Consumer Corner - The Monetary Side of a Telescope

You probably don't think of your telescope as an investment, but if it's fairly costly, you might want to consider adding it onto a personal articles insurance policy, just as you would a fine piece of jewelry. For insurance purposes, it's usually based on replacement cost. But from a market standpoint, how do you measure the value of a telescope? The question was brought to mind when I checked the eBay web site out of curiosity to see whether they had any telescopes for sale. To my surprise, there were about 400!

For those of you who may not be familiar with eBay, it's a web site where anyone can post almost any item for sale for a specified period of time and potential buyers bid on the item, which is then sold to the highest bidder. The web site posts the current high bid for each item, how many bids there have been, and the ending date for the auction of the item. The seller can specify a reserve, which is the lowest price they are willing to accept. Commercial firms also use eBay to auction discontinued models or distressed merchandise. But on their telescope pages, there's mostly used equipment from people like you and me.

It's widely held that an object has monetary value based on what people are willing to pay for it. So eBay is a sort of reality check. There was everything from antique instruments and toy telescopes to Schmidt-Cassegrains and even a 6-inch Astro-Physics refractor.Also included were a few components and mirrors, and some homemade telescopes. The better telescopes had the largest number of bidders and the dollar amount of the bids was higher. So eBay attracts those who are looking for a good telescope at a reasonable price, but they're willing to pay a price that reflects its value. The Astro-Pysics refractor, for example, had about a dozen bids and the high bid at the time was $5100.00 - almost exactly the current price of a new AP refractor. By the same token, there were also a lot of department store telescopes offered, typically the 450x Tasco refractors. Most of these received no bids at all, and on those few that had bids, the price offered was usually not more than $15.00 or $20.00. Interesting!

Want to check eBay for yourself? The URL is: http://pages.ebay.com/index.html Published in the April 2000 issue of the NightTimes