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Buying Vintage Tablecloths Online
I have been buying vintage tablecloths online now for about 5 years. I've had both good and bad experiences both with Ebay and seller websites. I would love if my experience could prevent you from making some of the same mistakes I've made. There are plenty of great sellers out there and it really is fun to get packages in the mail.
Let's face it. These tablecloths have had a long life before they get to us. They are the embodiment of "herstory". Granted, I don't want to buy rags, but I also don't mind a tablecloth with a little history to it. As long as I know about the damage up front! I collect and use damaged cloths. I hang them over my curtain rods as valances and I also use them in my seasonal displays.
I love tablecloths for the colors and the interesting prints. Condition is less important to me, as long as they aren't badly faded. On the other hand, when I buy for resale, I look for bright cloths with no holes and minimal staining.
Description The first and most important thing I look for in a seller is a complete detailed description of the items for sale including lots of pictures. If you find a description that ONLY says something like "excellent condition" or my least favorite "in good condition for its age" you need to ask a ton of questions. The cloth might be wonderful but you don't know what that seller considers "good" or "excellent" condition.
For instance, I bought a tablecloth that was described as in "excellent" condition. It had small dark stains from top to bottom. In retrospect, the sellers idea of an "excellent" tablecloth was completely different from mine and I should have asked more questions.
Ideally, the seller should be holding the tablecloth up to the light of a window and describing what they see.
Pictures Another important consideration is the quantity and quality of the pictures. Is there a detailed picture of the pattern? A picture of the entire item so that you can see the pattern? Does the seller show tablecloth damage with some kind of other item (e.g. a coin) for scale? Do all of the seller's pictures look pumped up or enhanced? Glowing pictures are sometimes possible when they're taken on a cloudy day. If all of the pictures look enhanced, that may indicate a problem.
Return Policy Some sellers will not accept returns for any reason. Some will if they have accidentally misdescribed the tablecloth. You should be aware of their policy before you buy. If you are choosing a seller who does not accept returns, make sure that seller is a specialist in vintage textiles and describes their tablecloths in detail.
Payments Accepted The best way to cover yourself online is to use a credit card. Some sellers accept them directly through a merchant account on their website. Some use Paypal which is a safe alternative. Both of these methods provide buyer protection in case something goes wrong.
If you buy something and it isn't what you expected, the first thing you should do is contact the seller. Most of the time it is an oversight and can be worked out. If the seller refuses to work with you, then you can file with Paypal (if used) then the credit card company.
Buying on the internet can be a lot of fun and safe too, as long as you use some basic precautions and do your homework about what you're buying. Happy shopping!