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.



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