One of the baseball blogs I follow, A Cardboard Problem, wrote on May 6 about card 'rare-ity' on eBay. To summarize, "RARE" shows up so frequently in card listings it means almost nothing these days. As a buyer, you're better off ignoring it entirely, like a "FINAL CLEARANCE" sign at a foreign rug merchant.
ACP's posting spurred me to consider eBay terminology and how it's thrown around these days. Isn't it obvious to sellers that they're shooting themselves in the foot? That somewhere beyond the critical mass is a critical detritus driving buyers away? (It's not just the lousy economy.)
The problem lies in what the seller's saying about their audience. Are they looking for sports buyers? Collectors? Investors? My money's on "people waiting in a supermarket checkout line."
Listing cards as "rare" (9,399 listings) or "L@@K" (1,622 listings) or "OLD" (842 listings) sounds like something culled from "eBay for Dummies." It made sense back when in-your-face marketing still worked. Today, a single minus sign will get your shouting out of my face.
As a buyer, I want rare stuff--indeed, that's my whole wantlist--but on eBay the term almost guarantees you're trying to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. All of my wide-ranging searches specifically omit it and look for set names instead.
Briefly put, eBay's growth as a selling platform meant death to its former pool of accidental bargains. Away with the poorly described (but original) cards found in an attic that you won for no money! Here to stay, overproduced 80s and 90s cards listed as "eBay's greatest baseball card find!" Purchasing from a gaudy, overwrought listing doesn't guarantee a bad deal, but isn't the Internet here to save us from used-car salesmen? Cheap shoppers better serve themselves by looking for specific needs, side-stepping the vast, murky pool of description dreck.
If you're determined to tease out cards with bad descriptions, develop your search-fu to a fine, razor edge of misunderstood card text and malapropisms. Of course, whether you share them with others--your bidding competitors--is up to you. My favorite's the "T C G" abbreviation (for Topps Chewing Gum), printed on its older card backs in lieu of the full name. That search usually yields a grab bag of 50s, 60s, and 70s cards from all sports with well-meaning (if low-knowledge) sellers. It hasn't netted any bargains lately, but gives me a refreshingly small bin to sift through, compared to, say, "LOW POP" (2,106 listings).