Against Dodgy Sellers
September 9, 2002:
eBay has made "a valid agreement" which endorses "Ask the Appraiser" [ATA] as "their provider of online appraisal services for the community," according to a post by entrepreneur Richard Rotman on the Trust and Safety Board. (See the thread entitled "Has Enron's Fastow Moved to eBay?"
ATA's services are advertised in this eBay store listing in the Stamps - US - 19th Century - Used category, and in thumbnail links on several category pages, including Antiques, Art, Collectibles, Sports Memorabilia, and Stamps.
ATA is a service of collectingchannel.com, part of a cluster of related entities including Rotman's sports memorabilia business, PAID.com, Sales On Line Direct Inc., and the Association of Online Appraisers.
According to ATA's website, which Rotman describes as "a co-branded site designed specifically for eBay and [that] was approved by eBay," purchasers of their services can send pictures to their online appraisers and receive a "certificate" attesting to the quality and market value of their items. (To see an example, go to this link and click on "Certificate Sample!".)
ATA's only current appraiser for stamps is Dave Cunningham, of Connecticut. According to his bio, he was a stamp dealer at one time and has been "called upon to value and appraise many strange and unusual collectibles."
ATA's special relationship with eBay dates to May, 2002, according to this press release from Sales On Line Direct. Most users of the stamp category have been unaware of ATA's status as eBay's official appraiser, and have not previously heard the name of Dave Cunningham.
The listing had aroused discussion because in its original form it violated eBay rules by directing users NOT to use the 'Buy it Now' feature, but to go to the ATA site and deal with them directly - an apparent case of fee avoidance. This has since been corrected.
Users also noted that the board of the Association of Online Appraisers as listed on their site includes Andrew Coleman, identified as Director of Vertical Marketing for eBay. Some asked if this raised conflict of interest issues. However, it is not clear whether Coleman (who was previously manager of the stamp category) is still with eBay, or how recent the information on the AOA site really is.
Some were also skeptical about whether ATA actually has the relationship with eBay that Rotman claimed, pointing out that it was apparently not referenced in any press release issued by eBay.
Aside from these issues, stamp collectors have reason to be skeptical of whether any 'certificate' purporting to establish a market valuation for any stamp on the basis of scans alone can possibly be reliable.
Language on the ATA site suggests that they will sidestep issues of authentication (establishing the identity and condition of a stamp) and confine themselves to appraisal, that is, of establishing a market value on the assumption that the stamp is what it appears to be in the picture. But this might amount to no more than looking up the stamp in a Scott Catalog. Certainly authentication is a much more difficult problem than appraising a previously authenticated stamp. "Appraisal" separated from "authentication" may not be a useful service for stamp collectors and traders.
Some may recall that the last attempt to produce "internet certs" was associated with the now-infamous "schuylerac", now a leading participant in the Saratoga fake operation. (See the November 1, 1999 article Internet stamp certificate raises eyebrows on eBay in Linn's Stamp News for a report on the "certs" issued by the "Standard Internet Grading and Certification Committee.") But at least the "SIGCC certs" were produced by people who had access to the actual stamps!
scads.org would welcome information from anyone who has actually obtained or attempted to obtain an appraisal of a stamp or cover through ATA.