The thrill of the chase. One-on-one duels. Rich bounties. Rogues, privateers and treasure hunters of old may have sailed from port to port seeking these rewards, but a few Lawrence residents have discovered a new harbor for such excitement: eBay.
Though eBay's online marketplace is hardly obscure, few may know of the frontiers of adventure that await there. For the keen, it can be quite lucrative. But it takes savvy, a sharp eye and sometimes an obsessive nature to find the diamonds in the rough.
"It's kind of looking for the gem in a bunch of what is oftentimes stuff that needs to go to the thrift shop," said Tom Harper, of Lawrence, who has made a name for himself on eBay selling various antiques, '50s and '60s artifacts and even a house.
Harper has sold nearly 3,000 items at auction on eBay, many of which he has found locally at estate and garage sales. He knows a few tricks for finding secondhand treasures, but mostly, he says, it's a lot of work and being the early bird.
"There is a select group of people who are compulsive enough to do that on Friday and Saturday mornings, and we see each other every weekend we're there. It's kind of a competitive culture out there at 6, 7 a.m. Saturday mornings," he said. "I plan out my morning by looking at classifieds."
Harper has reaped vast rewards from such persistence, however. He always remembers the mornings where he stumbles upon such hidden gems.
"I went in the garage, and in the corner was a 1948 Wurlitzer jukebox. I didn't know it was a 1948, I just knew it was an old jukebox," he said. "It was trashed; it looked like an old car that needed a lot of work. It was in bad condition, but it looked like it was all there pretty much.
Take the eBay tour on how to become a seller at http://pages.ebay.com/education/howtosell/index.html
"All I did was I cleaned it up, took good photos, and a guy who restores jukeboxes was actually traveling around and saw the auction, bid on it and won," Harper said. "I got $2,025 for that."
A lesser-known aspect of eBay is a listing service for real estate. Much like classifieds, there is no bidding, but the ability to market to such a massive audience can be useful for the right house.
When Harper, who also is a real estate agent, was preparing to sell a house with iconic '50s hyperbolic paraboloid architecture, he thought his best buyers might be outside Lawrence.
"I had never used eBay for a listing, but my rationale on that house is that it's so unusual and it's a very important house in terms of 1950s architecture - the (Kansas University) dean of civil engineering and his students created it in 1956, so there's a lot of history there. I thought, I need to market this to the world," Harper said.
With the help of helpful keywords and a virtual tool, Harper was able to "show" the site to many more potential buyers than would be possible in a classic open house, and the eBay exposure paid off.
"I think I had 6,000 hits in terms of people looking at it, which is huge," Harper said. "It really proved to me that eBay is a tremendous tool to connect buyers with sellers; it's just a great marketing tool."
Though eBay is the perfect place for the obscure treasures of the world, many use it for more practical purposes.
The 10 pairs of old jeans that Dan Berry listed on eBay made him around $100. Nothing to retire on, for sure, but not bad for extra baggage lying around the house. Berry says he got the idea from a friend who had found demand on eBay for the most useless items in her closet: used bras.
But Berry was an eBayer long before he listed his jeans.
"If you ask my wife she'd probably tell you that I'm addicted to eBay," said Berry, a mortgage agent for First State Bank & Trust. "You see things on eBay that you can't see anything else."
"Recently there was an old World War II aircraft for sale that was in the Normandy invasion," he said. "I don't know any other format where you can go out and buy a piece of history."
Recently, Berry won an auction and got more than just the purchase. After he won an auction for a used Mercedes, he flew to Miami to get the car and drive it back. Even after the additional expenses, he got a great deal.
"Over what you'd expect to pay at a dealership, I saved about $5,500. And, you know, the plane ticket was 270 bucks and the gas cost about me about, I don't know, 150 dollars to get me back," Berry said.
"And it was a heck of a drive. It was a pretty good adventure. My wife thought I was crazy, but it was really fun."