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eBay opens curtains on Great Collections

eBay launched a high-end site called Great Collections, one of the first fruits of buying venerable auction house Butterfield & Butterfield but yet another expansionary move.

eBay launched a high-end site called Great Collections, one of the first fruits of buying venerable auction house Butterfield & Butterfield but yet another expansionary move.

The new site features paintings, antique furniture, and ancient and historic coins. Among the items to be featured are a collection of bats, balls, and other memorabilia that once belonged to New York Yankee legend Joe DiMaggio.

Great Collections represents a significant departure for eBay, which got its start as a place for collectors to trade Pez dispensers. Unlike the typical eBay auction, starting bids on many of the items listed on Great Collections are priced in the hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Nonetheless, it is only the latest in a series of eBay moves. The Net's leading auction site has aggressively expanded overseas while also getting into more and more diverse products, such as automobiles. The company's lead is seen to be so great that nearly 100 rivals recently banded together to create a shared Net auction system, in an attempt to match eBay's tremendous volume and depth.

Geographically, eBay has spread out by setting up sites in Australia, Germany, Canada, and the United Kingdom, and further plans to move into Japan. eBay also intends to set up more than 50 regional auction sites within the United States by the end of the year, having launched a regional site to serve the Los Angeles area in April.

eBay also recently moved into car auctions, an outgrowth of its acquisition of automobile auction company Kruse International in May. The company will continue expanding both its core auction business and services to help facilitate auctions, according to Steve Westly, vice president of marketing and business development.

Among the services it's considering are ways to help sellers ship their items. "We are always looking at new services to make the trading process easier," Westley said.

Great Collections breaks with the past in that instead of the person-to-person format featured on eBay's main site, it offers wares from established auction houses such as Butterfield & Butterfield of San Francisco; Sydney, Australia-based Lawsons; and Sternberg of Zurich, Switzerland. Many of the items on Great Collections include high and low estimates of their worth as well as detailed descriptions.

"eBay Great Collections has partnered with some of the finest galleries, dealers, and auction houses in the world to offer a vast selection of historical and premium collectibles," Westly told CNET

The company said in a statement that the Great Collections site stems from its $260 million acquisition of Butterfield & Butterfield, which took place in April. eBay worked with Butterfield as well as other auction houses to create the site.

Westley said he expects the Great Collections site to revolutionize the premium auction market. The site "democratizes" such auctions for buyers and sellers, he said. Although the current Great Collections sellers are solely auction houses, eBay sellers will be able to list items on Great Collections by consigning them to Butterfield & Butterfield to be appraised and guaranteed by the auction house's experts.

Also, because eBay's cut of the auctions is less than what traditional auction houses charge, the items are more affordable to everyday bidders, Westley said.

"It makes these world-class items available to people that never had access to these auction houses before," he said., which announced a ten-year deal with Butterfield rival Sotheby's in June, is expected to launch its own premium auction site in coordination with Sotheby's later this year.