|By Robert Kyle
There are still deals to be found on eBay. No one knows this better than the Tulsa, Okla., seller whose user name is collectordan. On June 21 he purchased a full bottle of Allsopp’s Arctic Ale on eBay for $304. Listed for seven days, it had received only one other bid. Shipping was $19.95.
After collectordan received the bottle, his research confirmed its incredible connection to mid-19th century British maritime history and Arctic exploration, a point the original seller had mentioned briefly in the listing. An old laminated hand written note came with the bottle. Signed by Percy G. Bolster, a Boston attorney, it stated he had received the bottle in 1919 and it had been brewed in 1852.
Collectordan put it back on eBay. This time it had 157 bidders, more than 74,000 views and sold for $503,300. Maybe.
The man Collectordan bought it from lives in Massachusetts. He prefers we not print his user name. The bottle, he said, had been in his family "for generations." New to eBay, he had joined only a few weeks earlier. He sells primarily pocketbooks and women’s accessories.
Collectordan has been with eBay since March 1999. With only 514 feedbacks over eight years, he is not a high-volume seller. But he has a good eye.
Specializing in militaria, historic documents and books, he knew the Allsopp’s bottle, which remains sealed with a wax cap, was something special. CollectorDan concluded it was part of the cache of provisions taken to the Arctic in 1852 by Sir Edward Belcher in his search for Sir John Franklin and his crew who left London for the Canadian Arctic in 1845 to find the Northwest Passage. They never returned.
Captain Belcher’s voyage with two ships was one of many expeditions sent looking for Franklin. Belcher had asked London brewer Samuel Allsopp to bottle a special batch for the trip. Belcher later wrote that Allsopp’s ale was "a valuable antiscorbutic" that defended against scurvy. And the high alcohol content kept it from freezing.
Allsopp was among Britain’s top beer makers. His potent dark ale, containing over 10 percent alcohol, was similar to the recipe of 18th century brewer George Hodgson. His strong India Pale Ale was developed to export to the British colony in India. Hodgson found that beer with more alcohol and hops did not spoil during the three-to-five-month passage to India. Beers in this tradition, also called IPA, are made today by many companies.
Captain Belcher, unsuccessful at finding Franklin, returned to England after two years in the Arctic. In 1857, another captain, Sir Francis Leopold McClintock, an Irishman, set sail aboard The Fox in search of Franklin and his 129 men. Remains were eventually found, and it was concluded Franklin had died in 1847 after his ships became icebound and the men trekked in snow seeking help. Captain McClintock returned with the sad news and published an account of his adventure.
The Voyage of the Fox in the Arctic Sea – A Narrative of the Discovery of the Fate of Sir John Franklin & His Companions became a best seller in 1860. In it, McClintock writes:
"Ample provision for twenty-eight months were embarked, including preserved vegetables, lemon juice and pickles, for daily consumption, and preserved meats for every third day; also, as much of Messrs. Allsopp’s stoutest ale as we could find room for."
CollectorDan’s eBay listing appeared on Aug. 2. It screamed: "Museum Quality Allsopp’s Arctic Ale 1852 Sealed/Full!" His subtitle was, "Rarest Historic Beer in the World! Amazing History!!!" He wanted it noticed and paid extra to have it as Featured Plus Listing and a Home Page Featured Listing. He also offered free shipping. He included a lengthy description of Captain Belcher and the quest to find Franklin.
He determined the bottle must be worth $150,000. That was his "Buy It Now" price. But when bidding started at $1, the "Buy It Now" opportunity vanished.
The 10-day listing had a long way to go. After two days, it had 11 bidders and was up to $360. On day six it broke the $2,000 mark, and bidders numbered 14. On day seven, which was Aug. 9, things began to happen quickly.
Twenty-three more bidders joined the eBay fray, hammering away at each other with increments in the multi-thousands. Bidder 29 offered $40,200. Bidder 30 called that bid with $50,000. Bidder 28 raised him with $57,000. Bidder 35 walked into this cyber poker hall and dropped $78,000 worth of chips.
All hell broke loose the next day. Word of the historic bottle battle began appearing in beer and brewing websites and forums. Soon bidders 42, 23 and 31 waged war on each other. Finally, bidder 42 left the game at $116,000. Bidder 23 quit at $335,000. And 31 folded at $501,000.
On Aug.11, bidder 19 returned. He had been high at $2,350 just two days earlier. But now he was prepared to dig deep. He plunked down $501,100. He ruled the table for only 24 minutes before a fresh new player, bidder 59, walked in and played his hand for $503,200.
In the final flurry, new players arrived at the game but left quickly. Bidder 60 put up $503,300, but his bid was canceled by the seller when there was "no response to qualifications." Bidder 61 posted $503,400 only to retract it citing he had "entered the wrong amount." Bidder 62 bid the same amount but took it back when he "could not contact seller."
Then came the last of the 157 bids. Bidder 63 put up $503,300 and presumably won the bottle. His user name was revealed by eBay as v00d004sc0re. He has not responded to repeated e-mails from AntiqueWeek. What is known is that he lives in Somerville, Mass., had 17 positive feedbacks when he bid, and has been an eBay member since April 9, 2007.
The most expensive item he previously purchased on eBay was a 1960s Timothy Leary album with a prophetic title, You Can Be Anyone. The price was $30.
Before he began collecting half-million dollar historic beer bottles, v00d004sc0re bought record albums by Metallica, Death Angel, Anthrax, Suicidal Tendencies, Helloween, Helmet & the House of Pain, Morphine and Slayer.
When asked of eBay’s press department if the bottle has actually sold to this bidder, as his past buying history doesn’t support a purchase of this magnitude, they said:
"You can’t make those assumptions," admonished Wendy Sept of the public relations department. "As of right now, we don’t know" if it has sold, she said. "We don’t intermediate the transactions." She reiterated eBay’s policy that a bid is a "legal contract" and that the company doesn’t interfere between buyer and seller. She said, however, that certain "high profile" items occasionally attract bogus bidders who just want to be part of the action.
So far, she said, the seller hasn’t notified eBay that he may have a non-paying bidder. "The seller can take legal action" when bids aren’t honored, she said. When listing expensive objects, Sept said sellers can ask eBay to help qualify bidders. This occurred when eBay sold its most lavish item, a corporate jet for $4.9 million.
Asked if eBay was getting being with media queries regarding the bottle, Sept said no. "We’ve heard from just you and Reuters," she said.
Meanwhile, up in Waukesha, Wis., eBay seller bjorn16 came up with a way to cash-in on the situation. He registered the domain name www.allsoppsarcticale.com and two others using the Allsopp name. On Aug. 11 he offered all for sale at $3,500, or "Buy It Now" for $5,000. "These domain names are going to be huge," he advised bidders. He had no takers as of press time.