Welcome to the official transcripts from episode #2 of the Flip It or Skip It podcast. If you prefer to listen to the episode live, you can search for it using your favorite podcast player, or scroll do the bottom of this page and listen directly from here.
Danna: Hi, I’m Danna Crawford.
Wayne: And I’m Wayne Jordan.
Danna: In today’s episode, #2 of Flip It or Skip It, we’ll be talking about Zippo lighters.
Wayne: We’ll be finding answers to questions that challenge antique dealers daily, like is this authentic, or is it a knockoff? How can I tell how old this is? Is this model worth the asking price?
Danna: How much should I pay if I want to resell it?
Wayne: And what’s a profitable selling price?
Danna: And what’s the best place to sell my item?
Wayne: All good questions. Let’s dive right in. Danna, why did you pick Zippo lighters for today’s episode?
Danna: First of all, I’ve got to ask you if anyone in your family smoked.
Wayne: Yeah. My father smoked. [Lighter Clicking] That’s a familiar sound.
Wayne: The famous Zippo click.
Danna: Yes. That sound always alerted me that my dad was close by.
Wayne: Like belling the cat.
Wayne: Did you own a Zippo lighter? Did you smoke, first of all?
Danna: I did. I smoked when I was 15, up until about 30, 40 years old.
Wayne: That’s quite a while.
Danna: Yes. How about you?
Wayne: I smoked during college. I smoked unfiltered Kools. That’s something that will burn your throat out in a hurry. That and strong black coffee got me through all-night study sessions, and I never owned a lighter. I’ve never used a lighter. I may have had a Bic once or twice, but I usually carried matches in my pocket. I wasn’t a heavy smoker. Maybe 10 cigarettes a day or something like that, not much.
I never owned a Zippo. I have lots of friends that did, and my father owned a Zippo. Now I’ve looked through eBay at how many they have listed, and I checked the current listings and the completed listings, and how many of the completed listings have been sold, and they have a phenomenal sell-through rate. About 80% of the Zippos on eBay sell.
Danna: Actually, I’m amazed. I did sell a lot of them. I had a client that shipped them to me from Pennsylvania. Her father had a store, and he passed away, and she sent me all brand-new Zippo lighters. They sold light hotcakes. I sold them so fast, and I was amazed at how many of them shipped using eBay’s global shipping program. Many of them were overseas. A collectible lighter can fall into the category of not being able to ship overseas, so some of them it just depend on how you list it on eBay. You want to put it in the collectibles, tobbaciana category.
Wayne: Tobbaci. That’s what we say up here in the hills of Virginia, tobbaci.
Danna: But Zippo lighters are just so much fun to sell. If you’re out and about, you definitely want to pick them up. The more interesting they are, of course, or the more graphics. Some of them have pinup girls on them. There’s a series that they had replicas from the 1930s, 1940s of pinup girls, and I did really well with those types as well. What I learned was auctions generally brought me more money. I recently got $300 and something for one Zippo, and I start them at 99 cents.
Wayne: There have been auctions I’ve done on eBay that I’ve started at 99 cents, and I’m always a little bit nervous when I do that because I don’t know where it’s going to end up. What are your criteria for starting an auction at 99 cents?
Danna: It’s all based on research. If the odds are in my favor, I feel it’s better than buying a lottery ticket, because if the odds are in my favor, it’s going to sell no matter what. It’s going to sell, and if I’m happy with rolling the dice, I will definitely do it. Now, I see a lot of people are doing reserves, and I’m not a fan of reserves. I feel that reserves scare people off. What do you think?
Wayne: I don’t like reserves either, and I won’t use one online. I don’t know if our listeners are aware, I’m a licensed auctioneer in Virginia, so I’ve done lots of live auctions and that sort of thing. When a seller comes to me with an item that they want to have a reserve on, I’m really reluctant to take it..
In fact, most times I don’t take it, because there’s nothing that will spoil the mood of a crowd more than having to pass on an item because you don’t hit the reserve. If you have a lot of items with reserves, especially high reserves, then it just makes for an uncomfortable auction, and people start leaving.
Danna: I agree. If I’m going to bid on something, and I see that it has a reserve, I kind of shy away, or I may drop a price in there and see if I can hit it, or I may ask the seller, what’s your reserve? I don’t mind when people ask me that,. Back in the day, when I used to run reserves. I would encourage it.
I would even put it in the description box, what the reserve is because as a consignment seller, I’ve had clients come to me and absolutely demand a reserve. Then that’s the strategy I would use. First I would say, what’s the absolute least rock bottom lowest price you’ll take, and that will be our reserve.
You did a lot of research on the history on Zippo lighters. You spent some time.
Wayne: It’s great stuff.
Danna: It’s fascinating, right?
Wayne: It is. They’ve been around since 1932. There’s a businessman named George Blaisdell. I think that’s the way it’s pronounced. George Blaisdell, he was at his country club or some kind of club. Of course, back in those days, almost everyone smoked, in the ‘30s. His associate, compadre, whoever he was with at the time, had a lighter that Blaisdell was impressed with.
So, Blaisdell thought that he could make a better lighter. He used that design, modified it somewhat, and came up with the first Zippo. That characteristic click that you get when you open a Zippo lighter, there’s a little cam in there under the lid that flips the lid back and is largely responsible for making that noise.
He was making those lighters for 10 years or so when World War II came up, and during the war effort, a lot of manufacturers were stopping their normal production and doing things for the war effort. Fortunately, Zippo was able to keep making the lighters. They would just send them to the military.
They made some changes. They would make them in steel cases instead of brass cases, and they gave them a kind of crackled matte black finish, so they were non-reflective. I guess they don’t want the Nazis or whoever to see the lighters flashing in the sunlight, but since you’re going to make a flame out of it, I don’t know how much good that did, but I’m not a military strategist, so I won’t comment anymore on that.
After the war, the soldiers were coming back with Zippo lighters, and it was just a very popular thing. All the people at home wanted a Zippo. Zippo started making ones with the designs on it and school logos and pinup girls, in the ’60s Playboy bunnies. There were just a lot of different kinds of Zippo lighters, and people were collecting them.
One of the most interesting stories that I read about Zippo lighters is the mystery of the very first Zippo car. Do you know that mystery?
Danna: I don’t.
Wayne: You’re about to, so listen up.
Danna: Tell me.
Wayne: I will. I’ll tell you that story soon.
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Wayne: And we’re back. I was about to tell you about the mystery of the Zippo car. Here it is. Most folks these days are familiar with the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile, the thing that looks like a big hotdog, and they drive it around the fairs and that sort of thing. Before there was an Oscar Meyer Weinermobile, there was a Zippo car.
Blaisdell went out and bought a 1947 Chrysler Saratoga, and he made the outside look sort of like a Zippo lighter. Coming up in the middle of the car, where the doors were, it looked like the case of the lighter, and then when you got on the roof of the car, it had a lid that would flip open and had the little chimney there. It didn’t have actual flames coming out. It had neon lights coming out.
It was a promotional car, and they would drive it just like the Oscar Meyer car. They’d drive around the fairs and promotional events to sell Zippo lighters. It was a good idea, but the car was so heavy that they had lots of suspension problems. They were always blowing out tires and springs.
The car was just always in the shop, and it cost them a lot of money to hire someone, a crew to drive these things around and do the promotions and spend all the time on the road. Finally, at one point the car broke down, and they looked at the expenses and said, we’re not going to do this anymore. It’s just not worth it.
So, they took the car to a dealer in Pittsburgh, I believe, because that’s where Zippo is located. They sat it there and got some estimates to fix it, and they decided not to do it right there. They just kind of left it there in storage. It was there for a long time. It wasn’t until the early 1970s that Blaisdell went back to the dealership to retrieve the car, but they were out of business, and the car wasn’t there. No one knows what happened to the car.
Danna: No one knows?
Wayne: I keep looking, not actively, but with curiosity. I see things come across my newsfeed all the time about barn finds, how someone finds a Rolls Royce in a barn, or something like that. I’m just waiting one of these days for someone to find this Zippo car in a barn somewhere.
Danna: That would be so cool.
Wayne: It would be. Nobody knows what happened to the car. It could be anywhere. About 25 years later, in ’96, Blaisdell wanted to redo the Zippo car deal, so he found and bought a 1947 Chrysler New Yorker and made another Zippo car based on what the first one was. It’s still around, from what I understand. They’re still doing promotions. I’ve never seen the car. I’ve seen pictures of it on the Zippo website.
In fact, in Pittsburgh, in that area, there’s a Zippo museum. They’ve got Zippo lighters and displays and history. It sounds like a fascinating place to visit. Then they have a story on the Zippo car as well. They’ve got a gift shop. If I were a collector of Zippo lighters, I’d be interested, in the website, there’s a section for discontinued items, lighter cases, and that sort of thing that they’re not going to make anymore. So, if I were a collector, I’d want to go in there and snatch up a few of those and just hold onto them.
Wayne: I don’t collect them. I tend to collect things that if I can’t flip them and make some money on it that at least it’s something that I can enjoy and use, like musical instruments or art that I can look at, something like that.
Here it is. The Zippo museum is in Bradford, Pennsylvania.
Danna: Okay. Bradford, Pennsylvania. I’d love to just go see it, just because I think it’s fascinating.
Wayne: As you make your rounds for sourcing things to sell on eBay, are Zippos something that is on your radar as you go around sourcing?
Danna: Absolutely. When I’m treasure hunting especially. You’ll find them in display cases, under glass or plastic. When the dealers have set up those display cases, that’s usually where you can find them, or on the rotation kind of displays. Remember those, where you push the button. Jewelers would have them.
You can usually find them under glass. They’re not going to be sitting on a table randomly. You may find them at a garage sale in a box because they just don’t realize how valuable they are, so they’ll just throw them in a box. Don’t forget to dig through those boxes at garage sales or yard sales.
Pretty much they’re a sure thing. Zippos are a sure sale. The ones that are plain, the silver one, like my dad had with his initials on it, that one is only valuable to me, or it may be valuable to a family member. In my experience, I haven’t done well with just the plain ones, even the black, the ones you were talking about, the black chrome ones, the matte color.
However, another one we did not talk about are the tabletop lighters. Zippo made several tabletop lighters on different designs. I recently sold a set of midcentury modern tabletop lighters that were brass in color and very hip and retro. You want to watch for those tabletop ones, especially if they have the Zippo brand on them.
Wayne: Right. Are Zippo lighters something that’s commonly faked?
Danna: Wow. I don’t know that answer. We’ll have to research it.
Wayne: I know that in general date codes are stamped on the bottom of Zippo lighters. The website has a page dedicated to their historic logos and date codes, so that’s a good fallback to see if what you’re looking at is real. Something that sells as well as Zippos does, and brings the prices that Zippos bring, it’s crazy. For example, I looked a few days ago on the WorthPoint site, and the high price for a rare Zippo was in 2013. It was $463,000.
Danna: Oh my goodness.
Wayne: Let me see if I can get that.
Danna: I wish I had a truckload of those.
Wayne: Really. It’s a Zippo lighter, hand-painted, hot rat rod vintage tattoo cobra. Basically, it’s a Zippo lighter with what appears to be an engraving of a cobra ready to strike.
Danna: Wow. Super rare.
Wayne: Super rare and have something to do with, the artist’s name is Nasty, so it’s got to be something. I’m not saying nasty as a derogatory remark about the artist’s name.
Danna: That’s nasty.
Wayne: It’s in quotes. The artist’s name is Nasty. Brand new from the box to the paintbrush.
Danna: That’s why.
Danna: That sounds like the Andy Warhol of Zippo lighters.
Wayne: Of Zippo lighters. Right there.
Danna: That’s it.
Wayne: The low price for 2007 was one sold by ProxyBid for $4.
Danna: Was it silver?
Wayne: Probably. Let me see here.
Danna: I’m just curious. With dents and scratches.
Wayne: Could be. I looked on eBay and sorted by lowest price first in active listings. There were lots of listings there that had no bids. Pages of them with no bids at all. I don’t know why they had no bids, considering they sell so well. Some of them it looked to me like the opening bids were a bit too high. I don’t see the point in having a high opening bid. You might as well do a fixed price listing. Wouldn’t you think?
Danna: Yeah. A fixed price will work if the odds are low on an auction. So, if maybe that lighter there’s more of them out there, and they’re easier to get. Then I may set a higher asking price with make an offer and see how that goes.
Danna: And base it on the average selling price. I can usually get that trend to reveal through WorthPoint by putting the highest price first, and then down to the lowest price first, and then switch them around. I can usually come up with someplace in the middle that I’m comfortable with to ask for.
Wayne: Right. The one that you recently sold, was it a consignment, or did you find that in your hunting?
Danna: It was consignment. I have found them, but I have not been hunting lately. I plan on getting back out there, and I promise you I will definitely keep them on my radar.
Wayne: What are the parameters that you would use to decide if you were going to buy a Zippo lighter? Would you automatically buy one and hope for the best, or would you go through your standard research process to decide what you want to sell it for and offer it at a fixed price, or would you offer one of your 99 cent auctions to start? How would you proceed with that and why?
Danna: I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all in the Zippo lighter category, because it depends on the graphics. It depends on the style.
Those are all kinds of things that determine the listing price and the price that I’m willing to pay for it. In my opinion, a Zippo lighter is a sure thing.
However, it’s going to depend on how much I’m going to pay for it. So, if it’s damaged, I’m going to definitely pay no more than probably $10, but if it’s mint, I’m would even be willing to pay up to $50, if I think that it could be $300 one. I’m going to know that by using a combination of the eBay app and the WorthPoint app and by going back and forth looking at those two apps. That would help me make that decision on the spot. I think it’s definitely worth a flip.
Wayne: A flip. I would think so too. Of course, if I were a smoker or had other uses for a Zippo lighter, I wouldn’t care one way or the other. I’d buy it, and if I sold it, I sold it. If I didn’t, I didn’t.
Danna: Yeah. Okay. Bottom line, you definitely want to flip those lighters, and don’t let that sale go up in smoke.
Wayne: Works for me. Thanks. I’m Wayne Jordan.
Danna: I’m Danna Crawford.
Wayne: We’ll see you on the next episode. Thanks for joining us.
You’ve been listening to Flip It or Skip It, brought to you by WorthPoint.com, the world’s largest antiques, and collectibles pricing and research database. Buy right, sell right, and profit more with WorthPoint.
Other achievements include Elite eBay Top Rated Seller (aka Powerseller)International Certified eBay Business ConsultantInternational eBay Selling coach local Expert – Authorized by Constant ContactUnited States Post Office Workshop Presenter.
In addition to running her own eBay consignment business, she is the Strategic Director for WorthPoint Corporation. Danna organizes WorthPoint’s Treasure Hunts and enjoys helping others learn about eBay and research items using WorthPoint.
Wayne is a Virginia-licensed Auctioneer, Certified Personal Property Appraiser, and Accredited Business Broker. He specializes in helping those in the antiques and collectibles trade sell more, manage better, and plan more effectively.
Wayne’s auctioneering travels have taken him across the U.S. from Florida to Alaska and internationally to sixteen countries from Russia to Panama. He has sold various goods at an auction: cars, real estate, jewelry, fine art, antiques, business assets, and estate property. He is the author of The Business of Antiques published by Krause Books, Antique Mall Profits for Dealers and Dabblers, Consignment Gold Rush: the Ultimate Startup Guide, and Relocate for Less, published by Learning Curve Books. Currently, Wayne is the Senior Editor for WorthPoint Corporation.
Read the Transcripts – Episode #1 – Selling Concert Apparel on eBay.
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