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7 Big Ticket Splurges on eBay

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Since the online auction giant's founding in 1995, millions and millions of items have changed hands through its interface. Most of them probably sold for no more than a few dollars, but some have been truly, ludicrously expensive. Here's a look at some of the priciest items ever sold on eBay, plus some other noteworthy big ticket splurges and a few recent jaw-droppers.


A Gigayacht
When Fort Lauderdale boat maker 4Yacht fires up its eBay account, it doesn't mess around. In 2006, 4Yacht claimed to have sold the most expensive item eBay had ever seen when it auctioned off a 50% deposit on its as-yet-unbuilt "Gigayacht." The 50% deposit sold at a Buy It Now price of $85 million. The 405-foot steel yacht sounds like it was worth every penny of its eventual $170 million price. The plans included 10 multilevel VIP suites, a theater, a workout room, and a helicopter garage. When the auction closed, it was widely speculated that Russian billionaire and Chelsea F.C. owner Roman Abramovich had purchased the giant boat to add to his considerable personal navy. If you're scoring at home, using eBay's current fee schedule, the final value fees alone for such a large auction would amount to over $1.2 million.

Gulfstream II jet
Prior to the sale of the gigayacht, the record for eBay's most expensive item was believed to be held by a Gulfstream II private jet that was sold in August 2001. A Texas-based airline dealer sold the jet to an African charter company for a whopping $4.9 million. And yet, the seller still only got a single point of positive feedback for the transaction.

A Condotel
condotel.jpg

At the time of this writing, the most expensive item on eBay that currently has bids is a 131-room condotel in the heart of Kissimmee, Florida. The convenient-to-Disney hotel is just 18 years old, sits on two acres of land, and even has its own maid's bathroom. It's got quite a bit of time left, and the bid is currently a hair north of $1.5 million. Of course, even if you can convince yourself that giving a user who's never completed a sale millions of dollars, nothing will quell your nagging worry that the term "condotel" is an egregious assault on the English language.

A Castle
Of course, not all bidders value proximity to Epcot above all other attributes. If you're looking for something a little more regal, you can purchase what's described as a "big castle" in Wroclaw, Poland. Although the reserve price has not yet been met on this hundred-year-old castle, the bidding has been furious and has already reached $350,300. Really, that's a small price to pay for the ability to give directions to your house that include "Turn left at the sign"¦yeah, it's the castle"¦"

Sonnets
Did you lose your copy of the sonnets of 15th-century Italian poet Matteo Maria Boiardo? Too bad you're a week late, or you would have been able to replace it on eBay last week. A copy of "Sonetti e Canzoni" sold on Wednesday for a whopping EUR 155,000, or roughly $242,200. Think about that the next time you complain about your textbooks being too expensive.

Black Betsy
You might remember baseball legend Shoeless Joe Jackson as one of the central figures in the Black Sox scandal in which White Sox players allegedly threw the 1919 World Series. Gambling accusations aside, Jackson was a mighty batter, and his bat Black Betsy was always perched on his shoulder. In August 2001 Betsy went to auction on eBay, and she shattered the record for bat prices by closing at $577,610, nearly doubling the former record of $320,000 held by a bat Babe Ruth had used to club a home run in 1929.

The birthplace of a punchline's designer
Selling someone the Brooklyn Bridge is a beloved joke that's tricked its shared of rubes throughout the years. Now, you can get one step closer to the real thing by buying the birthplace of J.A. Roebling, the German engineer who designed the bridge. The house, which is at least 200 years old, is located in Mulhausen, Germany. You can pick it up for just $14,741,150. Bad news for international buyers, though: the page tells me that the 3,300-square-foot home cannot be shipped and is only available for local pickup.

Ethan Trex grew up idolizing Vince Coleman, and he kind of still does. Ethan co-writes Straight Cash, Homey, the Internet's undisputed top source for pictures of people in Ryan Leaf jerseys.

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The Secret to the World's Most Comfortable Bed Might Be Yak Hair
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Tengi

Savoir Beds laughs at your unspooling mail-order mattresses and their promises of ultimate comfort. The UK-based company has teamed with London's Savoy Hotel to offer what they’ve declared is one of the most luxurious nights of sleep you’ll ever experience. 

What do they have that everyone else lacks? About eight pounds of Mongolian yak hair.

The elegantly-named Savoir No. 1 Khangai Limited Edition is part of the hotel’s elite Royal Suite accommodations. For $1845 a night, guests can sink into the mattress with a topper stuffed full of yak hair from Khangai, Mongolia. Hand-combed and with heat-dispensing properties, it takes 40 yaks to make one topper. In a press release, collaborator and yarn specialist Tengri claims it “transcends all levels of comfort currently available.”

Visitors opting for such deluxe amenities also have access to a hair stylist, butler, chef, and a Rolls-Royce with a driver.

Savoir Beds has entered into a fair-share partnership with the farmers, who receive an equitable wage in exchange for the fibers, which are said to be softer than cashmere. If you’d prefer to luxuriate like that every night, the purchase price for the bed is $93,000. Purchased separately, the topper is $17,400. Act soon, as only 50 of the beds will be made available each year. 

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

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Fart Gallery: A Novel History of Spencer Gifts
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Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

When U.S. Army Corps bombardier Max Spencer Adler was shot down over Europe and imprisoned by the Nazis during World War II, it’s not likely he dreamed of one day becoming the czar of penis-shaped lollipops and lava lamps. But when Adler became a free man, he decided to capitalize on a booming post-war economy by doing exactly that—pursuing a career as the head of a gag gift mail-order empire that would eventually stretch across 600 retail locations and become a rite of passage for mall-trekking teens in the 1980s and 1990s.

To sneak into a Spencer Gifts store against your parents' wishes and revel in its array of tacky novelties and adult toys felt a little like getting away with something. Glowing with lasers and stuffed with Halloween masks, the layout always had something interesting within arm’s reach. But stocking the stores with such provocations sometimes carried consequences.

A row of lava lamps on display at Spencer Gifts
Dean Hochman, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Returning from the war, Adler sensed a wave of relief running through the general population. Goods no longer had to be rationed, and toy factories could return to making nonessential items. The guilt of spending time or money on frivolous items was disappearing.

With his brother Harry, Adler started Spencer Gifts as a mail-order business in 1947. Their catalog, which became an immediate success, was populated with items like do-it-yourself backyard skating rinks and cotton candy makers [PDF]—items no one really needed but were inexpensive enough to indulge in. In some ways, the Spencer catalogs resembled the mail-order comic ads promising X-ray glasses and undersea fish kingdoms. Instead of kids, Adler was targeting the deeper pockets of adults.

Bolstered by that early success, Adler moved into a curious category: live animals. He had small donkeys transported from Mexico and marketed them as the new trend in domestic pets. LIFE magazine took note of the fad in 1954, observing the $85 burros, being sold at a clip of 40 a day, “except for stubbornness, are very placid.”

Burro fever foreshadowed the direction of Spencer’s in the years to come. The Adlers opened their first physical location—minus livestock—in Cherry Hill, New Jersey in 1963, expanding on their notion to peddle unique gift items like the Reduce-Eze girdle, which promised to shave inches off the wearer’s stomach. That claim caught the attention of the Federal Trade Commission, which chastised the company for advertising the device could reduce body weight without exercise [PDF]. The FTC also took them to task for implying their jewelry contained precious metals [PDF] when the items did not.

Offending the FTC aside, Spencer’s did a brisk enough business to garner the attention of California-based entertainment company Music Corporation of America, Inc. (MCA), which purchased the brand and proceeded to expand it in the rapidly growing number of malls across the country in the 1970s and 1980s. (The mail order business closed in 1990.)

Brick and mortar retail was ideal for their inventory, which encouraged perusal, store demonstrations, and roving bands of giggling teenagers. The company wanted its stores to capture foot traffic by stuffing its aisles with items that had a look-at-this factor—a novelty that invited someone to pick it up and show it to a friend. When executives saw specific categories taking off, they “Spencerized,” or amalgamated them. When there was a resurgence of interest in Rubik’s Cubes and merchandise from the 1983 Al Pacino film Scarface, visitors were soon greeted in stores by stacks of Scarface-themed Rubik’s Cubes.

Mike Mozart via Flickr

Apart from its busy aesthetic—“like the stage from an old Poison video,” as one journalist put it—Spencer's was also known for its inventory of risqué adult novelty items. Pole-dancing kits and sex-themed card games occupied a portion of the store’s layout. The toys captured a demographic that might have been too embarrassed to visit a dedicated adult store but felt that browsing in a mall was harmless.

Sometimes, the store’s blasé attitude toward stocking such items drew critical attention. In 2010, police in Rapid City, South Dakota seized hundreds of items because Spencer's had failed to register as an “adult-oriented business,” something the city ordinance required. As far back as the 1980s, parents in various locales had complained that suggestive material was viewable by minors. In 2008, ABC news affiliate WTVD in Durham, North Carolina dispatched two teenage girls with hidden cameras to see what they would be allowed to buy. While they were shooed away from a back-of-store display, they were able to purchase “two toy rabbits that vibrate, moan, and simulate sex” as well as a penis-shaped necklace.

As a possible consequence of the internet, there are fewer incidences of parental outrage directed at Spencer’s these days. And despite the general downturn of both malls and retail shopping, the company bolsters its bottom line with the seasonal arrival of Spirit Halloween, a pop-up store specializing in costumes. Despite only being open two months out of the year, their Spirit locations contribute to roughly half of Spencer's $250 million in annual revenue.

Today, the chain’s 650 stores remain a source for impulse shopping. They still occasionally court controversy over items that appear to stereotype the Irish as drunken oafs or other inflammatory merchandise. With traditional mall locations expected to shrink by as much as 25 percent over the next five years, it’s not quite clear whether their assortment of novelties will continue to have a large retail footprint. But so long as demand exists for fake poop, fart sprays, and penis ring toss kits, Spencer’s will probably have a home.

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