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Getting it there in One Piece: Tips on Packaging and Shipping Antiques

by Rob Morrish (08/20/12).

The antiques trade throws a myriad of shapes, sizes and materials onto the packaging table. So, how would you package these two pieces of ceramics for shipping?

Packaging. Not the most riveting of topics, but I have been surprised that there isn’t a bit more information to be found about it online. In the past couple of years, as we have been building our e-commerce antiques shop—Parade Antiques—it has brought a whole new set of challenges with regard to getting a wide variety of items from our shelves in Southern England to customers all over the world.

The main obstacles to balance are package security and cost. You want to ensure your parcel arrives safely and undamaged, but going overboard on protection can lead to heavy parcels. This in turn can dissuade customers from paying high International shipping costs. Getting this balance right leads not only to happier customers and better feedback, but ultimately a fine reputation for delivery standards.

The antiques trade throws a myriad of shapes, sizes and materials onto the packaging table. Our website spreads them between antiques, art, china and glass, jewelry, militaria, toys and silver. The majority of this can be treated similarly, so I will begin with our standards.

Small items may not need a box, but they do still need protection. Mount the item on cardboard covered in bubble wrap.

Small items may not need a box, but they do still need protection, if you plan on sending a gold necklace or Albert watch chain, do not simply stuff it into a padded envelope. Instead, mount it on cardboard covered in bubble wrap. This keeps it together, ensures it will not get tangled and, when opened, the presentation is pleasing to the customer. That is just as important as anything else.

Bubble wrap is a cheap and effective protector of everything. Indeed, it is rare an item is sent from our office without a coating of it. Not only does it provide a soft cushion, it keeps items from rubbing and stops any of the additional packing materials cluttering the piece. It also gives the recipient something to play with when the item has arrived safely. This, used in conjunction with “wotsits” or void-fill peanuts, should be sufficient in almost all cases. There will, inevitably, be exceptions, and I will try and tackle these by example, giving an option for most challenges. Perhaps a general overview of what you want to protect against may be useful.

Crush Damage
This will not apply to hardy items such as woodenware or metalware, but could easily ruin the arrival of a precious Georgian silver teapot or a Chinese blue and white bowl. To avoid this, it is often best to use a slightly over-sized, sturdy box and ensure it is always snugly full of peanuts. This is a staple and, in fact, should always be adhered to. If your item moves when the box is shaken, you need more stuffing. The item should be suspended in a polystyrene matrix with no room to move. There is a simple reason for this, if the item can move, it can be broken. If the box has the opportunity to be compressed it will invariably take it. A rigid box is a safe box.

Bubble wrap, used in conjunction with “wotsits” or void-fill peanuts, should be sufficient in almost all shipping cases.

Make sure to make the package as “Fragile,” even though the only person who pays attention to it may be the customer.

Include promotional flyers to encourage repeat business. This is a customer you already know is interested in your wares.

Penetration Damage
This is surprisingly difficult to protect against and bubble wrap alone is not sufficient. I suppose this is most relevant when sending art or glass and ceramics. If a box is mishandled, heaven forbid, and thrown onto the corner of another box in the back of a van, you want to ensure no damage can come of it. The simplest solution to this is more cardboard. Yes it means more weight but when your package is fragile, the added weight is worth it. Wrap your item in bubble wrap as you would and then fold in cardboard before bubble wrapping again. I have tested this on cheap bowls and it can be dropped onto a hard edge without damage, even without its box. Put this in the normal peanut-filled box and you should be covered. Artwork is always a slight thorn, as you can be assured finding a box to fit will take more time than painting it, but it is important to apply the same rules. Making sure it does not move inside the box, making sure it is protected from puncture and crush damage and making sure its value is worth the time and effort you have to put into the packaging of it.

Also, you might consider a few unnecessary but aesthetic additions:

• We use a final wrapping in craft paper; this weighs next to nothing but gives neatness to any box;
• An address stamp with the sender’s details and the use of “Fragile” stickers. I say this last point is merely aesthetic, because I’m fairly certain the only person who pays attention to it is the customer.
• The inclusion of promotional flyers. Promote yourself to customers you know are interested!

There are simple steps everyone can achieve to ensure a safe parcel, at minimum cost. Spend on the bubble wrap, it doesn’t cost the earth, but try to save on recycling boxes. Every business recycles the boxes they receive for deliveries, but instead of it going into the green wheelie bin out the back, try to get them into your storeroom. All boxes will have a use and the more you have the more likely it is you will find a good fit for your item. This is what you want: a well-fitted box, full of wotsits around a snugly bubble wrapped item.

Rob Morrish is the Online Sales Manager at Parade Antiques in Plymouth, Devon, England. Since launching the website two years ago, he has had to pack and send more varied items than he would care to remember. Keep up with the goings on at the shop and around Plymouth on the Parade Antiques Blog.

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6 Responses to “Getting it there in One Piece: Tips on Packaging and Shipping Antiques”

  1. nick ryan says:

    Hi, good article, I always double box my clocks, by this I mean wrap the clock in cling wrap to keep any components that may come loose in one area, (obviously pendulum, key etc all removed and packed separately) then place that item in a box with bubble wrap and peanuts or paper around it and seal, then I put that box inside a larger box again with peanuts and paper or scrunched up supermarket plastic bags to form yet another cushion, you may think this over the top but 100 year old clocks with irreplaceable glass need protecting properly.

    I have never had one break using this method YET.

    Regards, Nick

    • Hi Nick,

      Double boxing is an excellent way of ensuring the item is safe and with something as precious as clocks I’m not surprised you use it. We have had a few requests to do that and nothing untoward has ever come of it so far, I hope it never does!

      I like the use of plastic bags as a stuffing material, I’m all for saving money and if recycling them helps the planet and my pocket then its win-win.

      Do you sell your clocks online? Id love to have a look at a website if you could link it.

      Kind regards,

      Rob

  2. Linda Odom says:

    Hi Nick,
    How do you insure expensive artwork? I have not found a company that will do so..ie Auctiva or USPS, FedEx for say $3,000 to $5,000. Any advice?

    Thanks!

    Linda

  3. Debra says:

    Linda,
    I have a vintage shop on Etsy and use Shipsaver to insure my packages. You may want to check out this link to a company who Shipsaver partners with.

    http://www.shipsurance.com

    Hope this helps. I am not affiliated with either company; just a satisfied customer of Shipsaver.

    Best,

    Deb

  4. Allen Fritz says:

    Hello, great article! I agree with everyone so far and certainly double box clocks and extremely fragile items. In addition, I can offer a few tips I have learned over the years of packing and shipping.
    1. Turn the bubbles on bubble wrap out, not towards the object you are protecting.
    2. Try to use only the large bubble wrap. The small bubble wrap has very a limited use for small items.
    3. If you are using recycled bubblewrap, double check the bubbles to ensure large areas are not deflated already. (This is easy to miss)
    4. It is a good idea to place items that are subject to water damage inside of plastic bags or other waterproof protective sleeves when shipping in envelopes or light boxes. These get dropped in the snow and rain and quickly saturate. Boxes do not soak through as quickly, but certainly can when left on wet surfaces for prolonged periods.
    5. Always try to allow at least 2 to 3 inches of packing material between the outer edge of your wrapped object and the inside edges of the box.
    6. Ensure multiple items can not knock against each other.
    7. Notes and effective communication to the buyer should accompany complicated packing jobs, such as multiple parts or if you disassembled an item and packed them within the box separately.
    8. Strap or thread tape is always a good idea on large, heavy boxes used in criss-crossing the box.
    9. Ensure that items that have sharp points or edges are blunted with cardboard or foam; or it will punch through the package. Do not ship anything sharp in envelopes.
    10. My last recommendation….If you have a large or unusual sized object, I recommend you find the matching box before you sell it. :) Allen

  5. Larry Quirk says:

    While this is a good article espicially for expensive items, when you are selling at the lower end of the scale especially on ebay, it does not always work. The main reason is that bubble wrap and plastic peanuts are EXPENSIVE to buy. Just go to Staples and take a look. If you cant get them free in other packages or from friends, then you have to resort to newspaper or other inexpensive packing. The trick is to wrap a more fragile item in bubble wrap but pack the box all around it with paper so that the item is suspended in its own firm but not tight cocoon. Alos, invest in a roll of red and white FRAGILE stickers and plaster the box with them for a delicate item. While this is no guarantee, I think it gives the handler some pause before he/she tosses another box on it.

    Since you have to keep your shipping costs down to be competative, I would not add weight with a catalogue which a smart buyer will realize that they paid for it to be included in the package.

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