EcommerceBytes-NewsFlash, Number 1008 - May 02, 2005     6 of 7

eBay Source for Papal Memorabilia

By Mark O'Neill

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The recent death of Pope John-Paul II and the election of Cardinal Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI seems to have boosted the incomes of quite a few eBay sellers. As the bells tolled in St Peters Square and the Cardinal stood on the balcony and boomed the name "Ratzinger!" to the waiting crowds, many eBay sellers were stocking up and getting their calculators out. Many Germans, startled that a German has become the Supreme Pontiff, are ransacking their homes looking for anything to do with Ratzinger, in the hopes that they have something suddenly valuable.

I have been caught up in the collecting mania myself. I bought mint copies of Vatican stamps that are issued when a Pope dies and the seat is vacant ("Sede Vacante"). The Rome-based seller I bought them from told me in an email he is swamped with collectors requests from all over the world. "As much as it pains me to say it, given the death of John-Paul II, business has never been better," he said.

German eBay is particularly busy given the new Pope's origins. Within days of Benedict's elevation to the Apostolic Palace, booksellers on eBay Germany reported that their entire stock of books written by Ratzinger had completely sold out. Before the Pope's election, sales were apparently low, but now the publishers are planning several new print-runs. During his time as a Cardinal, Ratzinger wrote many theology books, articles and pamphlets, including "Salz der Erde" (Salt of the Earth) and "The Ratzinger Report" in which he comments on the current state of the Catholic Church and also reveals some biographical information such as growing up in Nazi Germany.

Literally hours after his election, his top four books immediately knocked the as-yet unpublished Harry Potter book down to number 5 with his top 4 books occupying the top four slots.

eBay is seeing its fair share of the Ratzinger craze sweeping online buyers. German eBay has at the moment an auction for a car once owned by the new pope. (http://digbig.com/4dgtm). The current owner has the registration documents with Ratzinger's name clearly shown under the heading of "previous owners." At one point, the bidding shot up to 1 million Euros in fake bids, but after cancelling the fake bids, the bidding currently stands at over 41,000 Euros. The seller has appeared in the German media and claims to have over 800 questions emailed to him via eBay which he has no time to answer. People are asking things such as "can I have Holy Water in the window washing mechanism?" and "what colour of smoke comes out the exhaust pipe? White or black?" Who says Germans don't have a sense of humor?

But it doesn't stop at cars. On eBay Germany, bidding is fierce on all things Ratzinger / Benedict. Autographs are going for 100 Euros, the books are back again and going fast. One seller is even selling Thai newspapers announcing the election of the new Pope, and they're being snapped up at 10 Euros each.

The Pope addiction isn't just confined to Ratzinger. Fans of the former Pope are also pushing prices up on John-Paul II memorabilia. For a start, the already valuable and very rare Vatican Euro coins with John Paul's face on them have increased even more in value. Then there's the 26 years worth of stamps, magazines, postcards and on and on. One U.S.-based eBay seller told me in an email that she sold a John-Paul II lapel pin for $102.50.

But it seems that eBay sellers are looking much further ahead. Sellers I keep in contact with are already mass-hoarding Benedict memorabilia for when he dies. Magazines are going into sealed plastic bags, and Vatican trinkets are being bought in bulk.

Good business sense or extremely morbid? I'll let you decide.


About the author:

Mark O'Neill is Managing Editor of the popular tech blog, MakeUseOf.com. He is a Scotsman, now living the ex-pat life in Wurzburg, Germany. You can also find him on MarkO'Neill.org.


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