Ebay and vintage Singer sewing machines


We got an email today from a lady who’s after a 201K, and in it she said “I just lost a bidding war on eBay for a lovely singer 201k, it sold for £300!  I think that’s a bit much, and I have seen on your website that you sell them for a much better price.”

We thought that £300 was a bit much too, so we took a look at the relevant listing and were immediately impressed by the presentation of it.  The seller had obviously spent a lot of time and effort cleaning and polishing the machine, then more time and effort taking some very good pictures of it, then still more time crafting the listing.  There was even a video of the machine in action.  All things considered, it was a wonderful example of how to sell a sewing machine on Ebay – although I can’t help feeling that I’ve seen that very same listing before.  Maybe a previous sale fell through?  But whatever, it looked like a nice machine and it seemed to run well enough.

Now, if you go to the “Machines” page of our blog and scroll down to the 201 at the bottom that we we sold earlier this year and which was actually in even better cosmetic condition than this £300 Ebay one, you’ll see that ours cost half as much.  And for her £145 spent with us, the buyer also got all those original bits and bobs.

So where is this leading?  To some thoughts about buying vintage Singers on Ebay, that’s where, because we keep getting asked about it.  But before we go any further, let me just make it clear that I have no problem at all with people selling vintage machines on Ebay at silly prices if people are daft enough to pay those prices.   The fact that that particular 201 went for £300 shows only that when two people enter into a bidding war for an item that’s been made to look as appealing as possible, the end result is often a very expensive purchase indeed.  (The end result is often the buyer backing out of the sale too, but that’s another matter – as is the fact that there might have been more than two people bidding against each other for the £300 one, but you can’t tell because the seller set the auction up to keep bidders’ identities private.)

Be that all as it may, if you’re careful and if you’re lucky, it is still possible to pick up a nice enough vintage Singer at a realistic price on Ebay.  The trick is to be very careful and not to get carried away.   Here’s a few pointers based on our admittedly limited experience …

1.  Beware of anybody describing an ordinary vintage Singer (eg a 15, 66, 99 or 201) as a “semi-industrial” and/or “heavy duty” machine.  Either they don’t know what they’re talking about or they’re assuming that you don’t.

2.  Do your homework.  The ideal situation is for you to know more about the particular model that’s on offer than the person selling it does.  Hopefully this blog will help you with that.

3.  Ask specific questions about the machine you’re thinking of bidding on and beware of vague answers.

4.  Beware of anybody selling an electric without the mains lead and/or foot controller.  That’s the standard way of getting rid of a machine with a dodgy motor (“I don’t have the foot pedal so I can’t try it, but the needle goes up and down when you turn the wheel”).

5.  If the machine’s obviously missing a part but the seller says that’s not a problem because it’s readily available at little cost, ask yourself why they haven’t bought one and fitted it themselves in order to get a better price.  The classic example of this is the 27/28/127/128 with the missing slide plate.  Nice ones are hard to come by and they are not cheap.

6.  If you’re considering bidding on an electric, what are you going to do if you win it and then discover that it needs completely rewiring before it’s safe to use?  A PAT label on an electric sewing machine offered by a private seller is, in itself, no guarantee of anything.

7.  Realise that nearly every sewing machine sold on Ebay will need work to get it sewing at its best.

8.  Be aware that vintage sewing machines are not easy things to clean if they’re really filthy, and that many of them stink.  So do some of the cases.

9.  Remember that a seller’s feedback score of 100% does not necessarily mean that every customer of theirs has been happy with their purchase.

10.  If you bid on a sewing machine which you can’t collect in person, you need to be lucky.  That’s because most people haven’t a clue how to pack to sewing machine for delivery by courier or Parcelfarce.

And that explains the picture at the top of this post, which shows one of our 201’s being packed for delivery by UPS last year.  The next stage after that was to pad it out with more bubble wrap so that when the lid’s on, nothing can possibly move about inside the case.  Once the lid’s on, the whole thing’s plastic bagged, then taped all round in two or three places, then it goes into a tailor-made twin-wall carton with about 2″ of packing on all 6 sides.  The carton’s then taped and tied up with polypropylene twine, and roughly two hours after we started packing it, it’s finally ready for the dude in the brown van.

You can’t reasonably expect your run-of-the-mill Ebay seller to do something similar, and believe me some of them have no idea at all.  No sensible person would put the machine in its case, wrap a bin liner round that and tie a parcel label on the handle before consigning it to Parcelfarce but unfortunately not every person is sensible …


4 responses

  1. My featherweight came from ebay, it arrived in it’s carry case wrapped in clingfilm. That was it, nothing else, not even a tiny scrap of bubblewrap protecting it. I felt very lucky that only the bobbin winder and spool pin were broken

  2. Actually Heather you’ve just given me an idea for a post on lubricating Singer electric motors …

  3. Great post as always, Sid. If the machine is intended for serious use then my own hint it to buy a hand crank model and then separately purchase a motor and foot pedal assembly. Original motors are very easy to come by from the e-bay sellers selling on behalf of TFSR and other charities who convert electric ones back into hand cranks for export to Africa and you may also, of course opt for a new motor/footpedal instead which may well be a much safer option if you don’t personally possess the necessary knowledge/contacts to check the electrical safety and replace any perished parts. The evidence may not be obvious; plenty of motors have been found to have been lubricated with oil instead of grease. Unlike the motors, separate hand crank assemblies don’t come up for sale very often and fetch high prices when they do so it makes sense to me to keep your options open right from the start and get it attached to the machine…and means you can try it straight away, as you will of course be longing to do…! 🙂

  4. I know just what you mean – though many eBay sellers pack brilliantly, and will listen when you ask them to pack in a particular way. I’ve bought a few sewing machines on eBay with only one problem – the very first, a 201, was just in the case loose, with the case put in a box! It did survive with only the spool pin broken and has been a wonderful machine, but more by luck than anything else. But it only cost £6.00!! Those were the days! Its really worth asking a seller how they will pack and advising them of your needs.