop. You’re not selling your carpet or wallpaper, you’re selling the object. Make sure that your backdrop is plain or neutral so that it does not detract from the piece you’re photographing.
  • You don’t have to spend a fortune on an expensive studio set up; natural light is always the best. However, it is not the most consistent of mediums. It may be worth investing in some spotlights and daylight bulbs just to increase the time you can photograph pieces in the day.
  • Always make sure your images are in focus! This is such a common error in online images and will really detract from your listing if your images are unclear.
  • Take lots of relevant pictures. If you have mentioned details, backstamps, signatures, even damage, get a picture of it. These will help illustrate your description and assist your buyer in deciding about whether to purchase it.


Pricing your items can be difficult. When browsing online, someone may be selling an object for £20 but someone else will have the same thing for £40. So, where do you pitch yours? The phrase ‘it’s only worth what someone will pay for it’ really comes in to play here. Although it may sound vague, by looking through online auction listings that have recently ended will give you a good average of the price the item is achieving.


You will have to decide where you wish to sell and ship to. Naturally it is cheaper to ship to customers in your own country, but by offering shipping options worldwide you are widening your potential customer base. Make sure that whatever you decide, your choice of courier is suitable for your goods and that they cover national and/or international shipping and insurance.

It is also worth mentioning that many couriers offer extremely cheap rates, but that they often do not cover antiques, valuables, and breakables. Check your courier’s terms and conditions before you make any decisions.

Payment options

Offering a wide variety of payment options will ensure that buyers can choose a method that suits them. It is always worth offering a secure online payment method, such as PayPal, so that both you and the customer are protected. No matter what method you use, you should always offer some sort of digital or printed receipt for the transaction.

Terms and conditions

If you are selling through a marketplace like eBay, you may be bound by their rules relating to The Distance Selling Regulations (now the Consumer Contracts). These were updated on 13th June 2014 and apply to those trading in goods or services online or by other digital media without face-to-face contact. You must bear these regulations in mind when constructing your terms and conditions. The website provides a wealth of information on this subject.

Your terms and conditions should also include important details like your dispatch time and your returns and refunds policy.

So, now you have listed your item. It is well researched, competitively priced, with nice clear photos and a good shipping rate and service. What next?


You may be contacted by potential buyers asking questions about the piece. Always try to answer in a prompt and professional manner. If you do not know the answer, look it up. If you still can’t find the answer, be straight with the buyer. Don’t ‘guess’ or make anything up; this inevitably ends in a headache and leads to more ‘alternative facts’ on the internet.

If you have a few buyers that ask the same question, it may be worth editing your description to include these details.

You’ve sold your item!

Congratulations! You’ve got over the first stage. Now to focus on getting it out to the customer.

Buyers always love receiving items in a timely manner. I have heard tales of vendors who have taken weeks to dispatch something- – this is unacceptable! If you are delayed (for whatever reason) the key is to relay this to the buyer immediately. They can then decide whether they wish to proceed with the transaction, and they are well within their rights to do so.

Packing does not need to be an expensive venture. It is more about resourcefulness. Large companies often order items in bulk and then pay to have the ‘waste’ packing removed. Many places are more than happy to give you their ‘waste’ as it saves them money. This in turn will save you money, leaving you extra money to invest in materials you do need, such as packing tape and wrapping paper.

You’ve now packed your item and are sending it out. As previously mentioned, you should check which courier company best meets your needs. Crucially, make sure your goods are insured appropriately. If you don’t insure them properly then you may end up out of pocket if anything should happen.


I firmly believe that your job as a seller isn’t over until the buyer is happy. Now, as I have said before, you can’t please everyone, but you can do your best. If any problems should arise after your item is delivered, how you deal with it reflects on you as a seller. Hopefully you will have laid out thorough, details instructions in your terms and conditions in the event of a return or refund. You will have to stipulate whether you or the buyer will pay the return shipping in the event of a return due to the buyer changing their mind. If the error is on your part, you (the seller) are liable for this cost. In any case, you will be required (as per the Consumer Contracts Regulations) to refund the initial cost of the item INCLUDING shipping. If an item is damaged in transit, it is the responsibility of the seller to refund the buyer in full and resolve the issue or make an insurance claim themselves. It is not for the buyer to have to do this.

Offering a no quibble money back guarantee is the most effective solution. This instils confidence in the buyer, and they will likely choose you over another.

In order to summarise my feelings about aftercare, I would refer to The Golden Rule – ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’.

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