Rare Book Monthly

Articles - April - 2004 Issue

There's Money in Misspellings

Ebaypitts

A search under eBay's “books” category finds 10 “Pittsburg” items, 9 of which are misspellings.



By Michael Stillman

Can you spell Pittsburgh? Tucson? Manhattan? Lots of people can’t. They didn’t believe their fourth grade teacher when she said this was an important skill. Everyone will understand what city you’re describing when you write “Pittsburg” even if you leave off the final, silent “h.” Who cares?

Well, besides your fourth grade teacher, there’s a group of people prowling the deep recesses of eBay and they care a lot about your lousy spelling. In fact, they’re making money at your expense. This dirty little secret of eBay listings has received a fair amount of publicity lately, so we’re not telling anything out of school, but in case you missed it, here goes. Some people have trouble with their spelling, a misfortune that may help you find bargains on places like eBay by being a little sharper, or at least, a little more careful than they are.

This is how it works. Some seller has a wonderful and valuable old Pittsburgh imprint. Knowing that Pittsburgh collectors will undoubtedly want this book, the seller makes sure to include the name “Pittsburgh” in the book’s description, maybe even in the title. This will assure that any collectors cruising eBay for rare Pittsburgh items will find his listing. The problem is the seller is not a Pittsburgher or Pittsburghite or whatever people from Pittsburgh are called. So, without checking the spelling, he describes the book as a “rare and valuable Pittsburg imprint.” Now we can see the problem. None of those Pittsburgh collectors regularly searching eBay keywords for “Pittsburgh” will ever see this offer. It is invisible to them.

Meanwhile, a few clever vultures are circling above, watching for those weak spellers. A Pittsburgh vulture, aware that many people do not know that there’s an “h” at the end of their fair city, searches for Pittsburgh without the “h,” that is, the misspelling. Voila. There it is. “Pittsburg.” He’s ready for the kill. To put it another way, he’s ready to place an unchallenged low bid. He’s unchallenged because most Pittsburgh collectors, blinded by the misspelling, aren’t aware the item exists. The vulture’s low bid goes unchallenged, even though one of those other collectors would have been willing to pay more. He buys it for a bargain price.

If he’s a Pittsburgh collector himself, he has just made a coup for his collection. However, with a fairly common misspelling like this one, the chances are he’s a vulture with a list of misspellings he follows. He buys low and turns around and sells the same item on eBay after listing it under the right spelling. Now the real Pittsburgh collectors find it, bid up the price, and the vulture makes a nice middleman profit based solely on one contribution, spelling the word correctly. And, neither the original seller nor the ultimate buyer is any wiser, though the seller is a big time loser in this game. Now you know why Miss Spelling in fourth grade insisted it was important you learn to spell.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 5:</b> Charles Loupot, <i>Les Cigarettes Mekka,</i> 1919. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 5:</b> Plinio Codognato, <i>Cicli Fiat,</i> circa 1910. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 5:</b> L.N. Britton, <i>Warning! Consider the Possible Consequences,</i> c. 1917. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 5:</b> Leonardo Bistolfi, <i>Première Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs Modernes,</i> 1902. $7,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 5:</b> Leonetto Cappiello, <i>Paquet Pernot / Biscuits Pernot,</i> 1910. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 5:</b> Francesco Nonni, <i>Font Meo / Acqua Minerale Naturale,</i> 1924. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 5:</b> Frederick Winthrop Ramsdell, <i>American Crescent Cycles,</i> 1899. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 5:</b> <i>Be a Tight Wad! Own Something!</i> designer unknown, 1925. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 5:</b> Candido Aragonese de Faria, <i>Chamonix–Mont–Blanc,</i> c. 1910. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 5:</b> W.E.J., <i>Irishmen Avenge the Lusitania,</i> c. 1915. $2,000 to $3,000.
  • <center><b>Trillium Antique Prints & Rare Books<br>Fine Art<br>Antique Engravings & Lithographs<br>Works on Paper<br>Accepting bids until August 7</b>
    <b>Trillium, Aug. 7:</b> Maitres Affiches by MUCHA - Papier a cigarettes Job. 202. $5,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Trillium, Aug. 7:</b> De Bry - Map of the West Indies (including Florida, Cuba, Jamaica, Bahamas, Parts of Central & South America, Sea Monsters, Ships). $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Trillium, Aug. 7:</b> Gould - Short-billed Toucan (Ramphastos Brevicarinatus). $5,000 to $8,000.
    <center><b>Trillium Antique Prints & Rare Books<br>Fine Art<br>Antique Engravings & Lithographs<br>Works on Paper<br>Accepting bids until August 7</b>
    <b>Trillium, Aug. 7:</b> Redoute, Folio - Pale Iris - Iris flavescens. 375. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Trillium, Aug. 7:</b> Gillray - Light Expelling Darkness or The Sun of the Constitution. $200 to $500.
    <b>Trillium, Aug. 7:</b> Gerard - Wild Hemp or Weed, Cannabis. 708. $150 to $450.
    <b>Trillium, Aug. 7:</b> Shaw & Nodder - Head of The Dodo. 165. $100 to $300.
  • <center><b>Sotheby’s<br>Your Own Sylvia:<br>Sylvia Plath’s letters to Ted Hughes and other items,<br>Property of Frieda Hughes<br>9 to 21 July 2021</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s, 9 – 21 July:</b> Sylvia Plath. Family photograph album ("The Hughes family Album"), 1957-1962. £30,000 to £50,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, 9 – 21 July:</b> Sylvia Plath. Typed letter signed, to Ted Hughes, on "my own private doctrine", with a poem, 5 October 1956. £15,000 to £20,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, 9 – 21 July:</b> Sylvia Plath. Pen and ink portrait of Ted Hughes, [1956]. £10,000 to £15,000.
    <center><b>Sotheby’s<br>Your Own Sylvia:<br>Sylvia Plath’s letters to Ted Hughes and other items,<br>Property of Frieda Hughes<br>9 to 21 July 2021</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s, 9 – 21 July:</b> Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. Joint autograph letter signed, to William and Edith Hughes, March 1960. £8,000 to £12,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, 9 – 21 July:</b> Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. Photographic portrait by David Bailey, inscribed by Plath, 1961, and another press photo. £800 to £1,200.
    <b>Sotheby’s, 9 – 21 July:</b> Tarot de Marseille. Deck of cards owned by Sylvia Plath. £4,000 to £6,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, 9 – 21 July:</b> Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. Pair of gold wedding rings. £6,000 to £8,000.

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