Risky: Buying Antique Sewing Machines on eBay

Singer Sewing Machine CabinetI think it is part of human nature to want a good deal on an antique sewing machine.  Sometimes in seeking those deals, we overlook the obvious.  Remember that old saying, “If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.”?

Many of us have surfed the Internet, including eBay, looking to profit from someone else’s castaways.  I have purchased many items on the Internet and eBay.  I have even sold items on eBay. I’m not saying eBay is bad, but we have had more than a few customers bring in damaged sewing machines that they bought there. Be careful when buying sewing machines on eBay or anywhere online for that matter! Not only is the condition of the sewing machine relative, but the way a seller packs the machine could mean the difference between it being a worthwhile purchase, or one that didn’t survive shipping.

Damaged Sewing CabinetYears ago, when my family moved from North San Diego County to Riverside County, I discovered stuff I had forgotten I had, stuff I didn’t need, or stuff that I just didn’t want to pack.  I took photos and placed items on eBay. Selling items on eBay was easy, and I sold quite a few of the items I listed. When I described an item, if the item was in mint condition, I stated so.  If my item had blemishes, scratches, etc., I took photos and disclosed that information in my ad. You won’t find this kind of honesty in all eBay sellers.

More Damage to Sewing Machine CabinetFor some ebay sellers, the degree of condition is obviously overstated.  Additionally, condition is relative and subjective.  Most people rely on the seller’s description of an antique sewing machine when making a purchase or entering a bid amount.  Low resolution images of the sewing machine may also give a first impression that the machine is of collectible quality. Giving the benefit of the doubt, a bid is placed, and if it’s the highest, the auction is won. Money then exchanges hands, the sewing machine is shipped, and then D-day (delivery day) arrives. In great anticipation, the box/carton is opened and either there is great, pleasant surprise and satisfaction, or utter disappointment regarding the sewing machine purchased.

Singer Cabinet HingeTake a look at the photos of a Singer cabinet attached to this post.  A customer purchased this cabinet, with a sewing machine, and had it shipped directly to Temecula Valley Sewing Center for service. At 125 pounds, the box was so heavy, the seller used Greyhound Bus as the mode of shipping.  When crating and shipping the cabinet, the seller made a common mistake … the machine was left attached to the cabinet.  It should have been removed and sent in a second box. In this case, the sewing machine had been jarred during shipping, and caused damage to the cabinet, as well as making it difficult to remove from the cabinet. The cabinet was not in great condition to begin with, so this damage really hurt the potential for it to be restored. At the very least, it would make the restoration project more expensive.

Singer Cabinet OpenThe machine was in terrible condition, with rust and corrosion, and it was clear that it had probably sat in somebody’s garage for the last 50 years.  The decals on the front of the machine are quite attractive, but in general, the finish was poor. If somebody had at least wiped it down with an oily rag, it could have better survived. Without exception, every part on the machine was rusting. The cabinet itself could have been sent for restoration, but we estimated that it would have cost at least $500.00. How much is this machine and cabinet really worth? Well, it wasn’t worth enough. The customer had us dispose of it.

Should you decide to use the Internet as a means of purchasing sewing machines, be aware and be informed.  Not everyone selling on the internet has scruples, and “condition” is a relative term. Be sure to ask for high resolution images, and be sure that the sewing machine is double boxed, with plenty of protection.

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Reader Comments (2)

Gracie D. on 12/13/10 @ 10:52pm

Very interesting cabinet. Too bad it was in such lousy shape. I wish you would have posted some images of the machine.

Joyce Webb on 10/14/11 @ 6:30pm

I would have liked to seen more pictures of the caseing and also of the machine.I still have mine (inherited) and was still sewing on it less than 10 years ago.I need more information on restoring mine to as close to original as possible. I will be keeping mine for sentilmental reasons.When I called Singer I was told my machine is a model 99.Due to my husband passing away I had to put mine in storage (an expensive lesson to learn is not to ever put one you care about in storage).Find a way to keep these and any other machines in the house,if they mean enough you will find a place for them.

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