Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Shipping 101

At the risk of alienating one twelfth of the members of the blogosphere, I confess that I sometimes find that living with a died-in-the-wool Virgo has its moments. Like when I…a whimsical Pisces…grab a chisel from his carefully-alphabetized tool box to open a can of paint…or use the “wrong” sponge to wash his favorite kitchen knife…or not replace the cap on a glue bottle quite straight…or plug in an external hard drive upside down…little things.

However, after all these years, I’ve learned to take advantage of what some might call nauseating nit-picking or being prudent to the point of the ridiculous…notice I said “some”. Anyway, I soon realized that his infernal cautiousness has some merit and can actually be a real asset…especially in his capacity as head of our shipping department.

And I’ve actually come to appreciate his ways, as I was recently reminded of how the rest of the world views the requirements for shipping a fragile item…an antique Quimper pottery figure that was once in mint condition arrived carelessly packed and consequently cracked…the crack corresponding perfectly with the dent in the flimsy cardboard box in which it was sent.

To make something good out of this unfortunate occurrence, here are some of my favorite Virgo’s golden rules for shipping a fragile item…

…the boxes must be sturdy; note the word “boxes” as all items are to be double-boxed…a box within a box. No exceptions!

…wrap the item first in unprinted newsprint or a hospital pad and then in several layers of bubble wrap and seal that in a box. The size of that inner box depends upon the fragility of the object. A sturdy ceramic plate, for example, can be fit snugly into the box with just a bit of packing “peanuts” (or Styrofoam) in the corners. Something more vulnerable…a figure with protruding head or hands, etc….should be in a box that is at least one inch…two inches in some cases…larger than the wrapped package all the way around. In those instances, the wrapped package goes into this inner box after an inch (or two, depending on the size of the box) of peanuts is placed on the bottom. And then more peanuts are added as described later in this post.

…by the way, in general, if the item is breakable and your package will be sent by air, best to not rely solely on the new-fangled air packets…they have been known to develop leaks while en route in an unpressurized cargo plane and consequently the item ends up being poorly protected during the ground portion of its journey.

…pack each of the boxes as full as you can with the packing peanuts…so full that closing and taping them shut is usually a two-man operation. The theory here is to not pack an item too loosely…because even though it’s in bubble wrap, you don’t want the package moving around within the inner box or the inner box moving around within the outer box.

…include all pertinent information inside the top of the outer box…invoice, etc…as well as a duplicate of the shipping label.

He then goes over the entire box with clear packing tape…the entire box. This step not only protects the box from moisture, but gives extra support and protection from dents and punctures.

And since a picture says a thousand words…here are some snapshots of the Master Packer at work…

Here’s what he does:

Place the item on a flat, sturdy surface…in this case, the item is an antique Quimper faïence figure…shipping 1Next, wrap the item…he uses hospital diapers from a medical supply store, but unprinted newsprint can be used as well…emphasis on unprinted. This can be purchased from a moving or storage company. First, wrap the diaper or paper around any parts of the item that protrude…
shipping 2 …and then continue with at least two layers…
shipping 3 Do not use bubble wrap next to the item itself as it can leave an imprint…the same goes for printed newspaper or pages from a magazine. Only after the piece is wrapped in the diaper or unprinted newsprint is it time for the bubble wrap…
shipping 4In general, he prefers the larger-bubbled variety, but here he is using the regular-sized…which works, it’s just not his favorite. It’s a Virgo thing.
shipping 5Keep wrapping the piece in the bubble wrap until you no longer feel the contours of the piece…you just feel the bubbles…
shipping 6 Then tape the bubble wrap with packing tape to form the package…
shipping 7You’re now ready for the first box…as described above, the size of this box will vary according to the fragility of the item being shipped. For something vulnerable, as in the illustration, the inner box should be all the way around at least two inches larger than the bubble-wrapped piece. The box should be sturdy cardboard…such as the type available from moving companies or re-cycled liquor boxes, etc. He often has to customize a box…cutting a too-large box down to fit the specific situation.  For this very fragile item, he will first fill the inner box with about two inches of packing peanuts, place the bubble-wrapped piece on top, and add more packing peanuts…stopping to tamp them down in the corners and making sure to fill all the empty spaces. Once you have a nice, snug fit, tape this first box closed with packing tape.

For the second box…the outer box…again, choose a box that is sturdy and will be at least two inches larger all the way around…three inches is even better.  Here, he has customized a box to be just the right size and has drawn a line to illustrate what will be the final “peanut” level…

shipping 8Place a two inch layer of packing peanuts on the bottom of this outer box and then put in the sealed inner box.
shipping 9 Now pour on the packing peanuts…this was the part that our previous cat…Porky…really liked. He loved to chase and bat around any stray peanut…but J-P could care less about them.  Anyway, be sure to use enough packing peanuts…stopping every so often to pack them down and see that they get into every corner…
shipping 10 …and make sure that there will be enough under the top flaps as well.
shipping 11Put the pertinent paperwork and duplicate shipping information on top…preferably so that it  sits off to the side under one of the box flaps to prevent it from being cut when the box is eventually opened. Then you’re ready to tape closed the outer box…
shipping 12  …again, if you’ve put in the proper amount of packing peanuts…then this usually is a two-person proposition.

Then comes the tape…lots and lots of packing tape. Any seam should be completely covered with a solid piece of packing tape…a piece that goes all the way around the box. He does this for both the top and the sides…
shipping 13…and then does the bottom, too…carefully, sealing the entire box.
shipping 14Then all you have to do is tape on a shipping label and it’s ready to go! He puts a mile of tape over the shipping label as well…but then he’s a Virgo! 

Stay tuned for more behind the scenes adventures of The Meadows Collection…or check out the results at www.meadowscollection.com

And if it’s Quimper pottery that you crave…you’ll love www.oldquimper.com


  1. The proof of the pudding is on my dining room table, right now! Superbly packed piece arrived safely this morning. It only took me 3 minutes to open and unpack it. Every dealer should have a copy of these instructions!

  2. Agree! Everyone who ships a piece of faience should follow these instructions. ~ Sarah
    I live with a Virgo too! ;-)

  3. Great information Adela, and it's so important to pack well. I'm behind with all your interesting blogs, but will get caught up.