Security. Stability. Unimpeachable borders. Oh no, you groan, more politics…perhaps she’s going to pontificate on immigration?
As a woman of few, yet very specific skills, I am about to share my specialty, the fine art of (drumroll) Packing & Shipping Fragile China (aka “the Fine Breakables”)…
As a veteran online shopper, I am astounded at how often I open a box to find pieces and shards of the past instead of the 100-year-old, one-of-a-kind Art Deco china I was anticipating. Break another little piece of my heart, why don’t you?
Let there be no points! You can wrap fragile pieces in 20 layers of bubble wrap, but if any of their hard edges can be felt, you still risk breakage, or at the very least, a crack. Trust me.
There are essentially 2 different issues:
1. PROTECTING THE CONTENTS FROM THE CARRIER
Everyone wants to blame the post office (or UPS, or FedEx…whatever, fill in the blank) for rough handling, even when they’ve wrapped eggshell porcelain in nothing more substantial than Kleenex and dog hair. Put enough padding between the item and the inner walls of a strong enough box and there should be no problem. An NFL kicker could punt one of my wrapped teacups and it would be fine. Really.
2. PROTECTING THE CONTENTS FROM THEMSELVES
Remember the saying, “Contents will settle during transit”? I think I first read it on a cereal box…all that jiggling about from your coast to mine means the items will move around in their packing materials if you let them. One hard edge poking out of a wad of bubblewrap knocks against another edge, and voilá! Crack. Chip. Broken.
Security. Stability. Unimpeachable borders. Some folks try to attain this by floating individually wrapped items in a bushel of styrofoam peanuts and shipping in a box big enough for a Harley.
I don’t. Instead, I subscribe to the philosophy of bundling. In this scenario, like fits best with like.
Movement is discouraged by adding more packing material than seems prudent. Money is saved because of something the shipping carriers use now called “dimensional weight.” This means they determine your shipping costs based on both the weight of the box AND its relative size – if those 2 things aren’t proportional, you’ll be smacked with a hefty surcharge. They basically don’t want to fill their airplanes and trucks with a bunch of huge boxes that weigh 3 lbs each.
- Plates – stack like sizes upon each other with something* between them, then wrap together in bundles by size, eg. Dinner plates together, then Salad plates, Bread plates, Saucers, and so on
- Bowls – ditto above
- Cups with handles – wrap individually in something* – if you use small bubblewrap, you can possibly stack them; if you use large bubblewrap, best to place individually in ‘nests’ of padding in the box
- Cups without handles, Glasses – wrap individually with something*
- Teapots, Coffeepots – wrap lids, spouts & handles separately – photos coming soon
* Something = a few sheets of paper, BubbleWrap (BW) or Styrofoam sheets, or in the case of handpainted china, plain paper first (the ink from newspaper can stain porous ceramics), then the padding – see example below
FINDING FREE PACKING MATERIALS
I’m a big fan of recycling clean packing materials (if you’ve got pets, please keep their hair out of the mix) like cardboard boxes, BubbleWrap, styro peanuts, plain newsprint paper, etc.
NOT those inflatable air pillows, they deflate too easily.
With a little effort, you can get these items for free: find a store that sells something breakable and ask for their discarded boxes & packing materials; some packing & shipping stores will give away their extra styro peanuts. I’ve had good luck with the following:
- Furniture Stores – large sheets of bubblewrap backed with a thin layer of foam, perfect for dishes
- Michael’s craft stores – BW & thick cardboard sheets from the Framing Department
- CostCo – thick pieces of double-corrugated cardboard from the chip displays
- Moving Companies – foam sheets, BW, plain newsprint paper, sometimes boxes
You can also get free USPS Priority Mail boxes delivered directly to your door: https://shop.usps.com/wcsstore/PostalStore/upload/htm/prioritymailFRB/
WRAPPING & PACKING INSTRUCTIONS:
Tip: The flat Medium & Large Flat Rate boxes open on each end, kinda unwieldy. I close them completely, then cut open a top flap for easier access. When finished packing (and I often add a layer of cardboard upright around the sides for reinforcement), simply tape closed.
Take this set of fragile Noritake eggshell teacups and their saucers: their decal decorations and matte mineral glazed blue make them too delicate & porous to use newspaper, so I’m using folded plain paper.
Starting with the stacked saucers, put one at the end of your folded strip of paper, fold it over once and add a piece of bubblewrap on top. Then place another saucer on top, fold the paper over it, add another piece of bubblewrap, and so on:
Then place the stack on another piece of paper on top of a longer piece of bubblewrap and bundle!
MOST IMPORTANT: Check for any hard edges poking through, and if you find any, add more padding!
Here’s how I pack cups with handles:
Place the cup on a square of bubblewrap, bubble side up. Fold 1 corner of the BW, and position the cup so that you can pinch the doubled fold over the handle. Tape into place.
Please Note: these photos show the large bubble style-wrap; I’ve since changed methods and now favor 2 sheets of the smaller bubblewrap – lay them so the bubbles face each other, then proceed as directed)
Although not shown, you may want to fill the cup with a ball of scrunched paper or a handful of peanuts. Then, fold the opposite corner of the BW toward the handle, then the side corners, & tape into place.
Extra caution was necessary for this fragile set, so I added another sheet of bubblewrap, this time the small bubble kind:
After laying a couple of inches of peanuts in the bottom of the box (USPS Large Flat Rate in this example), nestle the bundles together, making sure that any handles or corners are tucked away from the outside wall of the box.
Then add more peanuts, making sure they settle down between each piece and the outside wall of the box, as well as other pieces.
Keep putting more peanuts (or whatever packing material you’re using) in until you can’t possibly force another piece – this is important, it prevents the contents from moving about in the box, as well as supporting the box walls so they won’t crush inward upon impact.
I add another piece of cardboard on top of everything; it supports the lid from being dented. Finally, I run a layer of tape around each corner and the bottom edges of the box to protect against moisture) and mark the box “Fragile” in large printed letters, with “Porcelain” or “Glass” as appropriate, on each side, the bottom, and the top. Possibly overkill, but check my feedback – only 3 broken arrivals out of over 500 shipments!
My mother was an avid gift giver and I learned the art of wrapping a package from her. A few years as head packer/shipper for a record company where I had to ensure the safe delivery of thousands of fragile LPs and cassettes (remember those?) began my training, and moving to a new home 40+ times in 25 years completed it! Plus, I’m a know it all…;)
I hope this has been helpful…suggestions are welcome; what are some of your favorite packing tips?