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How To (& How NOT To) Properly Pack & Ship An Autographed Item

This seems like a simple enough of a concept. Most people do it well, but there's nothing worse than receiving an autographed item that was damaged in shipping when it could have been prevented by better packaging. The single worst thing in this hobby is waiting for a great new item to arrive at the door and then finding it mangled due to insufficient packaging. Sometimes even really good dealers aren't doing the best they can when it comes to packaging. This is a very big deal to me and I have stopped dealing with certain dealers who are cutting corners and not shipping items properly. 

Let's use this thread to share advice on how to properly pack and ship an autographed item. My experience is mostly with flat items, so please add advice for other things that can be signed!

Before we start, a good rule of thumb is to assume that your package will be banged up in shipping. So when you are packing up your item, try to think about the ways it could be damaged and then do something that will prevent that kind of damage!

Cuts to 8x10s:

There's no excuse to ship 8x10s in a way that sets them up for being damaged in shipping. I've received them in envelopes with no packaging whatsoever. I've received them in bubble envelopes with no hard cardboard for backing. I've received them in Priority Mail Flat Rate envelopes with no other reinforcement. All of these methods will lead to dinged up items!

The absolute best method, in my opinion, is the "Toploader between at least 2 pieces of cardboard, inside of an envelope of roughly the same size". The toploader will even absorb major bends, dings and dents that could happen in shipping. When a photo is bent inside of a toploader, it is very rare for the photo itself to be damaged. In the thousands of photos I have received in the mail, I have only seen it happen once. It shocks me that major ebay dealers who are routinely asking at least $100 per photo cannot be bothered to ship their items this way. 

One very important warning: If you are going to use a toploader, keep in mind that it could stick to the photo and autograph, potentially removing pieces of the signature when you pull it out (it's happened to me, even in the short period of shipping time). To combat this, cut a piece of plastic from a sleeve that will cover the signed area. Even a piece of printer paper will suffice. Remember never to keep a photo in a toploader for too long because of this. They should be used only for short term shipping.

Next, put a small piece of tape over the top of the toploader. If you don't, the photo can slightly come out during shipping and the corners can get dinged up. Next, place the toploader between at least 2 pieces of strong cardboard. Make sure the cardboard is a little larger than the item itself so it can absorb some of the corner dings and dents the package may incur in transit. 

If you are not using a toploader, increase the amount of layers of cardboard you are using. Once again, make sure the cardboard is a little larger than the item itself so it can absorb some of the corner dings and dents the package may incur in transit. 

11x14 and up:

The larger an item is, the greater the chance of damage that can happen to it if it is shipped flat. If you absolutely must ship an 11x14 photo flat, use the same method described above. Put it in a toploader, put that between cardboard, and put that in a form fitting envelope. Because of the larger surface area, it has a greater chance of being bent or dinged up in shipping. Sending 11x14s flat with flimsy cardboard is just asking for disaster. The best way I've ever encountered is the "tube in a box" method I'll describe below. 

One important note: I have received many flimsy poster tubes over the years that USPS put a big dent in. That dent then transfers through the poster multiple times, denting that same rolled spot over and over again! If you're going to be selling items that are potentially worth hundreds of dollars, invest in stronger tubes. Next, put the tube in a small box that is about the same size as the tube. In my experience, nothing works better than a "tube in a box" for 11x14s and higher. 

That's all I've got for now. What percentage of damaged items do you receive? Who are the biggest offenders? What extra tips can you share?

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Does the global shipping company on ebay, re-pack peoples items, because ive had some packages that were less than desirable.

This is a great post....it's a damn shame that there is not a place to post this all over ebay and the entire internet.

Just this week I received (2) 8x10 photos in the same flat rate Priority Envelope, of course the seller was kind enough to put the Priority Envelope inside of a Priority Bubble Envelope. No topload, no cardboard, not even a plastic sleeve.

Two weeks ago I received a photo (that I paid $6.95 shipping for) in a standard bubble envelope via first class mail, not even a "Do Not Bend" on the envelope.

Needless to say, it gets bad enough that I won't even talk about a purchase until I have the item in hand now. I don't trust anyone to ship anything correctly unless I spell it all out for them.

The only thing I can add to this thread is to remind people that writing "do not bend" on a package does not make it so that a postal carrier can't damage the item. You need to follow the instructions above or make damn sure that the buyer you are shipping to pays for full insurance on the package.

  

That's the truth I write PHOTO'S PLEASE DO NOT BEND OR FOLD THANKS on both sides of my TTM SASE's in red sharpie and they still bend and cram stuff in my mail box at the P.O. IV had envelopes ripped in two and returns opened and empty. One return from Slash was crumpled into a ball somehow in the return process. I do alot of TTM and one problem I have alot is what appears to be burn marks along the edges of some of my SASE's I'm assuming from the machines used to sort the mail.

I have come to the conclusion that the postal carriers & sorters now see "Do Not Bend" on an envelope and they take it as a dare. 

"Who are you to challenge my authority!" I am a USPS employee and I can do whatever I want!

 

It seems that the better the score on ebay, the greater the chance the seller doesn't know how to properly ship an autograph. They take a photo they don't know the value of, list it with poor descriptors and then one of us buys it. They aren't used to shipping photos, so anything goes. My personal favorite is when people will put in cardboard for reinforcement, but the cardboard is smaller than the photo. Then every time something pushes on the package, the photo bends along the cardboard. If the seller seems clueless I will message them with very specific packing requests. That doesn't mean they always listen though, haha!

Good post.

Another problem are people who take it to the other extreme and use so much tape that you risk damaging an item because you literally need to cut it out. Nothing needs to be completely covered in multiple layers of tape!

I use blue painters tape to hold together the cardboard sandwich. You only need one piece on each side. It's strong enough to keep it together, yet easily peels off without using a knife or scissors.

And my all time favorite shipping supply is corrugated plastic sheets... like what the political lawn signs are made of.  Much stiffer than cardboard and lightweight. 

Corrugated plastic sheets. Great tip. I will have to try that.

You raise a great point about over-packing an item. It sucks when there's something special under layers and layers of packing tape with no safe way to get at it. Steiner did that to me with the Daisy Ridley items I got from them. They basically put their 16x20s in a thin plastic bag and then they tape all along the edges with packing tape against hard cardboard. I remember sweating and very carefully pulling the tape back, trying not to pull too hard so as not to bend the photo in the process. 

Blue painter's tape is a great solution. Another good one is to fold the tape over at the end to make a tag for the recipient to pull on to open up the "sandwich" you've created. You're right, if you're doing it correctly you don't need to use a lot of tape. 

Blows my mind how some of these collectors don't care about quality whatsoever and make their whole business a cash grab with their focus as spending as little money as they possibly can. I kept reading about them putting all their photos in thin PVC pipes to save a buck. Good Lord. Just pack them normally and safely. Stop being such lazy cheapskates.

My signed Mother love bone holiday card arrived in a box roughly 20cm square stuffed with paper and in the middle was the holiday card.
Such a strange way to send a card off without placing it between cardboard.
Ive had rare lps shipped in those bubble wrap mailer, where the lp moves around. They just become obliterated, bent, torn, split.
I just sold a really expensive signed 8x 10 photo and i wasnt going to ship it in a top loader because i didnt want it to be scratched when removed.
Most people dont know that you have to put paper over it etc.

I like to put the 8x10 in an 11x14 toploader, just to make sure it has plenty of room to slide back and forth, and up and down, and round and round.. 

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