Ten years ago on June 11, 2013, an unusual item appeared on eBay: a miniature suit of chain mail armor designed for a guinea pig. The whimsical costume, worn by Lucky, a beady-eyed guinea pig, soon gained media attention, propelling the rodent in the funny outfit into a viral sensation.
Sean McCoy, an IT specialist, initially bought the chain mail armor kit as a way to bond with his girlfriend, Natasha, a fan of Renaissance-era cosplay. He quickly realized the process—bending and twisting metal wire—was slow, laborious, and painful on his fingers.
One night, while listening to music with Natasha, Sean heard the Daft Punk song “Get Lucky” and sensed the armor he made could perhaps serve a greater purpose. “I was like, Natasha, they’re going to get Lucky,” he said. “We have to protect him!”
Lucky posed in his armor riding a toy watercraft. Image source: Sean McCoy
Sean put the armor on Lucky and was amused to discover the costume made for fun pictures— pictures that would eventually become famous. Tragically, Lucky died of natural causes a week after the photo shoot.
Another idea occurred to Sean: why not honor Lucky, and help foster guinea pigs, with an eBay for Charity auction? And that’s what he did, with proceeds from the sale of the armor going to Metropolitan Guinea Pig Rescue, the non-profit organization that had entrusted the guinea pig to him.
Before Sean listed the armor on eBay, the rescue, which provides sanctuary for neglected guinea pigs, was surviving on donations that barely covered medical costs to spay and neuter the animals. But Lucky’s armor, and the oddity of the item, sparked interest on eBay, with bids rising rapidly into the thousands of dollars.
Lucky the guinea pig stoically wearing his armor in 2013. A week later, he passed away. Image source: Sean McCoy
The final bid of $24,300 coincided with a cocktail party, organized by the rescue's volunteers and attended by various supporters, to celebrate the auction’s close. Anticipation was high that the final bid would cover all future medical costs and secure the non-profit's future.
David Bradford, an IT worker who kept tabs on the auction via a Facebook group, was an experienced eBay user. He sensed something was amiss.
“About five days into the auction, it was on NBC, MSNBC. It was everywhere,” David recalled. “It became a really big thing and at that point the auction was around $18,000. That’s when I became nervous. I’ve done enough business on eBay to know this bidding wasn’t a natural pattern.”
David’s suspicions were confirmed when the winning bid of $24,300 turned out to be from someone with no intention of sending the money. Subsequent bidders also reneged on Sean’s auction. Undeterred, Sean relisted the armor. This time, David emerged as the winner with a bid of $1,200. He later added $800 to make the total donation $2,000.
Since that time, eBay enacted a policy which protects sellers while maintaining a fair and safe marketplace. When a seller cancels an order because the buyer hasn't paid, the unpaid cancellation is recorded on the buyer's account. Buyers who have excessive unpaid cancellations may have limits imposed by a seller or by eBay, or lose their buying privileges.
The moment David Bradford (left) accepted Lucky’s armor from Sean McCoy (right) on July 11, 2013 near their homes in Virginia shortly after David won an eBay for Charity auction. Image source: David Bradford
Any disappointment the volunteers had over missing out on $24,300 was soon forgotten after David's donation. In the end, the auctions marked a fortunate turning point for the rescue.
Thanks to the publicity the eBay auction garnered, folks from around the country sent money to the rescue to help pay for medical treatments. The rescue built on the donations over the years. Now volunteers are no longer forced to dip into their own pockets for expenses like food and bedding for their foster pets.
Most importantly, said Becky Wilson, a long-time volunteer and the rescue’s director, the organization has established connections with other guinea pig non-profits across the country.
“We realized there were other people out there helping guinea pigs,” she said. “We became part of a wider community of helpers.”
David still cherishes the armor, seeing it as a memento of a unique time in his life. “Ten years ago I wasn’t married, and I didn’t have kids, so I felt that I had the means to support the rescue,” he explained.
Today, David is 46 and has two young children. Every Saturday, he takes his kids to the pet store to look at the guinea pigs. Maybe, one day, he said, when they’re older, he’ll show his children the armor. For now, the piece is stored away in its original box until it returns to glory.
Sean, now 38, is married to Natasha and sells software. The experience of participating in a viral eBay auction was life-changing, he said. The transaction revealed a talent for event planning for the greater good, skills Sean now uses to host parties that raise money in support of youarerad.org, which provides free mental health care to at-risk gamers. It also gave Sean the confidence to run for city council in Fort Collins, Colorado.
As for the Metropolitan Guinea Pig Rescue, they continue with their mission, contracting with skilled surgeons to spay and neuter each rodent, at a fraction of the usual cost, before long-term caretakers adopt the animals. The volunteers still welcome donations to help more guinea pigs find a safe and loving home.
As for Lucky the guinea pig, he will remain forevermore a beloved internet meme.