Think eBay for Old Office, Appliance, or Entertainment Consumables

Do you remember "disc" film? Few do. No, it's not digital. And on eBay, it's not even dead. eBay

A lot of consumer appliances, equipment, and other goods have been sold over the last hundred years or so that only work if they can be kept periodically supplied with consumables of some kind—and in this age of vintage and retro revival, owners and collectors are less inclined to simply toss them out than they used to be, even if the original manufacturer is no longer available and consumables seem to be in short supply or even unavailable in retail channels.

It may sound like we're talking about repair parts here, but we're not. In today's digital economy, we're accustomed to thinking of products as self-contained, fully functional until they malfunction—but just a few short years ago, this wasn't the case.

If you own such a device, appliance, or consumer product, don't give up and think of it as a museum piece or mantel decoration just yet; you may even be able to put that device back to work by looking for consumables on eBay.

Here are some examples:

Of course, the variety of consumable goods on offer is as varied and nearly infinite as the number of products that have been produced over the last century that consume materials of these kinds; your imagination and needs are the limit.

And the list above doesn't include consumable content for old entertainment devices—things like piano player rolls, 8-track tapes, minidiscs, or view-master reels and sleeves.

Tips for Buying

If you think you may be in the market for goods of these kinds, there are a few simple tips to keep in mind:

  • Lead with make, model, and/or order or part number. If you're not buying something that was once very common (such as audiocassettes or minidiscs), search for the make and model of the appliance for which you're seeking consumables, or with the re-order or part number.
  • Condition is paramount. If you're not buying new in box items, read item descriptions very carefully to be sure that you're getting consumables that aren't used, or at the very least aren't used up.
  • Storage is also key. For very old consumables, scour the item description for details about the condition under which the goods have been stored. In the cases of things like films, inks, paper, or ribbons, this can make the difference between "works like on day one" goods and "totally useless" goods.
  • Expect to pay a premium. In most cases, you'll pay more for consumables now than you would have when they were current retail products. That's just the way supply and demand works—if the consumables you're after haven't been produced in some time, realize that other people may also be interested in getting their hands on the ever-more-limited supply. The less is left, the higher prices will go.
  • Think about use. Just getting your hands on consumables may or may not be enough. For example, in the case of vacuum tubes, ask yourself whether you have the experience to diagnose and replace them or have access to someone that does. This was once a corner shop or even Radio Shack counter skill, but today it may be harder to come by. In the case of films, particularly exotic films like Super8 or disc, be sure you know where you can get them developed, or that you have sufficient expertise to do the development yourself.
  • Enjoy yourself. Keep in mind that using vintage goods of this kind is a labor of love and preference, and is not intended to compete with modern alternatives. Do you really want to use a typewriter or would a laptop work better for you? Are you in love with your minidisc or betamax player, or is it time to replace it? If you find yourself frustrated at the cost of ribbons or the limited selection of music available, you may not be cut out for the vintage goods lifestyle.
  • Check feedback carefully. Pay attention to the seller's feedback, customer service language, and returns terms so that you know what you're getting yourself into when you buy.

Though it's not for everyone, enjoying some of the finer things in life from years past can be a rewarding hobby and lifestyle, and eBay makes this more possible today than it's ever been before.