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eBay and the Complacency of Fraudulently Altered Collectible Axes

The culture of today’s commercialism and retail trade is a warzone of counterfeit products battling to eradicate trust in retailers and wholesalers alike. The world’s largest retailers, including giants like Amazon, have been inundated with leagues of false products, from fake high end sneakers to foreign made tools cleverly disguised as American made products. The initial rise of counterfeit culture was largely ignored, angering a number of demographics throughout the early 21st century, and impacting sales greatly. Increased scrutiny of Amazon, in particular, in 2020, led the mega-company to create programs such as their “Brand Registry” and their “Counterfeit Crime Unit” (CCU), both aimed at decreasing counterfeit product sales on the world’s largest online retail platform. Per Digital Commerce 360, a popular retail data and research source, Amazon removed over 6 million counterfeit products from their site in 2022, significantly decreasing their overall load of counterfeit items and increasing faith in the company by consumers. Numerous online retailers are currently seeing the profitability of being trustworthy consumer sources, and sales of authentic, first hand goods have seen a positive impact.

    However, though Amazon is the leader in new, unused retail goods, the current leader in the sale of used goods, eBay.com, does not seem to be following the lead of its counterpart. eBay, founded in 1995 as an auction site for the brokerage of new and used items, has come under significant scrutiny for the sale of counterfeit products in a similar manner. However, unlike Amazon, eBay does not seem to be dedicated to eradicating counterfeit goods, and one might argue that they seem to be supporting nefarious tactics, if by no other means than by ignoring the issue.

    eBay’s current “Counterfeit item policy” is rather plainly stated, and would seem, at first, to indicate a firm stance against such items. A simple summary located on their site states: “We don't allow counterfeit items or unauthorized copies to be listed on eBay. Items sold using a brand name or a brand logo must be original and made by the brand or manufactured on their behalf.” The policy goes on to specify a number of example items such as replica hand bags, unauthorized reprints of trading cards, and unauthorized copies of movies. A list of “dos and don’ts” on the same page notes that a seller should follow a rule of not listing “an item if you are not certain it is authentic or if an authenticator has been unable to confirm its authenticity”. These policies seem simple and straightforward, and as the company lists these “rules” on its own policy’s page, the same policies should be easily enforceable. Unfortunately, that does not seem to be the case.

    In a currently ongoing situation of counterfeiting, at least one community that uses eBay, in turn allowing the commerce giant to profit from it, is reporting significant issues with fraudulent activity on the site. That community is the Axe Enthusiast and Collector genre, which, due to an influx of interest in “at home” hobbies caused by the COVID 19 pandemic, as well as the rise of the Axe Throwing industry, has become a sizable demographic in the retail world. At the current time, social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram boast groups of such collectors that total in numbers in the tens of thousands. A general search on eBay for “Vintage Axe” brings back results of about 8,400 products, and “Throwing Axe”, and additional 1,700 products. Sales on axe related products such as axe sheaths are noted at a very low price, and sales of antique axes can reach above $2,000 on occasion, showing a huge variance in profit for the company by the sale of these items. This large, and growing, demographic, coupled with a huge number of both used and new products, likely makes this a profitable area for eBay.

    Unfortunately, counterfeiting of valuable and collectible axes, though rare, is on the rise, and it would seem that eBay is the prime spot for such products to be sold. To those who research the field, historians and hobbyist alike, spotting these “fakes” is relatively easy, as the manufacturing of U.S. axes is a relatively easy process to understand the results of. “Etched” and “Stamped” axes from the U.S. manufacturing industry of the 19th and 20th century are the most popular to collect, and tend to fetch the highest prices in today’s market. The “etches” on these axes were typically done with an industrial acid bath, and the “stamps” were generally imprinted with hardened steel presses or dies. Both of these processes leave very distinct impressions, with generally smooth surfaces and repetitious imprints on serial products. Current forgeries are typically done with rotary tools, or in the case of high end counterfeiting operations, laser engravers. Both of these processes tend to leave “etch lines” or patterns, marks that are hard to hide and easily noted in eBay auction pictures. In addition to the difference in modern modification techniques, clear images of original etches and stamps are hard to come by, hence the high prices found in the sale of authentic antique axes, and forgeries are often significantly different than the originals. In all, forgeries are generally obvious to those within the demographic.

   In one recent case that has been researched through interviews and a survey of those who have filed complaints with eBay directly, a counterfeiter has sold dozens of obviously forged axes, and boasts a collection of hundreds more. Since late 2023, the noted seller has been selling axes with obvious irregularities and the hallmarks of forgeries, including images trademarked by companies that have been out of production for over 50 years engraved on modern day axes, stamps from multiple time periods on the same axe, and laser etches on axes that would have been produced long before laser technology was available for manufacturing use. As these items have popped up for auction on the mega site, dozens of reports have been submitted to eBay, through links for reporting such instances, as well as through phone calls and emails to the company’s direct contact lines. In January, at least 20 interviewed individuals submitted reports on items for sale by a single counterfeiter. These individuals range from manufacturers of axes to a historian with numerous published books on the history of axes. Despite these reports, and the obviously stated counterfeit policy on eBay’s own website, this counterfeiter continues to sell fraudulently modified axes as “authentic” and “vintage” items, with no restrictive action taken by eBay.

    The implications of eBay ignoring this type of obviously fraudulent selling is twofold. As discussion of the company’s inaction spreads “virally” through social media, less faith is put in purchases from the auction based site. Decreases in overall prices of such axes have already been noted, affecting seller profits as well as eBay’s. Increases in counterfeit products on the market, and in collections, also devalue what have become noted as significant personal investments. With eBay’s obvious complacency at the use of their platform for fraudulent activity, as well as their repeated negligence to rectify the situation, it would not be surprising to eventually see a class action suit brought about by those affected. As the group who is being targeted and who is seeing a significant depreciation in their investments is a large one, made up of an estimated 30,000 individuals, it will be interesting to see what comes of the situation, and how eBay, already under the scrutiny of the Justice Department, will react to the situation. With any luck, eBay will correct the stance of inaction, and follow the lead of Amazon in protecting the best interest of not only their consumers, but also their own trustworthiness and visible business ethics.

 

(At this time, multiple attempts to contact eBay Incorporated by phone and email about this situation have been ignored and request for a comment from the company have gone without response.)

 

Michael McBride is an axe enthusiast and historian who runs the website ExploringAxeHistory.com and is the author of numerous books on axe history, including “The Axe Trust: The Story of the American Axe and Tool Company” and “A Brief History if the True Temper 3 Line Stamps of the Kelly Works”




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