Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Ebay as a Research Tool?

The potential for fraud on Ebay is, of course, ever present but there is no shortage of extant objects for sale there from the Victorian era that, if you can achieve a reasonable level of satisfaction of authenticity, can be used as interesting, unique, and diverse documentation of material culture.  Most of the time I spend on Ebay is not actually trying to acquire items, but searching for images of the sort of extant objects I am researching at the moment that I can be reasonably convinced are authentic.  I always assume I am going to run into fakes and that the descriptions are flawed if not totally wrong- the seller's objective is to make money, critical research is my responsibility.  One of my main points of interest is historic fashion, both understanding and recreating it, so much of what I am looking for are examples of this.  If I become reasonably satisfied of an object's authenticity and the images of it can potentially contribute to my broader understanding of the subject, they go into my LONG timeline of images that I keep to constantly reference in my attempts to understand and recreate aspects of material culture of the past (largely fashion) in the most complete, in depth, and authentic way possible.

It was 2010 before I realized that Ebay was a possible research tool; I was searching on line for images of extant mid-late 19th Century sack coats and came on this:

I have actually never been convinced that it is an authentic piece so would not use it for documentation of details of 19th Century sack coats, but it opened the door.  There is always the danger of particularly well done and subsequently well weathered reproductions making their way in, but I have found a number of interesting pieces that I judged to be likely authentic that I will highlight on this blog from time to time. Some of my favorites have been this velvet neck stock:

This complete suit from the ca. early 1900s:

And this tail coat from the ca. 1820s:

Once in a great while, I have been satisfied of authenticity, the garment appears to be about my measurements, it is in impeccable condition, no one else seems to notice it, and it finds its way onto me (rarely and for especially fancy and civil occasions ONLY). This coat and trousers are from ca. 1907 (dated on the inside pocket of the coat) and the scarf was with them; I found the waistcoat a couple of years later:

That's my darling Amy with me- we were attending a historical ball at the incredible Inn at Irwin Gardens in Columbus, Indiana.  The tie is also an extant piece- late 19th or very early 20th Century from a vintage shop near Cincinnati, Ohio.

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