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7 Big Ticket Splurges on eBay

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
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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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A.C. Gilbert, the Toymaker Who (Actually) Saved Christmas 
Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Alfred Carlton Gilbert was told he had 15 minutes to convince the United States government not to cancel Christmas.

For hours, he paced the outer hall, awaiting his turn before the Council of National Defense. With him were the tools of his trade: toy submarines, air rifles, and colorful picture books. As government personnel walked by, Gilbert, bashful about his cache of kid things, tried hiding them behind a leather satchel.

Finally, his name was called. It was 1918, the U.S. was embroiled in World War I, and the Council had made an open issue about their deliberation over whether to halt all production of toys indefinitely, turning factories into ammunition centers and even discouraging giving or receiving gifts that holiday season. Instead of toys, they argued, citizens should be spending money on war bonds. Playthings had become inconsequential.

Frantic toymakers persuaded Gilbert, founder of the A.C. Gilbert Company and creator of the popular Erector construction sets, to speak on their behalf. Toys in hand, he faced his own personal firing squad of military generals, policy advisors, and the Secretary of War.

Gilbert held up an air rifle and began to talk. What he’d say next would determine the fate of the entire toy industry.

Even if he had never had to testify on behalf of Christmas toys, A.C. Gilbert would still be remembered for living a remarkable life. Born in Oregon in 1884, Gilbert excelled at athletics, once holding the world record for consecutive chin-ups (39) and earning an Olympic gold medal in the pole vault during the 1908 Games. In 1909, he graduated from Yale School of Medicine with designs on remaining in sports as a health advisor.

But medicine wasn’t where Gilbert found his passion. A lifelong performer of magic, he set his sights on opening a business selling illusionist kits. The Mysto Manufacturing Company didn’t last long, but it proved to Gilbert that he had what it took to own and operate a small shingle. In 1916, three years after introducing the Erector sets, he renamed Mysto the A.C. Gilbert Company.

Erector was a big hit in the burgeoning American toy market, which had typically been fueled by imported toys from Germany. Kids could take the steel beams and make scaffolding, bridges, and other small-development projects. With the toy flying off shelves, Gilbert’s factory in New Haven, Connecticut grew so prosperous that he could afford to offer his employees benefits that were uncommon at the time, like maternity leave and partial medical insurance.

Gilbert’s reputation for being fair and level-headed led the growing toy industry to elect him their president for the newly created Toy Manufacturers of America, an assignment he readily accepted. But almost immediately, his position became something other than ceremonial: His peers began to grow concerned about the country’s involvement in the war and the growing belief that toys were a dispensable effort.

President Woodrow Wilson had appointed a Council of National Defense to debate these kinds of matters. The men were so preoccupied with the consequences of the U.S. marching into a European conflict that something as trivial as a pull-string toy or chemistry set seemed almost insulting to contemplate. Several toy companies agreed to convert to munitions factories, as did Gilbert. But when the Council began discussing a blanket prohibition on toymaking and even gift-giving, Gilbert was given an opportunity to defend his industry.

Before Gilbert was allowed into the Council’s chambers, a Naval guard inspected each toy for any sign of sabotage. Satisfied, he allowed Gilbert in. Among the officials sitting opposite him were Secretary of War Newton Baker and Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels.

“The greatest influences in the life of a boy are his toys,” Gilbert said. “Yet through the toys American manufacturers are turning out, he gets both fun and an education. The American boy is a genuine boy and wants genuine toys."

He drew an air rifle, showing the committee members how a child wielding less-than-lethal weapons could make for a better marksman when he was old enough to become a soldier. He insisted construction toys—like the A.C. Gilbert Erector Set—fostered creative thinking. He told the men that toys provided a valuable escape from the horror stories coming out of combat.

Armed with play objects, a boy’s life could be directed toward “construction, not destruction,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert then laid out his toys for the board to examine. Secretary Daniels grew absorbed with a toy submarine, marveling at the detail and asking Gilbert if it could be bought anywhere in the country. Other officials examined children’s books; one began pushing a train around the table.

The word didn’t come immediately, but the expressions on the faces of the officials told the story: Gilbert had won them over. There would be no toy or gift embargo that year.

Naturally, Gilbert still devoted his work floors to the production efforts for both the first and second world wars. By the 1950s, the A.C. Gilbert Company was dominating the toy business with products that demanded kids be engaged and attentive. Notoriously, he issued a U-238 Atomic Energy Lab, which came complete with four types of uranium ore. “Completely safe and harmless!” the box promised. A Geiger counter was included. At $50 each, Gilbert lost money on it, though his decision to produce it would earn him a certain infamy in toy circles.

“It was not suitable for the same age groups as our simpler chemistry and microscope sets, for instance,” he once said, “and you could not manufacture such a thing as a beginner’s atomic energy lab.”

Gilbert’s company reached an astounding $20 million in sales in 1953. By the mid-1960s, just a few years after Gilbert's death in 1961, it was gone, driven out of business by the apathy of new investors. No one, it seemed, had quite the same passion for play as Gilbert, who had spent over half a century providing fun and educational fare that kids were ecstatic to see under their trees.

When news of the Council’s 1918 decision reached the media, The Boston Globe's front page copy summed up Gilbert’s contribution perfectly: “The Man Who Saved Christmas.”

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Ho, No: Christmas Trees Will Be Expensive and Scarce This Year
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The annual tradition of picking out the healthiest, densest, biggest tree that you can tie to your car’s roof and stuff in your living room won’t be quite the same this year. According to The New York Times, Christmas trees will be scarce in some parts of the country and markedly more expensive overall.

The reason? Not Krampus, Belsnickel, or Scrooge, but something even more miserly: the American economy. The current situation has roots in 2008, when families were buying fewer trees due to the recession. Because more trees stayed in the ground, tree farms planted fewer seeds that year. And since firs grow in cycles of 8 to 10 years, we’re now arriving at a point where that diminished supply is beginning to impact the tree industry.

New York Times reporter Tiffany Hsu reports that 2017’s healthier holiday spending habits are set to drive up the price of trees as consumers vie for the choicest cuts on the market. In 2008, trees were just under $40 on average. Now, they’re $75 or more.

This doesn’t mean you can’t get a nice tree at a decent price—just that some farms will run out of prime selections more quickly and you might have to settle for something a little less impressive than in years past. Tree industry experts also caution that the shortages could last through 2025.

[h/t New York Times]

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