Sotheby’s seeks online aid from eBay

Internet auction site eBay Inc. has agreed to collaborate with the venerable yet troubled U.K. auction house Sotheby’s Holding’s Inc. in an attempt to put more expensive art offerings on eBay while driving more customers to Sotheby’s Web site, the companies announced Thursday.

In a case of a new-economy company coming to the aid of an ailing old-school player — Sotheby’s is the world’s oldest auctioneer, in business for 226 years — eBay will introduce online auctions over its Internet marketplace sometime between June and August, the companies said in a joint statement.

Sotheby’s will integrate eBay’s live auctions technology on a site that will be built and hosted by eBay. will exist within eBay as opposed to operating as a separate entity, though it will be marketed by both companies as, the companies said.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Despite difficult economic times for most Internet-based companies, especially in the post dot-com boom, eBay has continually posted profits and reported robust online user numbers.

Earlier this month, eBay reported strong fourth-quarter results and forecast that it would hit its target earnings for the first two quarters of 2002. The company said it had consolidated net revenue of US$219.4 million for the quarter ended Dec. 31, a 64 per cent increase over the $134 million the company racked up in the year-earlier quarter.

Conversely, Sotheby’s reported a loss of US$8.3 million in the first half of 2001. Even more devastating for the company and its reputation was the conviction in New York last month of its former chairman Alfred Taubman on charges of conspiring to fix commission fees on the sale of artworks with rival auction house Christie’s Inc.

Sotheby’s online site has been unable to turn itself into a moneymaker for its parent company since being launched two years ago. However, it has held some high profile online actions of fine art and historical artifacts, including the sale of a rare copy of the U.S. Declaration of Independence for $8.1 million in June 2000, and a rediscovered 19th-century portrait by Frederic Lord Leighton for $550,750, the companies said.

EBay is better known for its online auctions of Beanie Baby stuffed toys and more recently, office paraphernalia from failed commodities exchange Enron Corp. Founded in September 1995, eBay boasts 42.4 million registered users, according to its Web site.

In an earlier effort to crack the fine arts market, eBay bought San Francisco-based Butterfields Auctioneers Corp. in 1999.

As part of the deal with Sotheby’s, selected so-called “Butterfields auctioneers” and “eBay premier dealers” will become sellers of arts, antiques and collectibles on the new site, the companies said..

EBay, in San Jose, California, can be reached at +1-408-558-7400 or at

Sotheby’s, in London, can be contacted at +44-207-293-5000, or at