How to Pack and Ship Minerals Safely: A Guide

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 using the softest padding available to fill the gaps. Dry cleaner bags are an industry favorite, but produce bags, plastic shopping 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 takes a blow, nor so loosely that it can become packed down during transit. Close the box with a rubber band(s), grip it well, and shake it back and forth, up and down,  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. 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, peanuts, foam, air pouches, 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, but rather just tight enough that when you hold it closed and shake it hard, you don't feel the specimen boxes inside shifting around. 
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-thickness "extra sturdy moving/storage" boxes for $1-2 each and they are well worth it.
 
Packaged well, virtually any specimen can be shipped safely. Any extra hassle and/or expense for good packaging 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 Services, 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 rates and will save significantly over counter prices, just buy and print at home. 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 $7.68-18.30 per box online. Flat rate boxes can also be picked up for free from your local PO, but Regional boxes usually need to be ordered (for free) from USPS. Boxes up to 13 oz (or up to 15.99 oz if purchased online) can go USPS First Class (under $4) and boxes above 13/15.99 oz that will squeeze into a Priority Flat Rate Padded Envelope ($7.75 online) are also cost savers. Larger volume or heavier boxes between 3-8+ lbs can sometimes be more cost effective via UPS Ground, especially if Flat or Regional USPS rates are unavailable. Unless you have a specific preference for them, we find FedEx doesn't usually offer any benefits over USPS or UPS. Finally, we feel DHL is usually worth the extra money for international shipments.

Insurance?

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 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 I 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 still nervous, I'd say a few extra dollars spent on larger boxes with more padding is the best way to get peace of mind first, and consider insurance second.

Return Shipping

For US orders, we will cover return shipping cost of your specimens to you with their custom milled bases. All items will be shipped according to best practices and packed as if they were our own. We do not purchase extra insurance by default, but can gladly 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.

 


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