How to Pack and Ship Mineral Specimens Safely and Cheaply: A Guide

how-to packaging shipping


Many folks are often nervous about shipping their specimens, and we totally understand. Done properly, however, the risks are very low. We send and receive a lot of specimens via mail, and feel the best practice by far is to pack "boxes within a box". Continue reading to see how we do it.

Preparing Mineral Specimens for Shipment

Each specimen to be mailed should be packed in an individual box that is (ideally) twice as long, twice as wide, and twice as deep as the specimen itself. It should be packed using the softest padding available to fill the gaps. Dry cleaner bags are an industry favorite, but grocery produce bags, plastic grocery bags, and loose cotton balls also work. The more delicate the specimen, the softer the padding must be, and the heavier the specimen, the more of a gap is needed between the specimen and the box wall.
Don't pack the filler so tightly that there is no room for it to compress if the box is dropped or takes a blow, nor pack it so loosely that it can become compressed and loose during transit. Close the box with a rubber band(s), grip it well, and shake it like a can of spray paint, increasing in force until you are shaking it HARD without the specimen moving inside to know if you've padded it well. If you are afraid to do this, then the box is probably too small or the padding is inadequate. If the specimen starts moving the harder you shake it, then your padding is getting packed down and you need to add more.
Once satisfied, repeat with your other specimens as necessary. Then pack all of those boxes into a larger outer box (see "Shipping Services" section below for advice on choosing an outer box). Whatever your carrier/box, choose one that is big enough to allow room for stiffer padding all around the "core" of specimen boxes. Bubble wrap, packing peanuts, foam sheets, Styrofoam, and balled up kraft paper/newsprint, etc. work well for this. Again, don't make the filler so tight there is no sponginess to absorb a drop/impact, nor so loose the boxes move around. It must be just tight enough that when you hold the box closed and shake it hard as before, you don't feel the specimen boxes inside shifting around. Don't tape it closed until it passes this second shake test.
How well you must pack your specimens is directly proportional to their weight. Heavy boxes go through more trauma if they are dropped or tossed in transit than a light box, so consider splitting up your shipments if you have more than ~8 lbs of specimens to ship, even if they would fit together in one outer box. If you choose not to split or just have a heavy specimen, then make sure the outer box is extra sturdy and has plenty of extra space around the inner specimen box(es) for padding. Walmart, hardware stores, and moving stores sell double-walled boxes in sizes like 12x12x12". Sometimes labelled "extra sturdy" or "extra thick" instead of "double-walled", these boxes sell for $1-2 each and they are well worth it for heavier/larger packages.
Packaged well, 99% of specimens can be shipped safely. Any extra hassle and/or expense for good packaging materials and quality boxes is worth it for safety and peace of mind. When packed as described above, we have never had a single specimen arrive to or from us that was damaged in transport, even ones that were clearly very roughly handled.

Shipping Carriers and Cost

For most people, if the specimens are packaged properly as above, our biggest concerns with shipping will just be price and speed. USPS is our preferred carrier as they usually have the best prices and fastest service, especially if purchasing online. We highly recommend you buying your postage online if possible, and recommend "Pirate Ship". This easy to use free site offers the best commercial USPS and UPS rates and will save significantly over counter prices (up to 90% less), and you just buy and print at home. We're not affiliated with them, nor do we get anything when you use that link, we're just fans of their service.

For USPS packages, our favorites are Medium Flat Rate, Large Flat Rate, Regional A1, or Regional B1 boxes as they are fast and extremely economical at ~$8-19 per box via PirateShip. 6X6X6" and 8x8x8" standard boxes or the free USPS branded 7.25x7.25x6" "Priority 4" box also get EXCELLENT "Cubic Rate" from USPS (again, via PirateShip). Cubic rates work on any box less than 0.5 cubic feet and under 20 lbs. Another potential perk of shipping via Flat Rate, Regional Rate, or Cubic Rate is if you don't have a postage/kitchen scale, since none of those require you to weigh your package.

For mailing a single fist-sized specimen, you can't get much better bang for your buck than by using a Priority 4 box for the outer box (with a normal specimen box inside and padding in between of course). A Priority 4 box is just under 0.2 cubic feet and thus will ship anywhere in the US for ~$6-12 depending on distance via PirateShip, plus no need to weigh the package and the box itself is free! Flat Rate boxes can be picked up anytime for free from your local PO, but Regional boxes and Priority 4 boxes need to be ordered (also free!) from USPS online and delivered to your home in advance.

Note that you must use Priority Mail for any USPS branded box, so if you're shipping a box under 1lb, you're better off using a regular box. A plain box weighing up to 13 oz (or up to 15.99 oz if purchased online) can go USPS First Class for under $6. If it's above that weight but will fit inside a Priority Flat Rate Padded Envelope (also FREE, but must be ordered online) you can ship it anywhere in the US for $8.75 on Pirate Ship. If it's small but won't fit in the envelope, you'll probably find Cubic Rates to be the best. Larger volume (10x10x10" or more) or heavier boxes between 3-8+ lbs are oftentimes more cost effective via UPS Ground, especially if you don't have Flat or Regional USPS boxes available. Just make sure to enter the dimensions of your box accurately into Pirate Ship and they'll give you all your rate options.

Unless you have a specific preference for them, we find FedEx doesn't offer any price, speed, or safety benefits over USPS or UPS. Finally, we feel DHL is usually worth the extra money for international shipments, but UPS is the best economic choice (especially if you have to pay over-the-counter rates for DHL), but you might wait a bit longer than DHL. USPS is usually the most expensive for international shipments.


While some mail services include a little bit of insurance, it is typically only $50-100 and usually only if purchased online. However, you will usually be given the option to purchase additional insurance. Should you? First, there are some things you need to know. Policies will vary, but the truth is it is often very difficult to get the insurance companies to pay out for claims on mineral specimens. It's likely to be a difficult and drawn-out process. You will usually need the original purchase receipt, and you are more likely to get paid out for a completely lost package than for "just" damage to a specimen. No matter what, in the best case scenario you'll only receive what you paid for the specimen, regardless of the insurance amount or the specimen's current value. They don't make it easy, and getting anything for a self-collected specimen is obviously even harder. For damaged specimens, you may need one (if not two) value appraisals from a third-party professional that is approved by the insurance company.

Whether to buy shipping insurance is up to you, and we would never discourage anyone from doing so, however, it is important to know the reality of what you are actually buying and its limitations. Insurance is never a good substitute for good packaging. If you're nervous, a few extra dollars spent on postage for larger boxes with more padding, and/or higher quality boxes and packing materials is the best way to get peace of mind first, and consider insurance second. You can ship an egg with confidence with the right packaging and technique, and it's a heck of a lot easier to do that than to get insurance to pay for an eggy mess shipped in a flimsy box with insufficient packaging.

Return Shipping

For milled base orders, you will be invoiced for the actual shipping cost of returning your specimens to you with their new custom milled bases. We do not charge a penny more for packaging materials or handling. All items will be shipped according to best practices as described above and packed as if they were our own beloved specimens. We usually return specimens and bases via USPS Priority or UPS Ground (and UPS World or DHL for international clients) regardless of how they were sent to us, but will gladly follow you preferences for carrier and service speed if you have a preference. We get excellent rates with these carriers, but if you prefer that we bill to your shipping account we will certainly do so. We do not purchase extra insurance above the $50-100 that is included with postage by default, but can easily add it for you at cost ($0.75 per $100 of coverage through Shipsurance) if you'd like. We can also arrange local delivery, local pickup, or will hold onto them for pickup until we can meet at a mineral show. Similarly, we are happy to arrange pickup, dropoff, or meeting-up to receive your specimens if you want to avoid shipping them to us in the first place.

We hope this helps our clients and fellow dealers! Please do not hesitate to reach out with any questions, special requests, or feedback!


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