With the growing popularity of the internet comes an increase in buying collectibles, via mail order. It is a hard job buying something sight-unseen! Here is a list of tips to help you find more treasures than trash.

If you have any additional tips, please send them to Dee. Good luck with your shopping!

Ask Questions! Verify the condition. Ask the seller to describe the item honestly and accurately. I cannot tell you how many times I see an item advertised as "mint", and the seller discloses flaws via email.

Grading and Condition Opinions on condition vary, but these are guidelines for discussion.

Mint - Brand new, never used, displayed, handled, nor removed from the box. "As minted" from the factory. Additionally could be noted as "mint with factory flaws" (as long as flaws are detailed) or "mint, no factory flaws".

Near Mint - Appears brand new. On very close inspection may have very minor imperfections either from wear, storage or from the factory.

Excellent -In working order. Complete, very little wear. All original parts. May have very minor, very small .25 to 1 millimeter chips or nicks, paint rubs or scratches. Damage marks very small.

Good - Average condition. Played with. Complete and in working order. Shows minor overall wear, paint loss, minor scratches, lines, nicks, 1 to 2 mm chips.

Fair - Lower than average condition. Not in working order. Missing parts. Scratches, dents, paint loss, 2mm or larger chips or nicks. Cracks, hairline cracks.

Poor - Needs considerable work to be displayable. Paint loss, severe scratches, dents. Surface rust and missing parts. Pieces broken off and re-glued on.

No Pictures? Be cautious when there are: no pictures, blurry pictures, or the seller has few references, comments about shipping damage or about poor quality merchandise in their references.

Original Seal? If the item is advertised as "sealed in package", ask how the seller knows it is the original seal. With the invention of shrink wrap machines, anyone can reseal anything.

Smoke? Mildew? Dust? If you are concerned about allergens, be sure to ask. To obtain further information, write to other customers who have received recent shipments from the seller. Ask if the item has always been in a non-smoking household.

Authentic Autographs? When buying autographs, be sure the piece is authentic. There are so many ways to photo copy, laster print, or reprint on photographic paper, and forge signatures.

Unlicensed Products! People are making unlicensed products, or creating new products out of licensed products. Among the Muppet products are: switchplate covers made from books and magazines; pottery items of Miss Piggy, handmade and complete with hoofs and glued-on eyelashes; polymer clay figures; paper items; labels; puppets; mouse pads; and copies of Sigma, England, Muppet ceramics.

Verify the copyright date and company name. Various names used by the Jim Henson Company and The Sesame Street Muppets since 1956 are: Muppets, Inc.; HA!; Henson Associates; CTW, Childrens Television Workshop; c. Henson; Jim Henson Productions, Inc.; The Jim Henson Company; and c. JHC. Get a picture or a scan of the copyright info to verify authenticity.

Check shipping and packing method, before buying! Ask that sellers package items securely with double-boxing for ceramic and glass items. Double boxing should include at least 3" of storyfoam packing peanuts between the outer and inner boxes. Small shipping boxes (under 12") are the ones that get damaged the most.

Ask the seller whether the item will be sent priority mail, or parcel post. Some sellers accept $3.20 to $5.00 for shipping, and then send via parcel post in an envelope at a cost of $1.50. Do not assume because you are sending a particular amount of money that it all goes toward postage. Request a price quote for the type of shipping you require, before bidding, and save your correspondence, if bidding in an online auction.

Use Your Credit Card! Whenever possible, use your credit card. Request information on filing a dispute from the company that holds your credit card. This will help if an item arrives, damaged or not "as described". If you return it, get a receipt from the shipping carrier. Document your claim in writing.

Buy Insurance Always insure items, unless you are willing to take all responsibility for loss or damage. If you request and pay for insurance, it needs to be purchased by the seller. To not do so can be interpreted as a form of mail order fraud.

If an item is not properly packaged, shipping carriers could deny insurance claims. They have no proof that the item was not damaged before shipping.

Handling Fees? Ask the seller to disclose all handling or hidden fees before bidding or buying. These should be put in writing in the advertised description.

Most Sellers Are Super! 90% of the mail order sellers are very professional and honest. The other 10% cause 100% of the problems. If you find someone you trust and enjoy working with, continue to work with them. If you encounter problems, and are using an online service such as Yahoo Auctions, or Auctions, you might want to leave factual, negative comments to the seller, to help other customers.

Have Fun!

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