Is it OK to sell gifts on eBay?

This is a followup to Friday’s post. I really should let this go, but the journalist in me loves a great story, and this story has lots of twists and turns and weirdness.

I wrote on Friday about several people giving gifts to someone they thought was a disabled Gulf War II veteran who was getting into the hobby. As parts of his story began to fall apart, there was a falling out. For some people, the biggest slap in the face came when the gifts they had sent him showed up on eBay.I don’t want to delve into whether the recipient of the gifts was a war veteran, except to say there are enough inconsistencies in his story that some people began to question everything, even up to and including whether he even was a real person. He had either told me or posted in a message on the forum that he was disabled and walked with a cane, but in my digging I found a craigslist posting looking for odd manual-labor jobs, such as cutting down trees. It was in the right town, he was willing to accept Lionel trains as payment, and the writing had the same mistakes in capitalization, punctuation, apostrophe usage, and grammar that I was used to seeing in his messages on the forum. I’m pretty sure it was the same person.

War veteran or not, this illustrates a willingness to change his story if it might gain him an advantage in his situation.

After the trains showed up on eBay, one person contacted the owner of the account. She said she was letting him use her eBay account to sell them, and said she had some awareness of the situation but didn’t want to say anything else other than they were gifts, so wasn’t he free to do anything with them that he chose?

And that really got me thinking.

I guess selling gifts on eBay is becoming more common. I tried to see if Emily Post had written anything about reselling gifts but I couldn’t. I know my friends and I used to snicker at the Ben Folds lyric in "Brick" that went, "Then I walk down to buy her flowers / And sell some gifts that I got."

The way I was raised, for the most part you kept gifts out of respect for the gift-giver. Exceptions were clothes that didn’t fit, or duplicate gifts. And hopefully, as you enjoyed those gifts, it reminded you of the giver and your relationship with that person.

I’ll admit, a lot of the toys I received as gifts as a child ended up in a garage sale. I was 13, I had a room full of toys I’d outgrown, we were moving, and it was time to move on. They’d had a good, long run.

The other exception for me was post-breakup. After a relationship ended, generally I would get rid of the things the ex-girlfriend had given me as part of my moving on process. The stuff would end up at Goodwill, where hopefully someone would get some benefit from it.

One could make an argument that in the case of these trains, the conditions were similar to the post-breakup. But I don’t think so. The first item that showed up on eBay was a Lionel 1501 Lackawanna 4-8-4. That locomotive had a story. It started with him being invited into an elderly man’s basement, where he saw a giant O gauge layout, and this gentleman saw how much he appreciated the layout and the collection and gave him several gifts, including the Lackawanna 4-8-4 and a Lionel ZW transformer. "I will always cherish the Lackawanna 4-8-4 I received from my friend," he wrote on the forum.

"Always" ended sometime before 12 July 2007 at 05:18:30 PDT, when the cherished locomotive sold on eBay for $150 using buy-it-now. The eBay listing said there was nothing wrong with the locomotive, it was just too big for his layout so he decided to sell it.

The gentleman who gave him the locomotive had nothing to do with the falling out he had with his other train buddies. According to the story he posted on the forums, this gentleman died less than three weeks after he gave him the locomotive.

When he died, there was no fanfare, no tribute. Just a brief, matter-of-fact statement, something like, "With his passing, I’ve been wondering what will happen to the trains." Then someone asked if he had died. The response was simple. "I’m sorry I wasn’t clear. Yes, he died."

That’s pretty insensitive.

Of course, one possibility is that the gentleman who gave him this locomotive was a fabrication and he received the locomotive a different way. If that’s the case, then he isn’t insensitive. He’s just dishonest.

A lot of other people sent him trains because they wanted someone less fortunate than them to be able to enjoy their hobby. Spending time together in person wasn’t realistic, but maybe as he ran those trains in the basement, he’d remember the people who gave them to him, enjoy them, and the bond could grow that way.

When those trains ended up on eBay almost immediately after someone pointed out how he had told two people different stories about himself that contradicted each other, they came to a conclusion: This man had been telling stories to take advantage of them for financial gain.

Trains aren’t especially easy to pack and mail, and they aren’t cheap to send. It’s a lot cheaper and easier to send cash. Of course, giving him money wasn’t the idea. The idea was to introduce someone else to the hobby you love, in hopes he would enjoy it as much as you did. Send someone cash, and for all you know, the money is just buying beer.

Seeing a price on those trains was like seeing a price on your friendship. And in the case of the "treasured" Lackawanna 4-8-4, the price seemed arbitrary, and perhaps even insultingly low. I found one and only one locomotive like it in eBay’s recent sales. It sold for $281.

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