How We Pack Specimens for Shipping

Write By: tmmadmin Published In: Your Collection Created Date: 2014-12-09 Hits: 6069 Comment: 0

How would you pack these specimens for shipping?

Ammonium Phosphate






You'd think an internet mineral dealer like me would shudder when considering purchasing delicate mineral specimens such as these at a mineral show. You'd think I'd be worried about how we're going to pack them for shipment to remote places like Ulan Bator, Mongolia or a remote spot in the Fiji Islands (in fact, we've shipped specimens to these and thousands of other distant places around the world). No, I don't shudder at all, for two very good reasons: first, because we've developed a number of special packaging techniques that have worked for us for over 10 years, with rarely a failure. And second, because we have an ace packaging expert on our Treasure Mountain Mining team: Julie. We hired Julie on the spot when we met her. That was in part because Jeanne and I loved her at first sight, and also because she brought with her years and years of experience packing and shipping Mexican pottery in her own business. This background, coupled with our own experience, has made her what she is today: a licensed, card-carrying Whiz Kid of Packaging!

Now maybe you're thinking that what she does is going to be like that high school science project where you have to package an egg in a styrofoam crate and drop if off of a roof without breaking the egg. If so, think again. This is a much more challenging task. We have to plan on each package being drop kicked into the back of a truck, thrown onto a conveyer belt in some sorting facility in East Oshkosh, flown across the country in a bin full of boxes, dropped by the person unloading the packages and finally unceremoniously dumped on your doorstep. All that, without your specimen being damaged. Here's how we do it:


Protecting the crystals is our first priority:
* For sturdier specimens, we put thick cotton padding over the crystallized area(s), before wrapping (avoid fiberfill cotton which tends to get caught on crystal terminations)
* If there are sharp points, nooks or crannies, we place a piece of saran wrap over the specimen so the cotton doesn't stick to the crystals).
* Sometimes on large specimens we'll put tape on the terminations, since it's surprisingly easy for them to be damaged.


After protecting the crystals, we then apply an inner wrapping layer:
* We usually use dry-cleaner bags, wrapping the specimen in a multiple layers of inflated plastic bag so it is suspended in a cocoon of the material. Besides providing great protection, plastic leaves no dust or fibers, which can be a royal pain to pick off.
* We usually avoid using toilet paper (many Chinese and Pakistani dealers wrap half a roll of toilet paper around each specimen). This works for shipping in crates or containers, but isn't as good as plastic bags for shipping.
* Paper towels or newspaper are other options, especially for sturdier specimens where the crystals are well protected inside a vug (like okenite in basalt)


Once the piece is wrapped in its inner layer, we further wrap the specimen with an outer cushion layer, using materials such as these:
* Our favorite is bubble wrap (we use 3/4" and 1/2" bubbles), which is great for encasing the inner packaging.
* Sometimes we use foam sheets (such as AF sheet pipe insulation) which are especially useful for smaller, delicate items.
* We usually avoid using polyfill bedding, but cotton batting works well for delicate large cabinet specimens.


Except for the largest, sturdiest specimens, we use an inner box to protect the specimen from damage. This can be made out of:
* Our first choice is a cardboard box, which is just large enough to fit the wrapped specimen into.
* Other choices include plastic food containers and thick sheets of styrofoam, which can be assembled into a box shape.


For needle-like prickly specimens we use this simple technique which has been used by mineral dealers for decades to protect extra delicate specimens with crystals on matrix. We've used it ourselves for over 10 years with surprisingly few failures.
* First we make a cardboard "collar", cutting strips of sturdy cardboard that are several inches taller than the specimen to be wrapped, and which will reach all the way around, avoiding any overlap.
* Next we wrap the sides of the matrix in cotton, AF foam, plastic bags, or bubble wrap to protect the edges of the specimen from damage.
* Then we wrap the precut cardboard around the protected sides of the matrix and tape the ends of the strip together, forming a tube that holds the specimen very tightly by its edges, so that nothing touches the crystals while in transit.
* After that we pull in the sides of the upper portion, enough so the specimen cannot move upward in the collar, and do the same on the bottom if there are crystals to protect.
* If there are no crystals on the back of the matrix, we cut a cardboard bottom and tape that in place, securing it to the cardboard strip.
* Finally, we put on a top and bottom to secure the specimen from sliding up or down.
* As a final touch, we instruct the customer to cut the top and sides of the box away, slicing the tape on the cardboard strip, then unwrapping the cushioning applied to the matrix.


We pick out a strong outer box, one large enough to hold all the inner boxes we will be sending:
* We always use sturdy cardboard boxes (single or double, depending on the total weight).
* For really heavy specimens (we once shipped a 75 pound Chinese meteorite to Canada), we'll opt for a wooden, metal or styrofoam packing crate.


First we load the bottom of the box with a 2-3" layer of filler, then put in the boxes, next fill the sides of the boxes, and finally fill the box to the top using protective cushioning materials such as these:
* Styrofoam peanuts (we use the recycled ones).
* Popcorn (air popped so there's no grease or oil). We avoid this because of the smell, even though it is appealing to be able to inexpensively make your own, then ask the customer to just feed the packing to the birds.


We seal the box using a strong, sturdy tape:
* We prefer 2" sticky clear packing tape (2 mil) tape works well for most packages, and doesn't add much weight.
* We usually avoid using duct tape which is strong, because it adds weight.
* For heavy boxes, we use strapping tape, which has reinforcing glass filaments that give it extra strength.


* We never use inflatable pillows (if they're punctured, the specimen will no longer be held stable.)
* We never rely on mineral tack in the bottom of the box for shipping, since specimens can get loose and be destroyed.
* We steer clear of silicone calk. Some dealers stick specimens to clear plastic squares using clear acrylic silicone calk. This works well when shipping pallets of specimen, and allows the dealer to present his specimens pre-mounted for display. The disadvantage of this stuff is that if you try to remove the specimen from the stand, you may break it. For display, we prefer mounting with mineral tack, which never hardens or dries out, and allows you to remove the specimen from the stand and look at it from any direction.
* We don't use laundry powder (this is going to get me in "hot water" with those who swear by this method). The weight of the soap alone has been known to destroy delicate specimens such as mesolite and natrolite "flowers".
* We pack very heavy specimens in a separate box when shipping light weight or fragile pieces, which could be destroyed if the heavy specimen shifts.


Experience has shown us that these are the 3 most important principles of packing:
1. Never rush - have a plan and gather necessary materials before you start.
2. Protect the crystals with extra padding; more is better than not enough.
3. Pack so nothing moves in the box when it is shaken (the number one rule in assuring a specimen's safe arrival).


When customers visit our showroom and make purchases, they usually take them home in their vehicle. In this case we don't go to the extremes outlined above. We usually place each specimen in a fold-up box, and wrap or collar each specimen so it doesn't move. Next, we put these individual boxes in a cardboard box or flat, using newspaper or paper towels to be sure the boxes don't slide around. Finally we cover the flat or tape the box shut. Put boxes on the floor of your car rather than on your car seat, because a sudden stop can send them crashing to the floor.

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