When TV lamp collectors get together it's not long before the topic of broken lamps comes up, particularly in regards to new acquisitions that have arrived in less than pristine condition. Unfortunately this is an all too common problem, one that results from careless packing, rough handling during shipment, or often as not, both. Given the fact that we cannot control the activities of the US Postal Service, UPS or FedEx, the only recourse is to make sure that the lamps are "battle ready" prior to shipment. Before I continue, I want to mention the differences between the various shipping companies... there aren't any. My experience, which corroborates with those of other collectors, is that none of them handle packages any more gently than the others. But I do urge you to steer clear of USPS Ground and go instead with Priority shipping. Ground shipping subjects boxes to a good deal more abuse than than those sent priority, and the nominal increase in cost is clearly justified.
The ever-rising cost of shipping makes it desirable to keep boxes as small and light as possible, but this can be in direct conflict with safe packing practices. So what is one to do? Reach a balance, one that will facilitate safe transport with minimal expense. Since TV lamps are most often shipped at the conclusion of an auction, sellers typically let cost rule their decisions. While this may be understandable, it's good to remember that the recipient of a shattered lamp isn't apt to leave positive feedback, and insurance is little compensation for the loss of a lamp that they may have sought for years. As long as we're on the subject of insurance, it is recommended that all fragile items be insured. Make insurance a requirement, as buyers are liable to expect you to make it good, regardless of the conditions stated in your auction. Unfortunately, some sellers take the stance that insurance frees them from breakage concerns. This attitude isn't conducive to success in any business, as reputation and customer service is paramount. Not only that, but the post office won't hesitate to decline a claim if they feel it wasn't packed well, which puts the blame back on you. Few things are as aggravating as filing an insurance claim, and the reimbursement does little to relieve the buyers dissapointment...in you.
The basic requirements of packaging ceramic or plaster items are simple. The lamp should be padded in such a way that it is positioned in the center of the box, with a sufficient buffer between the item and the sides. That may sound easy enough, but several factors need to be considered. One of the most common errors is in the selection of a proper box, particularly in regards to its size. The larger and/or heavier the lamp, the larger the box should be. I'm constantly amazed at the number of sellers that use the standard 12x12x8½" USPS box for anything they can cram into it. That size is suitable for the smallest/lightest TV lamp, but most require something a bit larger.
The selection and use of packing materials is of the utmost importance. Bubble-wrap, packing peanuts, styrofoam, even newspaper, can work well if used properly. This is another area where economics play a part, and a trip to your local office supply or U-Haul will show that the cost of packing peanuts and bubble wrap can significantly impact your expenses. This is where recycling comes in. If you're like many collectors/dealers, you tend to have as many packages coming in as going out, and you should get into the habit of saving what can be reused. I should caution that boxes should be reused only if they have maintained their structural integrity. Corrugated cardboard boxes can play a major part in absorbing impacts, particularly at the corners, but only if they haven't already begun to compress. Even then, such boxes can serve as the inner box when double-boxing. Peanuts and bubble-wrap can be sorted and saved for future use, as can packing materials from any new purchases you make. I've found that the styrofoam used to protect such electrical products as computers, DVD players and such can be easily cut to fit. One note: While crumpled newspaper can be used, it should be done so sparingly as it isn't resiliant, loosing its shape as the package is jostled about. It can however, serve as a filler with comparably lightweight lamps.
Where many packaging jobs go wrong is in the use of these materials...they must support the lamp and keep it centrally positioned. I can't state this strongly enough, the lamp must be supported in such a way that it cannot shift to a side of the box! One of the most effective means of achieving this is by double-boxing. The lamp can be bubble-wrapped snugly and placed into a relatively small box, which is in-turn placed into a larger box where it is surrounded on all sides with a cushion of packing material. This keeps the lamp from shifting around, a common problem when using packing peanuts alone. The heavier the lamp the more likely it is to shift, and whether double-boxing or not, it is critical that no movement takes place. If you can shake your box and feel/hear movement, odds of survival are poor. Any movement will only become greater as it is repeatedly jostled about in transit, and ultimately the lamp can work its way to a side or corner. The result of this is that the 4" padding that you started with dissapears, and the right hit will be its undoing. There's no point in arguing that you shouldn't have to put this much effort into packing, that the delivery services should be more careful. It is a fact that people are going to handle your box that couldn't care less that it's marked fragile. You must accept this and prepare for it. Could your boxed lamp survive a drop from head height? Could it withstand several such drops? How about having something weighing 40 pounds or more dropped on it? If not, then you're running the risk of having your lamp broken.
Given the values that TV lamps are bringing, it just doesn't make sense to take chances. With a little effort and forethought, the odds of a successful shipment are practically guaranteed.
Here's a pictorial walk-through of the steps used in packing a Royal Haeger TV lamp for shipment. Packing is more art than science, and my approach varies from one lamp to the next. This relatively small lamp didn't require double-boxing, as I had suitable materials on-hand for padding. This was packed exclusively with "recycled" materials. (with the exception of tape!)