the ongoing damnation of faust (and a lesson on selling on ebay)

Estimated reading time is 8 minutes.

BUYER SCAMS ON eBay and other seller sites are recognized, if poorly addressed by those sites. In my article “eBay Buyer Scams And Shipping Items Internationally,” I wrote about these issues and an altercation that I had with a buyer in Europe who I believe was trying to pull such a scam. I said that safeguards needed to be put in place to protect sellers from scurrilous buyers—an idea that never occurs to buyers—and their ongoing damnation of all sellers!

“If you sell on eBay, more than a few people are going to try to rip you off via a fraudulent buyer claim. And that can be difficult to deal with on eBay. There is little done to protect the seller from a buyer’s scam. Except for eBay’s reps learning to recognize certain ‘traits’ or patterns among scammers, perhaps there is little that can be done.”

Needless to say, despite all the recent flurry of brouhahas (ha!) about big changes at eBay, little has changed to help the buyer in these situations.

Here I have another sordid tale of one of my experiences as an eBay seller. But please keep these things in mind:

1. There is no criticism of anyone intended here but of myself.

2. I do not now believe that the buyer was trying to scam me.

3. The majority of my experiences on eBay have been groovy.

This is a story I want to tell because I that it might help other sellers—and maybe even a buyer or two—better understand their roles should they find themselves in a dispute on eBay some day.



The ongoing damnation of Faust

So, I had an album to sell, a rather rare record that fetches four figures if in Mint condition. Mine was not: while the labels showed no indication that the record had even been slipped onto a turntable, the grooves had clearly seen some handling.

Still, the black vinyl glowed and I knew there would be someone wanting to pay a few hundred dollars for this instead of two or three times that for a better copy. So I entered all the information into InkFrog and launched the record.

In the title field, I listed the record as VG+. This is the first place that a viewer could read an item’s grade if the seller chose to put it there. Here is the heading/title for my listing:

NORMAN Mauler SYMPHONY 11 Living Stereo
RCA Victor LSC-6969 Shaded dog 1S/1S VG+

Fine so far. 1

In eBay’s condition fields, I also described it with the lesser grade but gave it a spread:

The record/vinyl appears VG+ to NM.

My mistake.



No spindle trails

In the field for detailed descriptions of the item, I wrote this (and I am copying this description from my ad and pasting it into this article):

Record visual grade: The labels are like new with no spindle trails, as though the record had never been played or played very carefully indeed. The record retains almost all of its luster! Under normal light, the vinyl looks NM; under a strong light, it is a strong VG+.

My mistake. 2

Instead of an auction, I advertised the record with a Buy It Now (or set-sale) price of $499. I did not get my asking price. Disappointed but determined, I accepted an offer of $420 and shipped the album off.

I expected to receive glowingly positive feedback and thanks from the new owner.

My mistake.



A “nail mark”?

And what was this mistake of mine? Mentioning two grades for the same item in one ad!

Instead of thanks, I received the following (and the buyer’s name is made up to protect his identity):

Dear Neal,

I received this record, it not look NM. It has more than one nail mark on side 1 and one obvious mark is longer than 1 inch.


First, I inspected this record under two lights, one of which was a clear 100-watt bulb. There were definitely signs that the record had been handled—such as minor scuffing and/or abrasion from sliding in and out of a paper sleeve—and therefore almost certainly played. (Handling and playing are not the same thing.) 3



A needle is like a nail

Second, English was obviously not the buyer’s primary language. But in forty years of buying and selling records, I had never heard anyone use the term “nail marks.” At first, I thought he meant needle marks (a needle is nail-like). But the fact that he mentioned a longer mark separately made me think that by nail marks he might have meant small marks.

I will probably never know.

Here is my response:

Dear Faustfan,

I did not grade the record NM. I said, “The labels are like new with no spindle trails, as though the record had never been played or played very carefully indeed. The record retains almost all of its luster! Under normal light, the vinyl looks NM; under a strong light, it is a strong VG+.”


Note that there is no antagonism between us; we seem to have a rather simple case of the buyer misreading the ad. Which I had already recognized was caused by my mentioning two grades, even though I assigned only one to the record.



I no need strong light

Of course, I also assume that people reading ads in English understand enough of the language to know what the hell they are spending their money on.

He wrote back:

Dear Neal,

You stated the vinyl looks NM: “under a strong light, it is a strong VG+.” The mark is obvious; I no need strong light to see.


I was getting a wee bit peeved now. I thought there were three possible situations going on:

1. He was far less capable in English than he gave himself credit for (and it is the buyer’s job to know what he is reading before he spends money).

2. He had a very different definition of what ‘normal’ and ‘strong’ light means than what I understood.

3. He was after something.

Naturally, I assumed the latter. So I responded with . . .

Dear Faustfan

I graded the record VG+. Twice. What do you want?


As I said, I was getting the feeling about now that the buyer was angling for something, so I asked him what he wanted. Reading it now (“What do you want?”), I can see how it can be read not as a simple question, but as a statement of exasperation or even an accusation.



We agree!

I did think that he might be after is what eBay politely calls a “partial refund” but what is often a buyer’s rip-off of the seller. The buyer complains about something, and then threatens negative feedback or dragging eBay into the dispute. He then offers to accept a portion of the price back (50% is not unusual) and still gets to keep the record!

That was not going to happen here.

Dear Neal,

I’m sorry and want to return it for a refund, because the mark I can see under normal light. The record is VG+ condition.



We agree: The record was in VG+ condition.

Exactly as I advertised it!



No bug ending

Then I thought, “Huh? Is this the next nefarious step in a rip-off?” Or did the buyer genuinely want to send the record back and get a full refund of $420 (plus postage)?

I didn’t know. So I wrote:

Dear Faustfan

Please go back and read the ad: I graded the record VG+ in the title line at the very top of the ad, “RCA Victor LSC-6969 Shaded dog 1S/1S VG+.”

In the Item Condition, I graded the record as “Used. The record/vinyl appears VG+ to NM.”

You bought a VG+ record and your statement here shows that you recognize that it is, in fact, a VG+ record.

I gave you a 20% discount off the Buy It Now price.

Three copies of this album have sold on eBay in the past twelve months for:

$611 (NM)

$576 (VG++)

$555 (VG+)

Please return the record as soon as possible so I can sell it to someone else for more than $420.


Since Faustfan was up for paying $400 for a record, I had to assume that he was aware of the approximate current market value of the record ($1,000+ in NM) in question. He could also look up recent sales of LSC-6969 on the Internet and see that he was getting a helluva good deal on the album. 4

Just as I did.

And that’s it.

There is no BIG ending.

No grand finale.


Because I never heard from Faustfan again!

Here is the result of the transaction and the dispute: The buyer got a $550-600 record that he paid $420 for and I got $420 for an album that I had paid a buck for at a yard sale when Reagan was President. 5


Faust header1


FEATURED IMAGE: The image at the top of this page was cropped from the LP album of Alexander Gibson conducting the Royal Opera House Orchestra on Gounod’s Faust (Ballet Music) and Bizet’s Carmen Suite (RCA Victor Red Seal LSC-2449) released in 1960. I don’t even pretend to know the intricacies of selling classical albums. So the images on this page were selected based on my simply liking the artwork or photographs on the front cover. I have enjoyed this cover for Gounod’s Faust depicting his ongoing damnation since first seeing this album fifty or so years ago.



1   As I am not attempting to embarrass anyone here (except myself for not knowing better than to mention two different grades in one ad), I fabricated a few things, such as the record and the pseudonym/eBay name of the buyer. The first two names in my listing indicated the conductor and the composer: “NORMAN” and “Mauler” is a play on Norman Mailer.

The second name a joke on Gustav Mahler, and the eleventh symphony a Mahler in-joke. The record’s catalog number may be a reference to the year I graduated from high school, or it may be a reference to something utterly different.

2   The indented statements in bold, italicized print above were copied from my eBay ad and pasted into this article.

3   English was not the buyer’s first language, so I have tweaked his messages wee bit to make it slightly less awkward grammatically.

4   The prices noted are accurate but not exact. I found them on Popsike. I changed them slightly so no one can look any of this stuff up. But the sum of the three prices actually paid is the same as the sum of the three above.

5   When Faustfan had made his offer, I immediately accepted it. While he and I were settling on shipping, postage, and insurance, I received an offer from another party to buy the record for $480. But as I had already committed to Faustfan, I had turned that offer down.



7 thoughts on “the ongoing damnation of faust (and a lesson on selling on ebay)”

  1. great read neal, i am even more clueless about classical than you are. can you guess what the only classical record that i have in my record collection?

  2. i actually own a real cannon, it’s just a small one from the civil war era. if you ever visit me at near the little town of Nervous, New mexico we’ll drag it out, i’ll load it with a blank charge, and you can lite the fuse neal.

      • very funny neal but it ain’t so. i can only think of 2 others who have a cannon. you recall the legend of how the lone physicist and his faithful Indian companion Pronto rode into near the little town of Nervous, New Mexico and cured the only resident in these parts with a problem way back in 55. we do get a little jittery when we notice a vehicle with plates from new york, nola, detroit, dc, and especially ill. if the ill. car has a bulls, bears, or cubs bumper sticker they may get a escort thru town for the whole trip, about 15 seconds if they’re not speeding.


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