Picture postcards for posterity: Williams memorabilia on eBay

People around the world know about Williams and it appears they are willing to pay some money for a piece of it. At least that is what some eBay sellers hope.

Music, art, books and anything else imaginable can be found on eBay’s auction website. Buyers bid on objects, hoping to purchase them for the lowest price possible. Since there are many people selling things they do not want, such as old music, it is possible to get a compact disc that would cost at least 10 dollars in a store for less than half that price.

Similarly, eBay offers a cheap alternative for Williams memorabilia. A search of the words “Williams College” will give about 20 items related only to Williams. (There are more, but for Ricky Williams and Williams Hall at Bates College). The majority of the items are postcards depicting Thompson Memorial Chapel, Hopkins Hall, Griffin and Lasell. Some items give a bit more insight into the history of the people at Williams. For example, there is a postcard of the Sigma Phi house during its days as a fraternity, as well as a 1949 issue of Life magazine that contains a photo essay on Williams College.

The items that provide the most direct information on the history of Williams are those that were created by the student body. For example, a yearbook for the Class of 1909 is described as the College’s first formal yearbook. There is also a very detailed class of 1857 photo album. The seller does not appear to know much about the album’s origins, stating in the item description, “The rest of the photographs are identified by autograph inscription of the individual, or by a penciled notation by the original owner of this album.” The pencil notations say things like “Died Jan. 2, 1905” and “Died at Andover, Mass., May 3, 1902.”

Most of the sellers are not alumni of the College, and it may be presumed that for the most part these items are not being sold to perpetuate Williams pride. Instead they are for sale for the same reason everything on eBay is on sale – pure capitalism. Sellers are motivated by the desire to make a buck off what they personally consider to be junk.

One of the sellers of a postcard says, “If I remember correctly, of the 15,000 postcards (or so) that I have sold on eBay, there have only been two or three of Williams College.” For this seller, auctioning postcards and other collectibles of any type seems to be his main objective. Another seller, Karen Gennarelli, agrees that there is a profit to be made from school memorabilia. She says, “Vintage postcards and school-related items can be very collectible,” she said. “There are many people who collect old postcards, other people who might only collect postcards from educational institutions and yet other people who might only be interested in items related to their alma mater, such as Williams.”

Across the pond in East Anglia, U.K., Sheila Sarbutts’ expectations for profit are the same. She has a lilac and white Wedgwood plate with a picture of the president’s house on it. She estimates that the plate dates from around 1940. She says “The plate came to me in a mixed lot of plates from a local auction here in the U.K., where I live. Until this time I had not heard of Williams College.”

Although the majority of Williams- related items are sold for profit, there are alumni selling items to spread their affection for the College. Don Rice ’79 is one of those sellers. About his college years, he says, “Although I appreciated it when I was there – usually, not always – I have found my respect and gratitude for the experience has grown ever since.” Rice also stresses his reason for participating in eBay auctions. He says, “I am a practical physician who finds collecting to be a great stress relief,” he said. “ I do eBay for fun.”

The item he has for sale is a Class of 1936 20th Year Reunion program. “This item was part of a lot of old Williams football programs I picked up some time ago,” Rice said. “I wanted the football items only, and I couldn’t bear the thought of just tossing this item out.” He expressed a desire for the reunion program to find a “good home.”

While the bits and pieces of Williams being sold are not causing the excited bidding that may go on with other items, eBay is a good place for those that enjoy collecting and Williams to find some interesting things. Regardless of their source, each item portrays an aspect some might miss after graduation.