Sputnik Sale Goes Sky High, Then Crashes

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An online auction to sell a "genuine" model of the Sputnik satellite that launched the Space Age went sky high before crashing down to Earth when the bidding was determined to be a hoax, officials said on Thursday.

After trying unsuccessfully for months to sell what they said was an original backup of the Sputnik blasted into orbit in 1957, retailer Sovietski Collection offered the shiny orb for sale on Ebay Inc.

Bidding started at $25,000 and soon resembled a shower of ever bigger meteorites of money.

"When it went to $26,000, we were kind of excited and then it shot up to $200,000 and we were really excited, and then it went up to $500,000 and we were kind of becoming a little more skeptical," said Rob Fess, an official at Sovietski Collection, a San Diego-based vendor of Soviet collectibles.

"Then it went to $2 million and then it went to $99 million and we called Ebay and asked them to remove it."

Space historians believe Moscow produced four backup Sputniks in 1957, although the number of museums and collectors believing they hold a true original Sputnik is far greater.

Prices have varied considerably.

Private collector George Stauffer in Wisconsin said he paid less than the Sovietski Collection asking prices when he bought two Sputniks several years ago. The Museum of Flight in Seattle spent more than $100,000 at auction two years ago for a Sputnik.

A spokesman at Ebay said the online auction house has experienced hoaxes for some well-publicized items before.

"When you have a dynamic marketplace such as ours, from time to time you see pranks of this nature," said Kevin Pursglove. "When you consider that close to $50 million in merchandise is sold on Ebay every single day...I think that demonstrates very clearly that Ebay is a safe, reliable trustworthy trading environment."

Those making hoax bids will either be barred from the auction site or issued stern warnings, he said. Sovietski Collection said it will continue its effort to sell the Cold War souvenir.
 
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