I first became a member of eBay in February of 1999, over 15 years ago. At that point Yahoo Auctions was the biggest auction site out there, but everyone was starting to talk about this new eBay website.
After setting up the account just to browse around and maybe buy some things, I decided I wanted to get in on the action and start making some money, but I didn’t really know what I wanted to sell.
I made a fair amount of money selling original Spawn action figures that were still in the packaging and a few other odd items here and there, but it wasn’t until I decided to sell all of my CDs that I actually made a fair amount of money.
I was 17 in 1999, so I didn’t have a huge collection of CDs, but I had enough to the point where I didn’t need all of them anymore, and on top of that, CDs were still a thing that people actually bought, a lot of. Mp3’s were a thing at this point, lord knows I had a few of them, but they weren’t mainstream yet, and CD burners were just starting to come down in price, and that’s what lead to my idea. Now, I don’t recommend doing this today because it’s not the most legal thing in the world, but here’s what I did. I took all of my original purchased CDs and put them up for sale on eBay for around $5 each. When a CD would sell, I would burn a copy of that CD and then ship off the original to the purchaser. This way I still had the CD and I had the money from selling it. It was a win-win situation. I didn’t really listen to those CDs that much anyways, so I honestly didn’t care if I didn’t have the original. But it was this influx of cash from selling things that got me thinking about what else I could sell on eBay.
Off and on for a few years after that I got into the habit of selling other people’s things on eBay and just taking a cut of the sell price, but a lot of people thought their stuff was worth more than it was selling for and didn’t like the amount I was giving them after eBay fees and my cut, so that ended quickly… Mainly because I didn’t want to deal with the headache of it all anymore.
Fast forward to 2002, and I had just gotten home from college for the winter. I remember we were driving home from church I believe, on Christmas Eve, when I had this random idea to sell a “sock full o quarters” on eBay. I’m honestly not sure where the idea came from, I might have just watched Mallrats and Jay and Silent Bob’s scheme against mall security guard LaFours might have been on my mind, but I don’t really know.
I mentioned it outloud to my younger brother, who was 18 at the time, and he thought it was hysterical and we should definitely do it. So that night when we got home, we found an old sock and filled it with a bunch of random change; $13.04 to be exact. Then we tried to figure out what would make this auction stand out a bit and not just look like a total waste of everyone’s time… pictures! The only problem was, neither of us wanted to show our face in the pictures, so we came up with a plan.
After about 5 minutes of brainstorming we decided that the easiest thing to do would be to just put a paper bag over our head and draw a big smiley face on it. That way it would conceal our identity and it looked better having a person holding the sock full o quarters, than just a dirty old sock lying on the ground.
So with everything figured out, we started taking pictures. The first picture was just of the sock itself, with the change laid out next to it to properly show that it wasn’t all quarters (we made sure to state so in the auction description itself so nobody would feel ripped off). Then we took a few pictures of us swinging the sock around our head and things like that. But it wasn’t until we took one particular photo did I have a feeling this was going to blow up on the internet.
Thankfully I’m the type of person that never trashes anything on my computers and just accumulates hard drives full of garbage, so I still have those original photos for everyone to enjoy. Can you guess which of the following photos was the one that caused the auction to go crazy for the next week?
If you guessed the excited dog photo, you would be correct. As soon as I posted the auction on eBay and spread it around a few of the car forums I was on, it blew up. We were getting emails from all around the world saying how much the auction made people laugh, and how awesome it was. The counter that I had on the eBay auction itself would go up hundreds of views with every refresh, it was insane. I think bidding got up to almost $200 at one point, but then the inevitable happened.
After the auction received over 80,000 hits in less than 3 days, and mind you this is before Facebook, Twitter, or any Social Networks or sharing sites, eBay claimed that we weren’t selling a tangible item and took the auction down… The fun was over.
I tried reasoning with eBay, but they wouldn’t bring the original auction back, so all of the links that had spread across the internet were now just dead. So when we put the auction back online, it gained some popularity, but it didn’t have the legs that the original did. I think we still got like 30,000 hits on the auction itself, but I can’t imagine what we would have gotten at the end of the 7 day run of the original auction with the way it was spreading. And I really can’t even imagine how it would have done if Facebook/Twitter would have been around at that point.
So with the auction relisted we waited to see what it would end at. Unfortunately it never got up to nearly as high as the original did, but it did still end with a winning bid of more than $60 (I can’t remember the exact amount).
So we boxed it up and shipped it off to the lucky winner.
A few days later we received eBay feedback on our account that read:
“F…. Misrepresented Auction/Few quarters mostly small change. ACV $13.04”
The feedback that was left was marked as positive, not negative, I’m not sure why, and I contacted the buyer to work out the issues, although she never responded.
We made it perfectly clear with the very first line of the auction description, and pictures, that sock full o quarters just sounded better than sock full o change, and that the sock did indeed contain some quarters, but it was mostly just random change. I honestly had no clue how much was in the sock until the feedback came in, we never bothered to count it.
Once that auction ended we still had the itch to try and sell some things, so we decided to use “Bagman” as the character in all of our auctions to help make us stand out a little bit.
We followed up the “Sock Full o Quarters” auction with an “Autographed Picture of Bagman” which was literally just the excited dog photo from the first auction with “Bagman” signed on the front of it. Someone bought it for $4.25, but they lived in Australia and I refused to ship it that far.
Funny enough, the guy that won that auction back in 2003 emailed me again in 2010 to ask if I still had the photo and would ship it to a friend in the US. Needless to say I never saw the email until today when I was digging around old email accounts for information for this post; also I don’t have the photo anymore, but the bagman bag is still in my old closet at my parents house.
After that we tried to sell a bunch of other random things we had laying around the house, but none of them had the success that the original auction had. Either way though we had a blast setting up the auctions and putting them out there. I even had a logo created, by the talented Roland Saldana, and a website setup, bagmanauctions.com (no longer live), that housed all of the various auctions and screenshots of the auctions on eBay and such. I do have the site files still, so I could put them back up somewhere, but you can check out the archived site here.
So that’s how I was able to sell ~$13 worth of spare change on eBay for over $60, and have something go viral before “viral” was really a thing. I’ve thought about throwing the auction and pictures back on eBay to see how they would do these days, so we’ll see if I get around to that.
And for those interested, here are some of the other things we tried to sell, along with the photos that accompanied the auctions.
A Giant Stuffed Fish from a Carnival Game
A Horny Dog Sign
Pimp Suit Costume (Halloween)