The first catalogue from the Sotheby's and eBay partnership is now available for viewing at eBay.com/Sothebys with the sale scheduled for April 1.
It is 12 years since Sotheby's and eBay collaborated online and both companies will be keen to avoid a repeat of past mistakes. Sotheby's first online experiment in 1999 proved premature. Customer trust in e-commerce, widespread digital imaging and the advent of the smartphone revolution had yet to happen.
Partnering first with Amazon and then with eBay in 2002, Sotheby's folded both projects after a year with losses reported at $100m.
For their part, eBay's attempts to improve their fleamarket image, beginning with the launch of eBay Great Collections in 1999, have yet to bear fruit. Their most recent venture, eBay Live Auctions, which integrated the content of the US online bidding platform Live Auctioneers with eBay's marketplace, ceased in 2009.
A decade since their last collaboration, Sotheby's still see value in eBay's huge but varied worldwide audience of 145 million. Since first announcing the initiative in July, Sotheby's and eBay have been at pains to show how two businesses from apparently opposite ends of the auction spectrum can complement one another.
Bruce Vinciguerra, Sotheby's chief operating officer, described the new site - launched a little later than planned after some teething issues - as an "experience [that] truly captures the best of both Sotheby's and eBay".
The online-only events in particular, selling everything from furniture to Old Master paintings, will focus on more accessible price points than have been Sotheby's norm. Estimates at the first online event, a carefully chosen themed selection devoted to New York memorabilia and photographs, start at a few hundred dollars.
While Sotheby's made real-time bidding possible through their own site some time ago, this venture presents the first use of live streaming audio and video on eBay. Sotheby's decision to work with eBay allows them to bypass another heavy investment in technology.
In 2002 the auction house built a dedicated business, including a network of dealers to supply merchandise and their own 'back office' technology, to cater to a new class of art and antiques buyers. Mr Vinciguerra describes the latest arrangement as "a much simplified model - one where Sotheby's experts [are] sourcing and authenticating property and presenting it at auction in New York as we always do. EBay then make these sales available to its buyers."
EBay describe Sotheby's as the "pre-eminent anchor tenant" on their new platform, but clients of Invaluable, the US-based provider of online live auctions, have been providing content since the site was launched in October.
Auctioneers pay eBay a commission on each sale that takes place on the site. However, while concerns about buyer non-payment and other security risks remain an issue, for now at least buyers will pay the auctioneers directly rather than use online payment platforms such as PayPal.
News of the first sale coincides with the appointment of Tad Smith as Sotheby's new CEO.