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Selling Steampunk Items on eBay

Updated on January 15, 2012

Marketing Steampunk

Over the last few years, the steampunk sub-culture has grown immensly. Steampunk, which was originally a literary sub-genre, now refers to a particular style in fashion, art, and industrial design, in addition to science-fiction writing where it all began. The origins of steampunk date back to Jules Verne (1828-1905), a French novelist who was one of the best early science-fiction writers. I started reading books by Verne while still in grade school, so steampunk imagery is very familiar to me. The actual word steampunk originated in 1987 but didn't become part of popular culture until 1990 when William Gibson and Bruce Sterling published their novel The Difference Engine.

Steampunk fashion draws inspiration from the Victorian era but there is a lot of room for personal creativity. The purists try to be authentic and somewhat historically accurate, while the free spirits mix together many historical periods. I have even seen a steampunk-themed electric guitar!

Of course, every great fad brings economic potential as well. Steampunkers need to buy the raw materials to make costumes and gadgets for the next party or convention. There are now countless places to buy steampunk items. You can buy complete outfits (all reproduction) or you can buy genuine antique items and make your own steampunk clothing or gadgets. eBay is a great place to look for what you need. Today I did a basic search using "steampunk" as a key word and eBay listed 26,553 items for sale. It also listed 30,773 items under completed listings. So what is selling? The two biggest categories are steampunk clothing and steampunk watches and jewelry. Watches are popular because the gears and springs of the old pocket watches can be used to give pretty much anything a "mechanical" look. Also popular are old skeleton keys, especially if they are ornate.

If you are an eBay seller you've probably already sold a few vintage or antique items. Could any of those items be marketed as steampunk? Probably - if you write a good ad! I recently acquired a large can of antique skeleton keys. Originally I was just going to sell them as that - old keys. But as soon as I began to look at other listings on eBay I realized that old keys are steampunk! That was my marketing solution. I know that my keys are genuine antique English keys because they came from my father's now-defunct antique furniture business. He imported furniture primarily from the United Kingdom. The first couple of keys I listed are very small - less than two inches in length. Buyers like these because they can be put on a chain and worn as steampunk jewelry. The ad for the first key I listed got six views in the first couple of hours. That is more than some of my ads get in a week! So it was an encouraging start.

I also just listed an antique glass oil lamp that could pass as "Steampunk decor". I hope to discuss the results of the sales in a later comment or new hubpage.

Steampunk Museum Exhibition in Oxford


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