Friday, June 8, 2012

How to sell a high-end vintage machine on CraigsList

I've done this three times now and thought someone out there might like to hear about it. In the last 6 months I have sold
A Singer 401
A Pfaff 1221
A Lady Kenmore 89

All of these are machines desired by some collectors.  All three of these were in very good cosmetic condition and perfect operating condition.  They need to be great if you want a good price.

Pfaff 1221 with cam stack and "integrated dual feed":  a built in walking foot

For the Pfaff and the Kenmore I had an original manual and a complete set of the original attachments.  For the Singer I put together a complete set of attachments and cams and a reproduction manual.  For all of them I then added as many additional goodies as I could find--more specialty presser feet, Greist hemmer sets, buttonholers, bobbins, a selection of needle sizes, etc.  I buy this stuff all the time very inexpensively at thrift shops, so I always have a good supply. 

My goal is to give the buyer as complete a package as possible.  The Singer 401 is slant shank, and the Pfaff and Kenmore 89 are both high shank, so you can't just run to Walmart or Joann's for attachments.  Adding as many extras as possible saves the buyer a ton of money.  I put the goodies in an attractive little box, too.

For the Pfaff and Kenmore I scanned the manual and printed it out at 8.5 x 11" size, which makes the illustrations much easier to read.  I used both of these machines as my go-to machines at some point, so I had done this for myself.

Lady Kenmore 89, made by Gritzner in West Germany

I begin with the price that I could reasonably expect to get on eBay.  You can search for completed listings for the model you are selling.  But a better approach is to set up a search and look every day, or at least weekly, add them to your watch list and see what they go for.  You need a good knowledge base to come up with a realistic price.

The classic Singer 401, considered by many to be the best machine Singer ever made

But that's the eBay price, not the CraigsList price.  eBay is a national market and you will get a higher price if thousands of people are looking.  So I knock $100 off of the eBay price (only $50 off during the Christmas season).  That might sound like a big reduction, but eBay and PayPal both charge fees and CraigsList doesn't.  With local CraigsList buyers you don't have to ship it.  And with CraigsList you can sell the cabinet with it.  Any vintage machine collector quickly becomes swamped with cabinets.

In the CraigsList ad I say "asking $xxx" and I don't say "or best offer".  Most people ask if I would take less.  My answer is yes, but only $50 less. 

I write an ad that describes the machine and all of its features and attachments in EXHAUSTIVE detail.  Good photos are a must too.  I write the longest, most detailed CraigsList ads I have ever seen.  I give advice about what to look for ("Always check the cam stack on a vintage machine through a complete rotation, looking for cracks.  This cam stack is flawless").  I reveal the slightest flaws such as tiny chips to the paint job.

You see, I am looking for the ONE knowledgeable person who knows what she is looking for.  The extremely detailed ad tells her what she needs to know.  And all three times I found her.  And she was delighted with the machine and the price.  And I was delighted to find a good home for it.  Not to mention making a bit of money.

And a bit is all I got.  In each case if you factored in the time I spent in cleaning and repairing the machines, I made about minimum wage.  But bringing vintage machines back to life is what I do for fun, so I got paid minimum wage for some vintage fun.

It's only the high-end collectible machines that I expect to make a bit of money on.  Most of the people I meet personally just want a simple zig-zagger, and I sell those to friends, friends of daughters, friends of friends, and people who become friends in the process. 

I include a manual if I have one, at the minimum a threading guide even if I have to create one from a photo.  I only include the attachments that I think the buyer will want, usually just an adjustable zipper foot.  Too many attachments can be intimidating.  What the heck are they?  What the heck am I supposed to be doing with them?

These non-high-end machines I sell for the exact amount of money that I have invested in them and don't add anything for my labor.

After all, the mission statement of DragonPoodle Studio is:
Saving History From The Scrapyard, One Sewing Machine At A Time.

Saving, not hoarding.  I want EVERYONE who sews to have a wonderful vintage machine.


  1. Saving, not hoarding. That is the key. Sometimes I think I am rescuing these machines. And sometimes I think I am hoarding. Especially when I have so many. Who needs three different 301s?

    1. Well, they do come in three different colors. Not to mention different bed lengths. Sounds to me like you are just getting started!

      (I have two myself).

  2. Ah, someone else who understands my heart. I see machines and the first thing I think is, does it work? Can I save it? Most times I can. It's such a high when it works like new again. On the other hand, I picked up a school model Riccar a few weeks ago, and I think it must have a broken tooth on a gear I haven't seen yet. It skips stitches on straight and zig zag. Noisy too. Oh well, I guess GW got a nice donation. That's the way I look at it. That makes it a win win situation. I don't sell sewing machines anymore. I donate them to The Sewing Machine Project, BUT I am always looking....for pretty machines for myself, and for the SMP. I am like you. I LIKE fixing machines. It's fun. I think I'm going to change my title from 'Quilter' to 'Old Sewing Machine Gal', or as my friends call me, 'The Sewing Machine Whisperer'.

    Great selling tips. Have a great weekend!

    1. "The Sewing Machine Whisperer"---I love it!

      I shop at the bottom end of the market and am just unable to walk away from a $10 machine that I know has decades of service left. Of course, no one wants them! So I consider this my recreational therapy. You are right, bringing them back to life is a real high.

  3. Nice article! I wish more people on Craigslist would follow your guidelines :)

  4. Great post. I have vintage machines that I really do need to find new homes for. I too have 3 301's, just two different colors, 3 404's, 3 401's, 4 featherweights, etc. I want to hoard those featherweights for some reason, but I can't use all the others!

  5. I purchased the Lady Kenmore you sold and may I say, I have never regretted my purchase. I was searching for that particular machine to round out my Pfaff AND Kenmore collections. And as you stated, I knew exactly what I was looking for. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting you and seeing your beautiful machines and the way you had eveything organized when I arrived was so professional! I still follow the tips you showed me about blowing up the manuals and putting it all in a binder. And I still have all the attachments organized as you had them organized.

    1. oohh, you made my day! I'm SO glad that you found this post and wrote to me! I must say that I have missed that machine a bit. It was my main machine, but the cabinet just wasn't working in my studio. I've got a vintage Singer 316G and Hampden Court cabinet now that work in the space, and I love that machine too, but it its clearly not the quality of the Lady Kenmore 89.

      and for anyone else reading this: I remember buying my first sewing machine (in 1968) and getting a bag of presser feet that I had no idea what to do with. So now when I sell a machine each presser foot goes into its own tiny ziploc bag (hobby stores have them) with a printed label that has the name of the foot on it.

      thanks again for writing!

  6. As an owner of a lady kenmore, can you help me with the stiches? Some I can get to work and others I can not. I am sure it has to do with machine settings, but from where?

    Thanks in advance

    1. I would look for a manual online. Good luck with your machine!

  7. I just had a model 89 gifted to me and was happy to find your post. I am just getting acquainted with her


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