Packing and Shipping Insulators
Written by Mike Guthrie
This page discusses the following:
There are probably as many techniques of packing insulators as there are insulators themselves. The methods are limited only by the creativity of the packer and the types of materials available. The following suggestions are not intended to, nor can they, cover every possible packaging technique. They do, however, originate from one who has shipped in excess of 5,000 insulators all over the world the past 14 years with only five pieces being reported as damaged in transit.
Of course, the Cadillac version of shipping would include using bubble wrap around each individual insulator, surrounding the wrapped pieces with Styrofoam 'peanuts' or 'popcorn', and placing them in double walled cardboard boxes. These materials, however, can be quite expensive if purchased at retail prices.
On the other hand, eyewitnesses have seen boxes dropped from loading docks, with no damage to the contents, using only the 'newspaper and cardboard' packing techniques described below.
It is extremely helpful to locate or cultivate sources of free materials. To ship a single piece with purchased box, bubble wrap, etc. could cost several dollars. Such materials, however, are available from many sources, especially if you're not afraid to do a little dumpster diving or alley cruising behind retail businesses. Styrofoam pieces can be obtained from any number of retailers who receive shipments of glassware, china, electrical components, etc., etc. Other effective materials include soft foam such as used carpet padding, etc. If you can establish a relationship with one or two businesses which utilize such materials you may be able to satisfy all your packaging needs by recycling their discards at little or no cost to you.
While bubble wrap, "egg crate" foam, used carpet padding, etc. are all excellent wrapping materials, they may not be readily available to you. A far more practical and inexpensive method is to use normal household materials such as newspaper and cardboard. In wrapping normal size insulators, open, full sheets of newspaper are recommended. If your newspaper doesn't use the smudgeless inks, you may wish to buy blank newsprint which is often available from the local paper in the form of roll ends.
To wrap with newsprint, start at a corner using two thicknesses of paper. Roll the insulator on a diagonal toward the opposite corner, folding the left and right edges of the paper over the insulator as it is rolled. By folding the edges uniformly, this folding process creates a relatively even insulating cushion of air and paper. After the corner of the paper is reached, repeat the process with two more sheets of paper. Tape the loose end to keep the paper from unraveling. Once all pieces are so wrapped, there are a number of tips to packing them within the box. When using foams or bubble wraps it is important to seal any open ends so the insulator doesn't slip out when removed from the box.
Most pieces which are damaged during shipping are those which have inadequate wrapping, insufficient separation from each other in the box, or which are too close to the surfaces or corners of the box. To prevent internal damage, it is imperative that the pieces be separated from each other with materials such as foam pieces, bubble wrap, crumpled newspaper, cardboard, or other lightweight material. It is strongly recommended that pieces be boxed in a single layer in a vertical position (like glass food and beverage containers) as opposed to laying them on their sides. The potential for damage is greatest when is pressure exerted on the sides of an insulator skirt. Unfortunately, boxes are sometimes shipped on their sides or upside down, so pieces should be positioned so that they can sustain some weight and pressure from all directions. When the shape of a box dictates that insulators are likely to be shipped on their sides, greater insulation between the insulator and box walls is necessary.
Pieces with extended skirts, ears, etc., are best protected if the piece is encircled with cardboard or placed in a separate box after it is wrapped. Double decking in the shipping box is not a problem with a couple sheets of cardboard placed between the layers of vertically arranged insulators.
With large insulators, each wrapped piece should be placed in a box slightly larger than the piece. That box should be placed inside a larger box with sufficient padding to prevent the smaller box from being crushed by, or crushing, other contents. The double box (boxes within a box) technique is also recommended for shipping pieces of higher value and for overseas shipments. For very valuable pieces, placing the wrapped insulator into coffee cans within an insulated box provides maximum protection from crushing or other damage.
To prevent breakage from dropped or crushed boxes, it is important not to place pieces close to the corners, sides, top, or bottom. To create insulated spacing, the same insulative materials listed above can be used. Another excellent source of spacing insulation is the cardboard core of fabric bolts which are available from fabric stores. They are about 1" thick and can be cut to fit any portion of the box. Solid sheets of styrofoam are also effective, if you can find them.
The area between the box surfaces and the contents should be sufficiently padded to absorb dropping or sharp blows from the outside. Pieces should be snugly packed to prevent shifting. While the Post Office and UPS encourage several inches of insulation, an inch on the sides and bottom and two inches on the top are usually more than adequate.
All flaps should be securely taped. A continuous wrap around the box, parallel with the flap seam, is most desirable. Wide cellophane type tapes are preferable to duct tape, paper tape, etc. Except in boxes with heavy contents, the expensive reinforced strapping tapes are not necessary.
In addition to external shipping labels, it also a good idea to include a duplicate label, with phone number, on the inside of the box as a backup should the surface label be scraped off or damaged. Brightly colored shipping labels (e.g., 3x5 index cards) assist the package handlers in spotting the address. It is probably best not to wrap the box in paper. In some regions, UPS recently started rejecting paper wrapped parcels as the outer covering frequently tears causing the label to disappear. Any old addresses or labels on the outside of the box should be removed or blocked out.
For special techniques, such as shipping large porcelain multiparts, etc., please e-mail me for information.
Out of U.S. shipments can be problematic. UPS requires so many customs forms that one could easily conclude that they don't really want to be bothered. The USPS wins hands down on ease of international shipments. Prices vary so you may wish to shop around. A Canadian collector reports:
"I've bought bottles and insulators from the states and had nothing but grief from UPS. Maybe it's wonderful within your own country, but it's hell to hear from an American that "Oh, it's okay, I shipped it UPS!". That means border delays, a minimum $20 brokerage fee, and they try to slap duty on things all the time."
If you are a frequent shipper, you may wish to consider creating an automated invoicing system. I have designed a form on EXCEL which is identical to the UPS standard shipping form. With a dot matrix printer and a little experimentation at form feeding, you can print out shipping forms without using a pen. This is the final step to a multi-phase, semi-automated process which starts with a computerized listing of pieces, which are transferred to an invoice (which serves as a shipping label), from which the address is transferred to the UPS shipping form ... without ever putting a pen to paper. Details are available on request.
While Fed-ex and some other companies may handle insulator shipments, the two biggest and most accessible companies are the Postal Service (USPS) and United Parcel Service (UPS-pronounced "oops!" :-) There are pros and cons with both but the choice usually boils down to what is convenient for the shipper. Both USPS and UPS offer free rate charts so you may calculate your own costs. On smaller parcels, USPS may have the edge in economy, but as the package gets heavier and you factor in insurance, UPS generally comes out less expensive depending, of course, on the shipping level you select (e.g., first class vs. express, regular ground vs. next day air, etc.) If you use package delivery stores, however, the rates are substantially increased as most add a surcharge to the standard UPS rates. Before using package stores, do some serious price comparisons if you have any other options.
Delivery time may vary greatly but with UPS your package's delivery status can be traced to some degree or other depending upon which shipping option you choose. Since the first piece is always the most expensive, one multiple piece order saves lots of money over several single piece orders.
Some UPS customer counters are very finicky about accepting glass for shipment while others don't say anything as long as you pack well. As a result, you may wish to avoid the use of the word "glass" on your shipping form under "contents."
UPS has a page on the Web, and you can do a couple of neat things! If you ship via UPS you may want to take a look at these. Here are some of the things you can do from the UPS home page:
With UPS, the first $100 in insurance is free so the decision to insure or not is made simple. With higher value shipments, the current price is $0.35 per $100 in value. The Postal Service charges extra for insurance so that must be factored into the decision on which shipping choice you select. There are endless examples of being penny wise and pound foolish when it comes to insuring. One prominent dealer failed to insure a box valued at $800.00 which was lost while being shipped to a show many years ago. Three of the four boxes made it, but on the one that didn't, UPS paid the first $100.00 but the rest was a total loss.
With UPS, the recipient of the damaged goods must retain the entire shipment including all packing materials. If they are discarded, then the shipper may be denied reimbursement. So, for all recipients of damaged UPS shipments, keep everything as you received it, call UPS, and await instructions. Depending on the value of the shipment, they may retrieve it before opening a claim. Don't discard any portion of the shipment or packaging until UPS says it's ok.
This information is intended to prevent the 'reinvention of the wheel' syndrome in shipping insulators and will hopefully save some from the grief of having an irreplaceable item damaged due to inadequate packing and shipping. Disclaimer: Although I believe these are reasonable methods to follow, I can not take personal responsibility for insulators that get damaged using the instructions presented here.
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Please send your questions and comments to Mike Guthrie at
Last updated Thursday, March 21, 1996