Street Smarts; The Savvy Consumer’s Guide To Pre-Owned, Collectible, And Vintage Cameras; Tales Of Daring And Adventure On eBay, Including The Saga Of The Leica Copy Copy, The Great IIIf Switcheroo, And More Page 2

Quick as a flash I e-mailed Yanina in Ukraine to tell her of my displeasure at receiving a fake Reid for more than I cared to pay for such a curiosity. She e-mailed me back in broken English, "I do not say it is not a copy. Please see the auction again." There it was in black and white: "Reid I with Taylor Inch f/2 lens copy Leica copy." The word "copy" appeared twice--in her own inimitable fashion she had honestly listed it as a copy of a Leica copy. She had me dead to rights! So I e-mailed Yanina again to tell her that she was correct, and an honest seller, but that I was still not happy to pay $118.50 for a camera that was worth (to me) about $50. I proposed that she refund $68.50 to my PayPal account, which she did two days later. All credit to her for being an honest seller and for going beyond her contractual obligations to make me happy, and the Doofus Award to me for not reading her eBay posting more carefully. Fortunately, this tale has a happy ending, but the message to buyers bitten by the eBay bug is clear.

The bottom line: Base plate lock guide should say open, not "opened" and closed--proof that my "Reid" is not what it purports to be.

Compared to the Leica copy copy saga, the IIIf switcheroo is relatively tame, but with an aggravating twist. In brief, my next bid was on a nice clean Leica IIIf black (flash sync) dial, no self-timer, with equally pristine 50mm f/2 Summitar lens (not quite as sharp as the Summicron at f/2 and f/2.8, but a darn good picture taker and a relative bargain at $100 or so). It included a nice original leather case, and my winning bid was $313. Three days later the package arrived and when I opened it, there was a Leica all right--a black-finished Leica CL in nice shape with matching 40mm f/2 Summicron lens and a ratty case!

I guess I should have been overjoyed because the CL is worth about $100 more than the IIIf, but I wasn't. I immediately called the seller, a major eBay retailer in Florida, to tell him about the screw-up. "Yes, my packing guy made a bad mistake," he admitted. "There were two Leicas we sold on the same day for $313 and he sent both cameras to the wrong people. The other buyer is a camera store on Long Island, and we'll contact him and ask him to send the camera back to you directly, but if he won't cooperate, there's nothing much we can do--it doesn't pay to sue him. Of course if you send the CL back to us we'll refund your money, but let's see if we can arrange a direct swap between you and the other buyer--we'll pay the postage."

Hard case: Few camera copiers take the trouble of making a phony leather case, but this one did! Note freehand Reid logo that differs very slightly from those on the camera top and lens cap.

Charming. Well, after about five days of indecision (the other buyer was sick and out of the office) we finally arranged the swap, and in about a week I had my Leica IIIf. It's very pretty--cosmetically between Excellent plus and Mint minus--but the slow speeds didn't work. I removed the lens and looked at the shutter as I wound and fired the camera. The cause of the problem: a big hole in the second shutter curtain. Also, the secondary rangefinder image was none too bright. Yes, the seller in Florida was willing to take the IIIf back, but I decided to have it fixed by Essex Camera Repair Service of Carlstadt, New Jersey, who did a great job overhauling it for $200. The seller agreed to deposit $100 in my PayPal account, so $100 worth of the repair was on my dime.

Am I happy? Yes, reasonably happy but not ecstatic. I figure a really clean, fully functional IIIf black dial with Summitar is worth $413 and a little agita, but I wouldn't have bought it on eBay for that price. More importantly, I could've done just as well, minus the agita, if I had taken myself down to the nearest camera emporium and examined the merchandise in person before taking out my credit card. I could have even bought it with a 10-day return privilege and actually run some film through it--an option offered by very few eBay sellers.

Oh yes, in the interest of absolute honesty I should tell you that my third and last purchase on eBay went off without a hitch. I snagged a very clean (E+) Contax IIa rangefinder camera, a '53 Zeiss Ikon black shutter speed dial classic, with 50mm f/1.5 Sonnar lens (quite good even by today's standards) for $315 with never-ready case (somebody cut the integral carrying straps off!). When I called the seller, he said I was in luck--the post office truck had arrived the instant he'd finished packing it--and I had it in my hands the very next day! Luckily, the shutter works perfectly at all speeds--not always the case with rangefinder Contaxes.

I guess you could say that the Contax was my one true eBay Adventures success story. I saved roughly $50-$75 off the low-end camera store price, I got what I expected, and I received it in short order. However, if there had been a little fungus in the lens, or the iris diaphragm was sticky, or the shutter speeds were off, I'd have to spend perhaps 2-3 times the amount I saved to make it right--as I decided to do with the Leica IIIf. Luckily for me, all the eBay sellers I dealt with were on the up and up, but there are definitely some scuzzballs out there and eBay will not compensate your losses if you get stuck--unless you use PayPal and deal with preferred PayPal sellers only, which is not always possible.

Yeah, eBay will post bad feedback to give unaccommodating sellers a bad rep and remove really dishonest ones, but they won't get you a refund--and frankly I have my doubts about their abilities to police bad sellers who re-up under different names. In short, eBay claims that they exist to facilitate transactions and cannot be held responsible for any fraudulent actions by seller or buyers. But they certainly don't mind taking a healthy cut of the action! Ah, the joys of capitalism! The operative imperative: Caveat Emptor! The preferred choice: Examine that collectible camera in the metal at a camera dealer before finalizing your purchase.