You are on eBay and you find the sewing machine of your youth, fond memories flood your mind with emotions of carefree happiness and content… and you want to own it. Maybe it’s just like your Mom’s or Grandmother’s old vintage sewing machine that you learned to sew on but was lost by some bad circumstance or another. Maybe it’s just a really cool machine and the price is right, so you decide to purchase it. You click the purchase button and wait patiently for a few days until a box arrives at your door. Excited, you bring the box inside, open it, and find that the machine has been damaged and pieces of the machine litter the bottom of the box…
Now, substitute the name “eBay” for some other auction site, or any online store you are considering purchasing a sewing machine from… the scenario is the same. In my business, I buy a lot of sewing machines. While I prefer local sources such as estate sales, Craigslist, Facebook marketplace, and others, I also search online auction sites for a particular sewing machine I want to purchase. If you buy a sewing machine online, part of the transaction is shipping. Take it from me, sewing machines are not easy to ship without arriving damaged. It’s a fact, every major shipping carrier ships as efficiently as possible and speed trumps handling. A sewing machine will be tossed, flipped, slid, and it is a rough ride. Your dream sewing machine has probably not seen a box since it was originally purchased some 60 years ago.
Keep this in mind… A good high quality vintage sewing machine typically weighs between 30 to 40 pounds, give a pound or two. Now, for the sake of an example, imagine three or four 10 pound sledge hammer heads… or any bulky item of similar weight and composition. What happens if you put them in a sewing machine case without packing material, wrap the case in bubble wrap, pack it in a box, and ship it from California to Virginia. What do you expect to find when you open the box? Well, if it’s sledgehammers in the box, you will find the bubble wrap kept all of the bits of the demolished sewing machine case in a kind of bubble wrap “cocoon”. The sledge hammers will be fine, That’s because regardless of how the case is packed, you can’t break, ding, scratch, or dent a sledge hammer head. Now, do the same thing with the fine high quality vintage sewing machine you just bought. What do you expect to find now when you open the box? Well, you will find broken spool pins, scratched and dented cases, broken bobbin winders, and the sewing machine case will be demolished… Sledge hammer heads are pretty indestructible, fine quality vintage sewing machines are not.
Why does this happen? The answer is simple, the seller probably is not in the business of selling fine high quality sewing machines and never shipped a sewing machine in their general course of business. It’s easy to blame the seller, but they simply do not know how to pack them properly, and omit the extra packing steps that are necessary to prevent damage. It’s not intentional, but that does not make you feel any better when you open the box only to find the machine has been severely damaged.
I hear this all of the time, and it happens to sewing machines shipped to me more than I would like to admit… to give you an extreme example, I had a beautiful Pfaff 260 sewing delivered and when I unpacked it, the bed was literally broken in half. The featured picture is a 1910 Singer Model 66 “Red Eye” with a very early “turtle” style motor in a bentwood case that was smashed to pieces… talk about being upset! That said, here are some simple steps to help you complete an online transaction and receive a machine in the condition you bought it in.
But first, a word about cases… vintage sewing machine cases made of wood have a 90% chance of being damaged regardless of how well the machine is packed. They are simply to old and fragile, and the joints and hinges have lost their ability to contain a heavy sewing machine being rough handled in shipping and arrive without damage. Kenmore and rugged plastic cases are generally the exception and ship well if adequately protected. Wood composition and thin plastic Singer cases hardly stand a chance. If it is an expensive sewing machine with a case, the case should be shipped separately, this is expensive but effective in preventing damage.
But by asking the seller to follow a few packing tips, you can protect your purchase and a lot of hassle dealing with a dispute if the machine arrives damaged. If you are interested in the case as much as the machine, don’t buy it online… you are only setting yourself up for dissatisfaction.
After the sale:After the sale, immediately contact the seller and tell them that you realize that sewing machines can be damaged in shipping if not securely packed. Ask them to protect the foot pedal with bubble wrap so it does not scratch the paint on the sewing machine. Also ask the seller to pack the machine firmly in the case, using enough bubble wrap on top of the machine so it fits tight in the case and requires some effort to seat the case and close the latches… The key is preventing the machine from moving or shifting in the case.
Keeping the sewing machine firmly in the case and preventing it from crashing into the case will generally ensure the machine will arrive undamaged. The condition of the case is still a toss up unless it is really packed well, protecting the case as well as the machine. Remember, the seller has a responsibility to deliver the sewing machine to you in the condition it was purchased. Alerting them of your concerns is a consideration to help them as well as you.
When the machine arrives in a box, you don’t know if it is damaged or not. To protect you in the event you need to resolve a damage return is by documenting the packing as well as the damage. Now, here is what you should do when your machine arrives…
- Before opening the box, take a picture of all six sides of the box to show any obvious damage.
- Open the box flaps and take a picture of the machine packed in the box before you remove it.
- Remove the machine from the box and take pictures of the packing around the machine from all angles.
- Carefully unwrap the machine and take pictures of the condition of the machine from all angles.
Hopefully, the machine will be fine and you won’t need any pictures. If it is damaged, you have photo documentation of the packing procedures the seller took, and this will be invaluable to you if the seller disputes any damage was due to his packing, or worse, you broke it.
If it turns into a dispute, detailed photo documentation will prepare you and ensure it is settled in your favor.
Also remember that shipping insurance only protects the seller, not the buyer. Shipping couriers will not honor a claim for improperly packed items by the buyer. This is between the seller and the courier and sorry to say, you are stuck in the middle. As the buyer, you cannot claim for damage so do not expect shipping insurance to cover your loss… it is between you and the seller, and between the seller and the shipping courier.
Fortunately, eBay, Etsy, and other other big online sites have dispute resolution policies to protect the buyer and the seller. Make sure any online source you are considering purchasing thru has a policy to protect you if the item arrives damaged. Read the policy and make sure they will act as your advocate if the seller fails to respond to your communications.
Unfortunately, the best scenario for a damaged item is that you will receive a return shipping label, your money will be refunded, and you will be required to re-pack and deliver the machine for return to the seller.
Please, take these few precautions when you purchase a sewing machine. It is a win-win for both parties and greatly improves the odds you will be satisfied with the transaction. Good luck finding your “perfect” sewing machine and I hope it arrives in “perfect” condition!
If you are considering the purchase of a high quality vintage sewing machine that has been restored to sew like new, and you want to rest easy knowing that it will be securely packaged and arrived undamaged, please visit our Etsy store at:
Browse thru our inventory. More machines are offered as they are restored, so check back often! If you have any questions or inquiries, please feel free to contact us.
Thanks for reading and let me know what you think!