eBay opens bidding on Sothebys.com

The online auction giant and the traditional auction house have opened their joint Web site, stocked with pricey goods and special collections.

3 min read
The world's biggest flea market has gone upscale as eBay launches a joint site with Sotheby's.

The online auction giant and the traditional auction house opened their joint Web site on Friday and have begun to stock it with pricey goods and special collections. The site already features an auction of Rolex watches and will debut auctions of Hollywood and rock 'n' roll memorabilia on Tuesday.

The new site is similar in appearance to eBay's former high-end auction site, eBay Premier, which Sothebys.com on eBay replaces. However, the new site offers a better experience for bidders and sellers, said David Redden, chairman of Sothebys.com.

"The number of properties is significantly greater than it has been on eBay Premier," Redden said. "I think it will be a very rich site indeed."

eBay representatives did not return calls seeking comment on the new site.

While eBay was built on the sale of Beanie Babies and other low-end collectibles, Sotheby's typically caters to a high-end clientele that doesn't mind paying a buyer's fee to get its hands on the auction house's exclusive auctions of high-priced paintings, art and documents. High-priced goods such as the Honus Wagner baseball card have sold on eBay, but the typical item on the site sells for far less that the items that Sotheby's offers.

eBay and Sotheby's announced an agreement in January whereby Sotheby's would close its own site and move its listings to eBay. Last week, Sotheby's stopped posting new listings on its own site and began encouraging customers to register with eBay.

The joint site is the latest evolution of both companies' efforts to sell high-end collectibles. Sotheby's teamed with eBay rival Amazon.com in 1999 to create a co-branded auction site, but the partners closed that site one year later and subsequently shortened their original 10-year deal.

Meanwhile, eBay launched its Great Collections auction site to cater to sales of high-end collectibles in 1999, following its acquisition of the Butterfield & Butterfield auction house. But that site has struggled with attracting bidders and sellers, and eBay later re-launched it as eBay Premier.

Reregistering required
Sothebys.com bidders will have to register with eBay before bidding on items on the new site. Likewise, eBay Premier sellers won't automatically be able to sell on Sothebys.com; they will have to get authorization from Sotheby's. Sotheby's, which guarantees the authenticity and condition of all items sold on Sothebys.com, checks out potential dealers on its site to make sure they are credible.

Sotheby's itself will primarily offer on the site lower-value collectibles and items that appeal to a mass audience, such as the copy of the Declaration of Independence that the company sold on its site two years ago, Redden said. However, other auction houses and dealers who sell through the site may offer a different selection, he said.

Proceeds from the auctions that begin Tuesday will benefit the Quincy Jones Listen Up Foundation, which supports youth-oriented programs. Among the featured items of the rock auction are a leather jacket worn by U2 lead singer Bono on the group's recent tour, and a guitar used and signed by Carlos Santana. The Hollywood auction includes an original "Star Wars" movie script, Errol Flynn's tunic from "The Adventures of Robin Hood" and a shirt Elvis Presley wore in "Jailhouse Rock."

The auctions, offered by dealer Entertainment Rarities, will close on June 28.