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Best Way to Sell an Uncommon Item

Ideas for pricing and marketing a vintage emergency phone.

Q: I recently got this really cool emergency phone. It was meant to be installed in a wall of office buildings. It is all metal and it still has the phone in it. On the TV show “American Pickers,” I see them get this old “industrial” stuff all the time. Can you make some suggestions on how to sell this item?

A: When I read your question, my mind immediately went to the old Batman TV series and the “Bat Phone” that gave Commissioner Gordon a direct, secure line to the Batcave.

I envisioned having one in my house connected to the Batcave, but I could not think of a reason I would need to call Batman. It seems better at the moment to have one connected to say, Pizza Hut, or a selection of carry-out restaurants. Perfect for someone on the go.

I researched and found that emergency phones are often used in universities, offices and other complex environments where there are many people. They are usually connected to elaborate switchboards or security systems that can offer immediate assistance. Some are actually push-button activated for ease of use. Some are in dull, metal, weather-tight boxes that open and shut easily in order to access the receiver. Some are in bright colors to be seen by everyone, from everywhere. It all depends on the application.

Research your exact item

I found that there are many different kinds, and I only did a short search. If you do more thorough research on your exact phone, you may be able to pinpoint more details about your item.

If you get a good deal and it seems like a piece of nostalgia that could net a bit of profit, then it’s worth a shot to purchase it and list it

In my search, I found that new emergency phones of various sorts sell between $60 and $400, and that a vintage one like yours could sell anywhere from $50 to $200.

It seems that antique collectors like to add these conversation pieces to their collections along with other outdated outdoor-related items, such as old traffic lights, rail road signals or call boxes from old fire stations. I did not find many used ones, and those I did find were of many different types, so it’s up to the seller to know their item and to set the right price.

It is like being on “American Pickers” when you find an exciting treasure that you could enjoy owning for yourself, or listing for sale. If you get a good deal and it seems like a piece of nostalgia that could net a bit of profit, then it’s worth a shot to purchase it and list it.

If you set your price too high at first and it does not sell, then you can always drop the price later. If you keep this up, perhaps you, too, will have your own TV show some day. I’m sure you would love that, when you think of all the cool items you could pick up and resell. Perhaps you could even feature me on the show someday!

Tailor your listing

This rugged nature of the metal box with a phone inside seems mostly a man’s item, so I would consider gearing my listing in that direction to increase interest. It’s also good to feature this as a fabulous gift item this will light up the eyes of that special collector in the family—a unique, one-of-a-kind gift he can put on display and get lots of comments about.

Be sure to get a lot of pictures from several angles that will grab the viewers’ interest. Also try to actually connect the phone to an active phone line—although, I have my doubts about whether this will work because these type of items are usually not able to be used as regular phones.

It is a very interesting vintage piece, all the same, and just like something they would pick up on “American Pickers.” Be sure to mention this fact in your ad as well, for I know a lot of people like the show, and they look for vintage stuff just like this unusual emergency phone. With a little time, I think you can polish this up and make a nice profit.

Good luck and happy selling!

About the author

Danna Crawford
Danna Crawford, CEO of PowerSellingMom, Inc., has been a successful eBay seller since 1997. In 2008, she received eBay's Community Hall of Fame Award, as well as the Golden Ribbon Community Seller Award from eBay Giving Works. As an eBay certified education specialist, Crawford teaches at the community college and university levels, and frequently speaks on topics such as how to make money blogging, writing e-books and more. Crawford can be heard every Friday night on her Internet radio show, PowerSellingMomRadio, and in weekly webinars at Opinions expressed here may not be shared by The Online Seller and/or its principals.

  • I agree with the suggestion you have given.  Emergency phones are often used in universities, offices and other complex environments where there are many people and its certainly a man’s item. All the best !

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