Alex Casey talks to the woman behind @trademebae, the Instagram account archiving the most bizarre items that Trade Me has to offer.
Every detail is somehow funnier than the last. “Sex noveltys” the listing reads. $1 reserve. Condition: Used. Description: As is. Pick-up: Invercargill. Pictured: dildos, vibrators, a butt plug and various other “noveltys”, opaque with use and coyly nestled in a plastic bag. There’s one question in the Q&A section. “It looks good” a user posits. Not really a question, more of a statement.
“There is” the seller replies, leaving a breathless two spaces before the final word, “variety”.
And if you thought sex noveltys was good, you’ll love Porn covered coffee table, silver cow pat (poo), Bag of Shredded Paper, or any of the other hundreds of quirky items archived on trademebae, scientifically proven by me to be the greatest Instagram account in the world by me and me alone. “There is no point to it really,” says founder Rose Beasley, “it’s just me, sharing a love that I’ve developed for this particular corner of Trade Me.”
Another one of my personal favourites, Cute Little PISS POT Thing, demonstrates the perfect combination of brevity and surreality that qualifies a winning entry to trademebae. Sure, a chamber pot with a single unblinking eye and the ominous rhyme “use me well and keep me clean, and I won’t tell what I have seen” painted on it is extremely funny on its own, but it’s the description that elevates it beyond simple kitsch.
“little chamber pot thing
no cracks or chips
never use in anger”
A librarian by day, Beasley had a passion for finding bizarre bargains long before social media. “I used to love reading Trade and Exchange as a child, it brought me a lot of joy to imagine all the puppies you could have and the weird things you could buy.” Ten years ago she found Trade Me taxidermist d3fkon1, who rekindled her joy. “I remember seeing those possums pushing shopping trolleys and sending them to all my friends immediately”.
Finding time on her hands as an unemployed student, Beasley became further obsessed with trawling the forgotten treasure troves of Trade Me. “I’d mostly just browse the Antiques & Collectables, which still tends to be a pretty good category.” It would take her hours at a time to find that perfect gem, but the search paid dividends in bargains such as a $10 Braille machine. “It took a lot of hours doing it that way, now I’ve gotten better at keyword searching and my process is much more refined.”
So what exactly does one search to find a Vintage set of Acrylucent Teeth? “I try and think of the way that my imagined seller – I often think of my Aunty – would try to describe something. Phrases like ‘one of a kind’ or ‘unusual’ or ‘quirky’ work well.” Another keyword that appears frequently is the simple, ambiguous descriptor of “thing”. “That’s the elusive listing I like – a weird object, really poorly described, that you almost have to serendipitously stumble across it.”
Luck still has a lot to do with it. “The demographic I like tend to not know the value of the strange things they are selling, and often their descriptions are really minimal,” says Beasley. “That’s why there’s always value in deep browsing.” It was a deep browsing session that unearthed “sex noveltys”, still one of her favourite Trade Me finds. “I just can’t imagine who these people are. It’s such a wonderful way into a New Zealand that I know nothing about.”
After spamming her friends for years with all her Trade Me finds and filling up her phone with screenshots, the Instagram account was born about a year ago. “I’d been following ebaybae and had been very inspired by their model – I was shocked nobody had done it with Trade Me when there’s so much gold on there.” To make it to Trademebae, the item must be the perfect storm of surprising, unique and what Beasley likes to call “hyper local”.
“I definitely take note of the locations, the weirder stuff tends to be more rural. Christchurch comes up a lot and the West Coast. There’s a lot of weird creepy doll sellers in Christchurch.”
The goal of trademebae is never to tease, but to celebrate. “The freaky Siamese cat, the Spongebob container – there’s such a delightful, palpable personal history to so many of the listings,” says Beasley. It also serves as a time capsule of sorts, especially important as an entire generation bows down to their new gods: Marie Kondo and Minimalism. “It actually makes me feel sad inside when I think about it,” says Beasley. “I worry that we are running out of the kinds of people who will sell a lifetime collection of ballpoint pens that don’t work.”
One thing that remains, for now, is the thrill of finding that rare unicorn listing on Trade Me. “There’s still so much incredible stuff out there for $1 and 50c reserve,” says Beasley. “The promise of a bargain is never far away.” For example, she recently bought seven kilograms of key rings for $35. “I thought it was really good value, I give them to my friends for their birthdays.” Even though there are fewer high quality items to be found these days, she won’t give up the chase. “I’ll just keep plugging along until I get that rush again.”
“I’m just glad that now have an outlet for it.”