As online shopping rapidly gains acceptance in U.S. society, the auction houses of cyberspace have begun to sell some of the most cherished items of American culture to the highest bidder.
Talk about the ultimate in Americana. The most valuable baseball card in the world is for sale at Web auction house eBay. The T206 Honus Wagner card, dating from the early 1900s, went on the block with a minimum bid price of $500,000. The bid soon reached the $600,000 mark and is expected to sell for more than double that price, at least.
Freedom For Sale
Another piece of America on paper was also for sale at an online auction. Television producer Norman Lear and Critical Path chairman David Hayden bid $8.1 million (US$) for a rare original copy of the Declaration of Independence.
Lear and Hayden’s winning bid included a $740,000 buyer’s fee to Sotheby’s, the venerable auction house that jumped on the Net after over more than two hundred and fifty years in business.
Estimated at $4-6 million, the historical document sold for $8.14 million, the highest price ever paid for an object sold at an Internet auction. Amazingly, the copy Lear purchased online was discovered in 1989 by a man browsing a flea market. The man purchased an old torn painting for four dollars because he was interested in the frame, only to discover the hidden treasure behind the painting he did not want.
New Rules for Baseball
Lots of the original Wagner cards were not wanted either, thrown away nearly a hundred years ago. Now, however, the Wagner card for sale on eBay is so special that the company has created new rules just for the sale of the coveted object, which a company spokesperson called reportedly called “a one-of-a-kind event.”
Before submitting a bid on the Honus Wagner card, collectors must agree to a few terms over and above the standard eBay playbook. The Wagner auction requires pre-registering with the seller, making a $100,000 deposit and agreeing to pay a buyer’s premium of fifteen percent on the sale.
Baseball fans across the country — if not the world — understand the value of the Wagner card and the reason why the Internet auction price is likely to soar higher than a ball hit out of the park by Mark McGwire, even if it fails to reach the price of owning America’s declaration of freedom.
“This baseball card represents a time when baseball was at its purest form. Endorsements and television contracts had not yet corrupted baseball. The card might be selling for $600,000, but that’s the price for purity. In ninety years, will eBay be auctioning off a Ken Griffey Jr. card for an absurd amount? Probably not. The times have changed, and so has the game,” said University of Michigan college student and avid baseball fan Adam Epstein.
Not only is the Wagner card something once owned by hockey great Wayne Gretzky, it is a rarity because the sportsman pictured on it refused to have his card packaged with tobacco products, resulting in a “stop-the-presses” order on production of the card.
Historians are questioning private ownership of any copy of the Declaration of Independence, and suggest that the artifact auctioned online in June belongs in a museum. However, the new owners plan to take their copy — only one of four surviving copies of the Declaration owned by private collectors — on a national tour.
“Most American kids and their families will never get to the National Archives in Washington, D.C. to see that single sheet of paper announcing the birth of the United States of America,” said Mr. Lear. “We are not collectors but citizens who simply want to share this precious symbol of democracy with the American people.”
Auctioning a Chance at Fame
While American children will get a closer look at the Declaration that started their country due to the record-setting Net auction sale, the Hollywood dream is also on the Web auction block.
Yahoo! is auctioning off the chance to be in a movie. “Who Wants To Be A Movie Star?” was created by a group of filmmakers, entertainment executives, Internet developers, and business professionals who recently announced that they are going to produce a feature film with the wannabe actors who place the highest bids for roles online.
Although the Net auction ran into some trouble with the California Department of Labor for violation of laws against selling employment, the auction is moving forward. The Yahoo! auction page says “Anyone, anywhere in the world can now bid on the lead and supporting roles in a feature-length motion picture. Are you ready to be a Movie Star?”
Intangibles Sold to Highest Bidder
Just as the trinkets at a neighborhood garage sale reveal something about the people who live there, the things for sale at Internet auctions reveal something about what Americans really want — the purity of baseball, a chance to look at freedom, and a part in the latest Hollywood movie. Looks like what’s for sale is more than just material goods.