Welcome to the first in anew series entitled, “eBay Employee Collectors.” Each month we will interview an employee who also has a passion for collecting something unusual or notable. This month, we interview Pierre Donzier of Customer Strategy (who keeps his collection at home and not in his cube).
Griff: Welcome to our first in the series, Pierre. So, what do you collect?
Pierre: “I’m an avid aviation fan. I collect flight helmets, flight jackets, old airplane models…anything related to aviation”
G: Do you fly planes as well?
P: I do! I have my pilot’s license.
G: How did you get started collecting aviation items?
P: I remember this moment: I was a little child playing on the beach on the sand with my shovel and pail and suddenly I heard very loud thunder… just over my head. I looked up and I saw this amazing image of a jet plane flying so low I could almost see the guy in the cockpit and I thought, “Wow…That’s what I want to do when I am bigger.”
G: How old were you?
G: And you have been collecting ever since then?
P: Absolutely. I started with Star Wars figurines.
G: And now you collect aviator jackets and helmets. Do you buy mostly on eBay?
P: Yes that is right.
G: Some of these helmets look new and some very old. What is the oldest one of this group?
P: I have an amazing 1914 Army Air Corps leather helmet with big amazing goggles.
G: How much would that helmet be valued at today?
P: It depends. There are a lot of factors. Item size, the original owner, the condition. And this one has the goggles intact. I would say between $300-$400. But newer flight helmets for jet aircraft can be even higher in value. The technology alone inside the helmet can be very expensive.
Let me tell you a little story. I wanted to buy a component for a certain newer helmet and I couldn’t find it anywhere, including eBay. So one day a sent an email to the actual company that used to manufacture this particular helmet. A few months later I received an answer from the CEO telling me, ‘Sorry, we can’t sell those to individuals since it is technically considered a “weapon,” and we are not allowed to sell it to you.” Shortly later, I found one on eBay.
G: Of course. Of all the examples in your collection, which one is your favorite?
P: I don’t have just one favorite but I think one of my favorites is this one, a Rafale French Air Force Helmet. And I have another favorite that was worn by an F14 pilot and is similar to the one worn by Tom Cruise in Top Gun.
Another favorite of mine (which collector has just one favorite?) would be the one worn by a Mirage 2000 pilot and belonged to a very specific squadron which was testing nuclear rockets so the visor is very specialized for that mission.
G: Amazing pieces of machinery. How do these end up on the market?
P: I don’t know for certain but I believe that the pilot owners must take them along when they leave the service and then they offer them for sale. Or they may have been army or navy surplus.
G: Any other remarkable stories about collecting these items?
P: Yes. I was selling one of my airplane models on eBay and a guy reached out to me and told me that he flew in that airplane, could you sell it to me? Of course, I sold it to him for the market price. I know that he might have paid double that but I was so moved by his story that I let it go for the average market price.
And another story that comes to mind: Some of the helmets I buy often need to be repaired. I like to repair them myself but I could not find anything online in the way of instructions on how to repair them. I came across a guy who was selling a helmet on eBay nearly identical to the one I needed to repair and I emailed him saying, “Sorry I don’t want to buy the helmet. I just need some help finding information on how to repair the one I already own.” Two days later, I received an email from the seller, along with an attachment that turned out to be a detailed guide that he had put together, with photos, and step-by-step instructions on how to repair my helmet. He did this out of passion!
G: What would be one tip you would offer a new collector on eBay?
P: I have two. The first and most important: Save search! Many people don’t know about this feature. I didn’t know this feature and it changed my life when I discovered it because before, I was constantly checking the eBay website every day, for one hour or more, searching for items I need for my collection. I was a slave of my passion. Now, I just set a saved search for those items on eBay I seek and when a new item matching my search pops up on eBay, I get an email alert and it saves me a lot of time.
Another tip I would share is to know the market. Know the products you seek and own and their values. You need to invest a little bit of time to make sure you don’t buy something that is broken or is inauthentic.
G: Are there fake helmets?
P: Yes, there are. Check the feedback score of the seller making sure he or she has good history of selling on eBay and who knows what he or she is selling. Buy from sellers who know what they have.
G: Good advice! Thanks Pierre for sharing your collecting passion with us.