Ode to eBay Search Syntax by Leafcutter Designs


Ode to eBay

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The marvelous thing about eBay is that it’s the biggest junk shop ever. It’s wonderful if you know what you’re looking for and can sort out just the right syntax to find it.

They basically hand you a magical little chalkboard on your way in the door – aka a “search box” – to help you find things. Each time you scrawl a different word in chalk, all the things in the shop jump off their shelves and reorganize themselves accordingly. My eBay explorations began years ago with concrete search terms such as “antique cast waffle iron.” Today, these adventures continue with more generous terms like “unusual” and “wonder.”

It is a combination of science and art that can lead you to the most interesting results. I’ve learned some key eBay search syntax rules, but still have far to go. Here is one of my current favorite search phrases:

vintage, antique, old (machine, dispenser) -sewing -pez -marbles -adding -popcorn -oil -answering -slot -cotton -gun -tattoo -coke -coca -cola -embroidery -embroidered -cigarette -rhinestones -style -repro -retro

It’s like a big rotating exhibit I just curated for you to walk through. 1428 items today, and a different list every day. Can I interest you in an antique cast iron fabric-fluting machine from 1875 that you can use to crimp your collars and cuffs?

Or how about five brand new bumper caps for Old Chicago pinball machines?

What about a vintage cast iron woodpecker toothpick dispenser? The little woodpecker delivers the toothpick to you in its beak.

An antique manual clothes wringer made in 1898? How else you gonna dry your clothes?

An antique match vending machine?

A rope maker?

I just love digging into the past – through the geologic layers of eBay and the detritus of days gone by – looking for lost signs of invention and imagination. Whenever I find one, I’m inspired to live anew.

Here’s what’s on the shelves today…

[phpbay keywords=”vintage, antique, old (machine,dispenser) -sewing -pez -marbles -adding -popcorn -oil -answering -slot -cotton -gun -tattoo -coke -coca -cola -embroidery -embroidered -cigarette -rhinestones -style -repro -retro” num=”12″ siteid=”1″ customid=”Leafcutter” sortorder=”EndTimeSoonest” templatename=”columns” columns=”3″]

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Lea Redmond is always looking for the poem hiding inside things: a salt shaker, a clothes tag, a hand gesture, a cloud. She is infinitely intrigued by the way experiences can slip from the ordinary to the extraordinary and she endeavors to design things that hold this possibility. Leafcutter Designs, her creative studio in Berkeley, CA, makes the world more playful and peaceful one little experience at a time.


  1. Stephanie

    July 15, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    I just saw an exhibition with clothes from the early 1900’s. In it was this incredible crimped dress. I wondered how they did all that crimping, thanks for the post of the awesome machine!

  2. Lea Redmond

    September 13, 2009 at 5:33 pm

    Hi Phil,
    Thanks for the comment. Yeah I should have linked – at this point those auctions are over though. Did you see the eBay "Curio Search Service" I'm now offering through my main website? You might get a kick out of it. See: https://www.leafcutterdesigns.com/shop/curio.html
    Take care!

  3. Phil K

    September 10, 2009 at 8:19 pm

    awesome! I worked at eBay for years and agree – it's a wonderful place if for no other reason than the incredible variety.

    by the way – it would be much more awesome if you were linking to the auctions rather than just taking their photos, but still awesome.

  4. tim

    April 9, 2009 at 12:55 pm


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