My uncle has been doing some cleaning lately and has been giving me boxes of stuff he doesn’t want, telling me to sell it on eBay and get whatever I can for it. I never know what kind of treasures will be in the boxes, so I look forward to digging into them.
The last box he brought over contained everything from an old Civil Defense helmet to a clamping device that holds ice-skate blades solidly in place for sharpening. It must weigh close to 20 pounds.
And then there was the ladies’ hat from the 1920s. It was made of straw and had satin flowers and silk leaves in clumps on it. It was shaped like an upside-down bowl and looked as if someone had sat on it. The leaves were riddled with tiny holes, and the brim, which had been sewn to flip up around the entire edge, had come unstitched, so it was up on one side and hanging down on the other.
“I think this should be tossed out,” I said to my husband. “The only person who would wear it would be someone in one of those zombie videos, where they wear these old flowered hats and dresses covered with dirt when they rise up out of the ground.”
“I think I’ve seen a hat something like it before…on a horse,” my husband said.
I don’t know why, but I decided to put the hat on eBay. I figured even if I got a dollar for it, it would be a dollar more than I previously had. I shoved the hat on a Styrofoam head and took some photos of it. It came out looking great in the photos…almost like brand new.
“Look at these pictures of the hat,” I said to my husband. “They look ten times better than the actual thing, for some reason.”
“Then you’d better be really honest when you write the description,” he said. “Be sure to mention the hat is so full of holes, it looks like someone used it for target practice.”
I wasn’t quite that blunt when I wrote the description for eBay. I said the hat was old and not in very good condition, and it might make a good hat for trick-or-treat. Throwing caution to the wind, I listed the opening bid at $2.
Two days later, the hat had been bid up to $21.
“Check for a label in it,” my husband said when I told him. “Maybe it’s by some famous Paris designer and we don’t know it!”I checked every inch of the hat and didn’t see any labels or markings on it at all….except for a couple mildew spots on the lining.
One potential bidder e-mailed me to ask, “ What size head will this beautiful hat fit?”
Beautiful hat? Was she, I wondered, looking at the right auction?
It was impossible to get an accurate measurement because the hat was so lopsided, and the straw had become so stiff, it sounded as if would crack into pieces if I tried to manipulate it too much. So I measured my own head, then plunked the hat on top of it. It came down only as far as my hairline.
I wrote back and told the woman my head measured 23 inches and the hat came to only my hairline. She answered with, “Oh, that’s a shame. I also have a big head, so I guess the hat won’t fit me.”
“Some woman on eBay just told me I have a fat head” I huffed at my husband.
I received no sympathy whatsoever.
The hat finally sold for $76 to a man named Christofe in Paris, France. I was pretty sure the guy hadn’t had an eye exam in a long, long time.
“I can’t do it,” I said to my husband. “I can’t take the man’s money. Maybe my description of the hat gained something in the translation from English to French, and he mistakenly thinks it’s wonderful. Or maybe he didn’t even read the description because he can’t read English, and just looked at the photo, which makes the hat look a lot better than it really is!”
My husband shrugged. “Don’t worry about it. After all, when it comes to auctions, it’s ‘buyer beware.’ It’s not your fault if he can’t read English.”
“But remember the last time I sold something to a guy in France? He ended up giving me bad feedback on eBay.”
I finally decided to stop worrying and just wrap the hat and mail it. I crumpled some tissue paper and shoved it inside the hat so it would keep its shape in the shipping box. Then I picked up the hat so I could wrap the outside of it with tissue paper. When I did, half of the flowers fell off.
That did it. The only thing I could do at that point, I concluded, was to write to the Frenchman, confess what had happened to the hat and offer him a refund.
“No, no! I want! I want!” he wrote back.
So the hat currently is on its way to France. By the time it arrives, I imagine it will have disintegrated into nothing but a pile of straw with some moth-eaten leaves sticking out of it.
If I’m smart, I’ll change my e-mail address before then.