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Bizarre items help eBay solidify market share

E-COMMERCE From gum chewed by Britney Spears to a 40-tonne bomber, eBay has become a repository for every item imaginable, and a few that are almost unimaginable

AFP , NEW YORK

An artist's conscience, a haunted stick and a nuclear bomber were just some of the items offered for sale on eBay this year, as the Internet auction house cemented its status as the global colossus of e-commerce.

The phenomenal popularity of the World Wide Web's largest forum for buying and selling is reflected in eBay's current share price of close to US$118, up more than 300 percent from two years ago.

eBay shifted a staggering US$24 billion worth of items last year, and that figure is expected to top US$30 billion in 2005, with some estimates predicting a turnover of US$100 billion by 2010.

Unlike other Internet firms, eBay has spawned its own economy, with the company estimating that 430,000 people -- among its 125 million registered users worldwide -- now run a full- or part-time business through the Web site.

The auction house is also seen as a social indicator, with the number-one search term shifting from "Gucci" in 2002, to "BMW" last year and the 2004 winner, "RV," short for recreational vehicle -- or large mobile homes favored by retirees.

eBay's extraordinary growth has won universal plaudits and the company's CEO Meg Whitman, 48, topped Fortune Magazine's annual list of the 50 most powerful women in business this year, eclipsing Hewlett-Packard chairman Carly Fiorina, who had been ranked No. 1 for the past six years.

Publicity-wise, the company's pervasiveness has seen its fame spread far beyond the borders of the business pages, thanks in no small part to a lengthy list of bizarre auction items that have attracted national and even international media attention.

From a piece of gum chewed by teen pop idol Britney Spears to a 40-tonne Vulcan bomber, eBay has become a repository for every item imaginable, including a few that are almost unimaginable.

Earlier this month, an Alabama artist, who dumped her cheating boyfriend, decided to offload her conscience by auctioning it on eBay, wrapped in "a handcrafted purple bag."

Meanwhile, in the UK, an aide to the royal family lost his job after attempting to sell off one of the traditional Christmas puddings Queen Elizabeth II gives her staff every year.

"Disciplinary action was taken as a result of an incident where a pudding was placed on eBay," a Buckingham Palace spokeswoman said.

The sale that attracted the most attention was that of a half-eaten, 10-year-old grilled cheese sandwich that the owner, a woman from Florida, claimed bore the image of the Virgin Mary.

The item was eventually purchased for US$28,000 by an Internet gaming company, GoldenPalace.com, which plans to take the sandwich on tour.

The same company also paid out US$65,100 to a woman in Indiana who sold the ghost of her father in an attempt to soothe her 5-year-old son's concerns that they were living in a haunted house.

The auction was sanctioned by eBay, which normally strikes intangible items, after the spirit in question was auctioned in the form of a "haunted" cane that once belonged to the woman's father.

"It's just the new Americana thing," GoldenPalace.com spokesman Monty Kerr said when asked to explain the online casino's interest in both items.

Others have turned to eBay to exact revenge, including Janet Schoenberg, who offered up a Manhattan housing court judge -- with "free worldwide shipping included." Schoenberg said the judge in question, Jerald Klein, had mishandled her case.

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