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May 12, 2012

Elna eBay fiasco or "I Give Myself Very Good Advice..."



Friends, when it comes to buying vintage sewing machines, I am not what you would call a novice.  In fact, I have even written a series of articles for Vogue Patterns Magazine specifically about purchasing used sewing machines on sites like eBay and Craigslist -- what questions to ask, what to beware of, and so forth. 

But as the song says, "I give myself very good advice but I very seldom follow it."  (Please click Play now and listen carefully; that's me crying in the second version, btw.)


The story is unpleasant so I will make it brief:  a few Sunday nights ago (Sunday night being the worst time to buy a vintage sewing machine on eBay since it's the site's most popular time) I bought a newly-listed Elna Lotus as a Buy it Now -- a terrible idea nearly all of the time, since you'll (almost) always be paying more than you would in an auction.

There was only one not-particularly sharp photo of the machine and I didn't ask for another (I know, I know...).   It looked OK to me.



The description was brief: the machine was in excellent condition (remember that word, excellent -- it's key) and worked perfectly.   Well, yesterday I received the machine (from Canada -- I know, I know...).  It was not in excellent condition; in fact, it was in -- at most -- fair condition, some might even say poor.

Among the problems: a cracked (albeit functional) tension dial, whose settings ring had come off in shipping. 



Visible rust.





Countless scrapes and scratches both inside and out, along with sloppy paint touch-ups:







No side panel "snap" to hold the side panel closed.



Finally, the settings ring on the stitch length dial was missing entirely.



The good news? The machine sewed. As we say in sunny Spoleto, Ci mancherebbe altro!

Readers, if I saw this machine at the Chelsea flea market I might buy it for $50, maybe even $60.  I had paid -- gulp -- $250.



Thankfully -- and rightfully -- the seller has agreed to take the machine back and pay for return shipping.  You simply cannot say that a machine with these kinds of visible flaws is in excellent condition.  It makes you wonder what the seller was thinking.

But I learned my lesson and I hope you'll learn from my mistake, friends.

A) I knew I was making an impulse purchase, yet I made it anyway.  (Marry in haste...)

B)  I could have asked for more photos but I was afraid someone else would snag the machine out from under me in the meantime -- a big no-no since, as I repeatedly tell others, there will always be another machine of the same model to bid on at a later time, especially a sewing machine like the Elna Lotus.  It's prized but not rare.

C) Please come come up with C on your own and leave it in the comments.

They say we teach best what we most need to learn.  So true, friends, so true.

In closing, perhaps you're wondering if I am on the hunt for an Elna Lotus in better condition.  I'm not sure, frankly.  It's definitely a well-designed and powerful machine -- though as someone used to Featherweights, I found it rather loud -- but I think I'll wait for one to show up closer to home.  I think I need Caveat emptor tattooed on my right arm.

In other news, I joined Pinterest!  (Reader Jacqui, my new best friend, sent me an invite.)  Please cheer me up and follow me there if you're pinterested.

Have a great weekend, everybody and remember: no Sunday night eBay auctions!

Follow Me on Pinterest

53 comments:

  1. I collect a particular jewelry designer, though I haven't bought any in awhile as her prices have been going up. But I still look and I notice that the in the 'Buy Now' sales I've seen prices for pieces I own at 2 or 3 or more times what I paid.
    I'm glad that you are able to return it. That's a lot of money for a machine in such bad condition.

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  2. Ah the old impulse buy. Haven't we all been caught out at some time?
    Quite simply they lied. Your photos definitely show a machine in poor condition even if it was working well. (Was it?)

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    1. But why invite the headaches, that's what I don't get. It worked OK I guess, I mean, from what I could tell it was fully functional.

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    2. Exactly, especially since eBay really has the thumb-screws on sellers now. As soon as the item arrives, the buyer is going to see the truth and complain anyway, right? It's not like you can keep hiding it after the item arrives.

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  3. C: You not only don't need a new machine, you have been getting rid of them to have room to move.

    But at least it gives you something to post about. When are Cathy's friends going to start getting married and she needs a bridesmaid dress? Or for that matter, when is Cathy going to get invited to a fancy dress ball?

    And in case you are really desperate for something to blog about -- have you seen W.E.? I have gotten though 30 minutes on DVD. Frankly, my dear, I could not give a damm about the story or the dialog, but the clothes are very nice. If only it were just a fashion show. ;-)

    Beth

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  4. I spied you on Pinterest earlier today...yay! I like it because it gives me new ideas of things to try...I pin alot, and am making a conscious effort to actually do/try the things I pin, then commenting on how it went...kinda fun...glad you're aboard.

    I'm glad your eBay scammer honored your return request. I'd be interested to see if he relists it, and what price he puts on it at that time. :-/

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    1. Maybe if I'd had Pinterest earlier, it would have been enough to just post a picture of an Elna Lotus there and call it a day. ;)

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  5. Peter! You are so very fortunate that the seller is one to offer or agree to do a return!
    As for an answer to C): Stand back and look at it objectively.

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    1. Well I sent him all those photos, what could he/she say?

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    2. "Tough luck"? But I'm glad the seller had some integrity and maybe a bit of contrition on the misleading post. I've had the tough luck response before when an impulse buy brought the unexpected to my door. The phrase Caveat Emptor translates well from Roman times to the cyber age.

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  6. darn that thing looks like it spend a canadian winter outside....lucky you can return it...

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  7. C) Stop buying sewing machines, especially if you already have too many!

    Sorry to be so harsh, Peter, but do you really need this?

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  8. Stinker. That sewing machine looks ready for the knackers.
    It's bad karma to sell a damaged lotus.

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  9. Oh, yuck! As a Canadian, I apologize on behalf of my nation for the erroneous description of this 'excellent' machine. I cannot believe that the seller thought that 'excellent' was in any way an appropriate description for this travesty!

    Let's hope the Sewing Machine Gods and Goddesses grant you a lovely Elna Lotus in truly excellent condition soon!

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  10. Peter! If you keep this up, a news team is going to find your remains buried amongst feral sewing machines.

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    Replies
    1. LOL! Peter what is the current count?

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  11. Go spend all your time on Pintrest and don't spend anymore time or money at those evil sites!

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  12. I've always said that eBay should be renamed the Caveat Emporium.

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  13. Oh no, Peter - what a disappointment! I inherited the exact machine from my grandmother and it is in mint condition. It was perfect for her because she toted it along to wherever she was visiting. And I got a beautiful Singer featherweight from my mom. Good memories for Mother's Day ...

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  14. I cannot imagine why this machine is "prized". Once upon a time, I taught at a kindergarten with an Elna Lotus in the staff room. In my spare time, I sewed children's clothes which we sold to raise money for the kindergarten. I hated that damn Elna Lotus with a passion. It was finicky and unreliable and I spent waaaay too much time unpicking wadded up threads.

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  15. I did not know that Sunday night was the busiest time on Ebay, good to know when I'm trolling for vintage Fluevogs. Also I'm beginning to be suspicious of Elna's generally, I had an Elna 945 serger and the needle bar actually snapped in half where the needles themselves clamp on AND Elna would not honor the warranty because I didn't bring it back to the location of the dealer who sold it to me! Now I have a Viking 936 serger (no longer made) and it's wonderful; the only thing better would be an industrial serger.

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    1. Ooo. I have a 945 and it works well, except, the plastic is failing here and there which totally bums me out. The plastic handles on the stitch length, differential feed levers have cracked and are loose. The plastic insert for the cover hem table has one tab hanging by a thread. Frustrating.

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  16. C I didn't stop and calculate how many books/bars of chocolate/yards of fabric/donations to a good cause/movies/ other nice things I could buy if I didn't bid on this item. Better luck next time Peter. I trust that sewing karma will ensure that the seller loses a button from every garment he/she buys from now on.

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  17. Buying an item from a Canadian source is not necessarily a bad idea. The problem is with the ethics of the seller, not the country they live in.
    The thing to remember when ordering anything from anywhere, is the farther it is shipped the higher the possibility of damage no matter how well it is packed.
    If there is only one photo, always ask for more, from all angles if necessary.
    Enough of the lecture stuff.
    I thoroughly enjoy reading your articles. A few helpful hints and an occassional giggle fit causing photo (SMOCK it to me!)and a nice cup of java is a pleasant way to start the day.

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    1. I really was referring to the fact that purchasing from another country often adds a layer of complication, if only things like longer shipping time and higher cost. I love Canadians!

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    2. Even cranky old polar bears like me??
      I presumed you were referring to time frame and cost. One thing I have discovered is if you live in a big city and order from a big city (whether US or Canadian)time frame is basically the same though there is a difference in shipping costs. I suppose it depends on what you are ordering and who from.

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  18. Peter dearest!
    Sorry to be off-subject, but I had to see your page over at Pinterest and its the bomb! I absolutely love it!!! To think that you had misgiving at first and then to see what you done, is wonderful!! I can't wait to get my invite! It's funny but the whole invitation system reminds me so much of the early days of Gmail and look at them now!!! Cheerio!!

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  19. I was looking at vintage machine last night on E bay and I saw a couple of Featherweights for $200 plus and up. They looked so beautiful and tempting!! I have to learn how to use Ebay better before I venture on a purchase however. There were other Singers and I have to check out their model numbers, but they were impressive too. Thanks for sharing your story with us, it's quite a lesson to learn.

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    1. I've been waiting for a post like this. It's like a Cher "snap out of it" Moonstruck smack. The ebay listings are so very tempting, but I, too, know so little about avoiding the pitfalls that I'm much safer window shopping. Thanks for the bracing honesty of the post, Peter!

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  20. Glad you are getting a chance to return it. :)

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  21. C: I will pass on my lesson by writing an article on how to accomplish returns on ebay (wasn't there one that arrived smashed?)

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    Replies
    1. That was last year's sewing machine fiasco. Another "Buy it Now" mistake (for which I was fully refunded, thankfully).

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  22. C: When in doubt, log out, do without but in general - bail out.

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  23. I have recently recognized that I have a passion for odd vintage clothing. I say recognized - becuase it has been strangely freeing to finally know that I just love the stuff, it makes me happy to see it and tinker with it. I have a knack for finding good stuff at bottom dollar prices. So what to do? I quit thinking "my closet" and channeled that energy into "etsy store". Why not? People like me are looking for people like you, honest, love the old machines, are able to quickly assess any problems, able to fix problems.

    What I am saying is that you might want to consider being a middleman. Collecting these things you love anyway and asking buyers to look over your choices; asking them to build a relationship with you. What better way to make some income? As far as inventory storage problems, I immediately think of our local sewing machine dealer (Kansas) who has a back room FULL Of Elnas that were leased out to school home ec programs. They know the machines still are valuable but they do not have your unique personality that reaches the newer generation of buyers. I think its something you should consider. I don't think anyone else is doing it.

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  24. The Elna Lotus amuses me - the noise they make is so deep and grunty - it's like a chihuahua barking like a St Bernard! Where the heck does that sound come from!?!

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  25. Oh Dear! I too did a very similar thing last week! In a momemt of madness on ebay I bought 2 vintage dolls Buy it now! They need a trip to the dolls hospital!

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  26. It's nice to know other people have regretful e-bay impulse buys too! I own 2 pairs of riding boots from e-bay, neither of which fits right... aww, learning the hard way. Thanks for sharing Peter!

    I figured you would have 20+ invites to Pinterest after your post, but glad you could use the one I sent. Nice to see you on there :)

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  27. C. Sleep on it. If it were in good condition there would be more pix.

    Thanks for sharing, Peter--we are all vulnerable to the temptations represented by those little photos on Ebay. An Elna Lotus in fine and oiled condition should sound smooth--I got to use a borrowed one and loved it, once I figured out how to use it (no manual). It has won engineering awards because it is a precision machine, when treated well. I don't think I'd forgive rust on any sewing machine.

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  28. Hi Peter, just stumbled upon your blog and I'm loving it! Have a nice day, Jenny

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  29. Oh No! At least the seller is refunding the money. But still, having to deal with disappointment and packing it back up again...

    I try to stay away from ebay unless I'm hunting for something specific, whether information (completed listings only) or acutal items.

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  30. Okay, I sympathise. I have always thought I'd like a Lotus (or an Elna "Grasshopper"). If you say it's noisy, maybe I'll resist. But it's tiny and has stretch stitches! What's not to like? Except, you know, the damage.

    My first good machine, a Viking 400, came from ebay. It arrived in a big box, wrapped in a towel. Miraculously, it wasn't damaged and worked perfectly.

    I was lucky.

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  31. When I'm looking at anything on ebay, I say to myself, "Would I pay $X if I saw that same item at a thrift store or garage sale?", or in your case, your beloved Chelsea Flea Market. It stops me in my tracks every time. I'm glad you could get your money back. I'm not familiar with the Lotus, but my Supermatic is my little sewing hero!

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  32. The Elna Lotus is a well built, precise machine. I bought mine new in the early 80s and did a tremendous amount of piecing on it. Weighing a mere 7 pounds, it traveled well! The negatives (for me) are that the presser foot pressure can't be adjusted and you can't lower the feed dogs. That being said, I stitch on a computerized machine with all the bells and whistles, but would never give up my treasured Lotus.

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  33. Peter, You got lucky with this seller. I purchased a 301 tan longbed last fall. The total price was aroung $175. It was poorly packed, rusted etc and only worth about $35 for parts or a total restoration. The seller had no returns...but there is always "eBay buyers protection"...what a crock of BS that is. In my message to the seller, than later to eBay I stated "that when I removed the bottom cover..." Right then both the seller and eBay accused me of tampering with the machine and it may no longer be in the condition that it was shipped bla bla ba. In the end, eBay sided with the seller, even after I sent them a link to the owners manual to show them what I removed and why.

    BTW, the noise from the Lotus may be the rubber drive pully thing that is dry and hard. They sell for about $40 and are a pain in the butt to replace. As cute as this machine is (the smaller they are, the better I like'em)there is way too much internal plastic to fail and are very expensive to repair. I'll take my Singer 221, 222 and Kenny 1030 anyday over a Elna Lotus...and I'm a dyed in the wool fan of vintage Elna's.

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    1. I'm sorry to hear about your 301, Stan. I may write a post about what to do in these situations. I was lucky that all my issues were easy to document and impossible to ignore.

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  34. I am an ebay seller myself ( craft items). I have bought many old machines before, but not on ebay. I first bought an Elna Super that it said needed a knob replaced. Spent about $90 for it inc shipping. Found out knob was obsolete. Found another elna super on ebay for $150 plus $35 shipping. Said it ran very nice and smooth. The motor ran but it did not sew! Rotary hook mechanism was broken and several other major things. I found a great repair person through your link here.. Bobbin Doctor in SE Mpls. He wrote an estimate up for me. Seller first insisted it must be UPS. NOPE. There was rust inside the frozen needle position knob and Bobbin Dr said gear "exploded" for rotary hook. Also pedal was only able to be used for "very fast". Seller will not agree to pay return shipping and it was $30 and I paid $35 for a thorough estimate. If he pays my return shipping he'll get a neutral and otherwise a neg. After I insisted it was not UPS he still maintained it ran well when he sent it!!What a waste of time. I did buy a third one at an estate sale where I could try it out and he's going to service that one. Thanks for the link to him!

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  35. Reading some of the replies above, I just have to make a few comments about ebay. First, if they sell much at all they should have top rated seller status! This guy I bought from did not. Ebay now charges fees on shipping amounts. Also as of June 1 if sellers don't have at least 90% of their sales with 14 day returns and 1 business day shipping time, they will not get the 20% top rated seller discount. If they have neutral and negatives, click on the numbers and it sorts them out and you can see what other buyers have had trouble with. You can tell if the buyer is unreasonable ( like a neg for wrong shade of cardstock without even contacting you, ahem) or the person doesn't accurately describe things. Ebay and paypal most often side with the buyer in a dispute. Remember that they can just remove that payment... whoosh,, from the person's paypal or bank account. The guy I bought from did not have TRS status! But I thought $150 was such a good price! So I need to follow my own advice also.

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    1. I am so sorry to read this, Holley. What a trial! Yes, reading negative feedback can provide key info about how a seller communicates -- I've read some that is positively abusive.

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  36. Peter, Steve P was happy to hear I got his info from a link in your blog.

    And I gave him a nice vintage pattern with an unusual but simple shirt pattern ( front sections cut in half so you can use stripes in different ways or whatever, and then pockets are made into the horizontal seams. It had slacks with welt pockets also. Got it for 10 cents at the Textile center sale!

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  37. Ugh, what a let down. I bought an Elna Lotus off eBay a couple of months ago, and it is just lovely - good condition, reasonably quiet (after extraction of what looked like a dead mouse), and stitches as nicely as my Berninas. I'm glad you're getting your money back... don't let it put you off the Lotus altogether!

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  38. Hi Peter, I have a perfect Elna Lotus sewing machine. Its 40 years old in perfect condition. I am still using it. I live in Australia. I have always had it serviced. Regards Jan

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