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eBay polishes up its art marketplace

The online auction giant unveils a new trading marketplace for artwork, antiques and rare collectibles, dubbed eBay Premier.

eBay still has eyes for the high-end art market.

The online auction giant Friday announced a new trading marketplace for artwork, antiques and rare collectibles, dubbed eBay Premier, which expands on the existing eBay Great Collections and taps auction houses, galleries, dealers and collectors.

A key component of eBay Premier, which includes a database of art-related content, works of art and sales schedules, is a guarantee on material sold via the marketplace. If there is an unresolved dispute about authenticity between the buyer and seller--an "unlikely event," the company says--eBay will reimburse the purchase price to the buyer up to $50,000.

The guarantee will help determine the success of this type of auction. "They need these type of protections in place to safeguard bidders in order to succeed," said Mark Gambale, a consultant at research firm Gomez.

With the guarantee and a network of dealers and online art sites such as is set to be acquired by, Gambale said, the prospects for eBay are solid. "This is a real chance for them to tap into the high-end market," he said.

The San Jose, Calif.-based company has hit some bumps on the road into the high-end art community. In November, for example, a year and a half after eBay moved toward sales of higher-priced items on a global scale with the acquisition of one of the world's largest and most prestigious auction houses, that auctioneer--Butterfields--announced it was cutting about 15 percent of its 200 employees.

Another component of eBay Premier is a "buyer?s premium," a 10 percent additional fee traditionally charged by auction houses on the sale of high-end goods. The fee was set up to encourage auction houses and dealers to list top-quality merchandise that usually is only available in showrooms and galleries, the company said.

Even as it touted the new offering as an improvement, eBay expressed some wariness about this kind of sale.

"We?ve made strides, but there is still much work to be done in bridging the art world and the Internet," Geoff Iddison, general manager of eBay Premier, said in a statement.