Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Packing a Ceramic Model Horse for Shipment

Disclaimer: If you've sold a ceramic horse figurine, please check with your buyer first to see what their preference is for safe shipping. There's more than one safe way to do it!  These are only my ideas.

My favorite way to acquire a new (old) model horse is to find it at an estate sale, yard sale or thrift store. And sometimes I buy model horses for my collection from online sellers.  

But there's a danger in buying something breakable online: it may break in transit.

"Clinky" horses are at great risk
of being damaged during shipment!

Social media sites for "clinky" (ceramic, porcelain, china) animal collectors have lately been full of horror stories of rather expensive horse figurines damaged in transit -- heads broken off, legs crushed -- due to rough handling and inadequate packaging. (One friend tells the story of receiving a crushed ceramic horse figurine that had been shipped in a padded mailer with no extra protection.)

Sellers are not always familiar with different strategies for packing a ceramic horse figurine (such as a Hagen-Renaker or Beswick horse) for shipment, so I've come up with some suggestions to share. 

In packing for shipment, we are securing the breakable horse so she doesn't rattle around inside the box. We're pretending she's a raw egg, or a baby mouse that needs a nest to protect it. We're not putting so much pressure on her that she will crack from our careful handling. We are protecting her from the (almost inevitable) mishandling of the postal service, UPS, FedEx or other delivery service.

My strategy is to very gently wrap the horse like a mummy, then use additional thick padding materials to protect it inside two shipping boxes, the smaller inside the larger.

If you can use a larger outer box with two or more inches of packing peanuts or foam around the inner box, so much the better. The important thing is that the horse not shift around. Gentle but sturdy.

        Note: I did not sell and ship the horse in the photos. She's the Hagen-Renaker B-567 "Sespe Violette" Belgian mare,  just posing for the photos.  If I were shipping a piece like this, I would use bigger boxes, pay the extra money for shipping a larger box, and use an overnight insured service. 

You will need:

Ceramic horse figurine

Two sturdy boxes, one smaller than the other

Packing peanuts and/or other small packing material (not paper)

Cotton balls or something similar

Foam rubber (I just get an inexpensive twin size mattress topper from Walmart and cut pieces of it to fit -- you can ship several horses off of one pad)

A roll of toilet tissue

Bubble wrap

Sturdy packing tape

"Fragile" labels or a thick marking pen to write "fragile" on the outer box

Step 1: Gently Mummify the Horse

Take the horse and put a piece of foam in between the legs as shown. Put another small piece of foam or part of a cotton ball between the ears. Fill in the gaps between the foam and the horse, between the legs and between the ears, with cotton balls (pull them apart if you need to) or cotton/polyfill batting. Be generous but gentle in filling the gaps.  Extra fluff hanging outside the horse is okay. 

Now take the roll of toilet paper and gently mummify the whole horse. Make sure you wrap it at least twice around, all around. No horse should be showing; make sure there’s tissue around the ears, hooves, knees, tail, etc.

Step 2: Prepare the Boxes

Important: Using this technique, you should leave two inches or more of padding between any edge, side or extremity of the horse (a hoof, an ear, a tail) and the edge of the inner box. If the horse is too large to fit into this configuration, use a larger box. 

I cannot stress this enough: Wedging a ceramic figurine, even a well-wrapped one, into a too-small box almost guarantees it will arrive broken.

Put a layer of packing peanuts or foam or a few layers of bubble wrap on the bottom inside of the outer box. Then set the inner box, which holds the horse, inside. Take your foam rubber and cut it to fit the bottom and all four sides of the inner box, and then cut another piece or pieces to fit on the top of the inner box.

Step 3: Installation of the Horse  

Wrap the horse, horizontally and vertically (two long sheets) in bubble wrap (see photo on right, above). Put the horse in the inner box. You should be able to close the lid of the inner box with *room to spare* because we're going to put additional padding on top. Take cotton balls or packing peanuts and stuff them all around the corners of the horse and the foam, gently but firmly, so the horse in its mummified, bubble-wrapped state, won't rattle around inside. 

Then cut a piece of foam to put between the mummified, bubble-wrapped horse and the lid. 

Put the smaller box with the horse in it, inside the larger box. Put additional foam or packing peanuts in all the space between the two boxes, bottom, sides and top. 

There should still be some room, preferably an inch or two, between the boxes. 

Put more foam or packing peanuts in the space in between them.

Then secure the outer box with tape all around mark it FRAGILE all around.

Insure the parcel for the full purchase price.  

Again, communicate with your buyer (or recipient, if the horse is a gift) prior to shipping the horse. Folks who pay more than a few dollars for ceramic horse figurines online are likely to be passionate collectors of ceramic horses, and there are several of them out there. These die-hard collectors are the only people willing to shell out this kind of money for a piece that sold for a few dollars retail almost half a century ago. 

Your buyer will probably have their own suggestions for packaging. The important thing is to have a dialogue with them about their own preferences before you ship. You also want to ask them about whether they want to pay extra for a larger box, expedited service, and which shipping service they prefer. 

Or, if you are happily astonished at the final selling price, you’re feeling truly blessed, and you want to do a nice thing for the bidder, pay for the upgraded shipping yourself.

Other suggestions:

Cold weather can affect pieces in transit. Advise your recipient to let the box warm up to indoor room temperature before opening it and unwrapping the horse.

I do not recommend that you hire a "we pack and ship for you" service to send a ceramic horse figurine. They may have no idea how fragile these pieces can be.

There are other ways to ship a breakable horse safely. Alternately, you can use one box and custom-sized thick egg-carton foam with cutouts for the horse (or horses, if they're small). This method is used by some professionals. Trace around the horse with a felt pen, then remove the horse (!) and use a snap-off blade utility knife, Exacto knife or kitchen shears (utility knife will work best) to cut a section out. Make sure you put some of the extra foam in between the horse's legs.

Note that there is padded protection in between the horses' legs and all around, including space around the sides of the box.  The box in these photos is ten inches high. Each piece of the black foam is about five inches thick. 

There are other methods of packing for shipment; these are only two. I hope they've been helpful!  



The owner of a major retailer of ceramic figurines once told me that her company tested packaging techniques by boxing up a "clinky" figurine as if they were going to ship it using a major delivery service. Then two employees would test the efficacy of their packaging by dropping the box out of the window of a car going 15 to 35 mph, onto asphalt.  The company just assumed that each parcel would get kicked around like a football at some point during transit. 

Try to anticipate the actual cost of shipment you will charge prior to listing a breakable horse figurine for sale. If the outer box you use has one or more dimensions longer than 12 inches (long, deep or high), shipping rates skyrocket. The eBay "postage calculator" doesn't always take that into account. But it's better to use a larger box (and charge more for shipping) than to have a lovely, valuable piece arrive broken. 

Don't necessarily pay or charge extra for official USPS "fragile" handling, though. The USPS "fragile" service is for shipping things like live baby chicks and medical lab samples.  The USPS website advises senders to mark regular priority mail boxes FRAGILE if the item inside could break. 

If you ship a model horse and -- despite your best packing efforts -- it does arrive damaged, anticipate that the buyer may want to have it professionally restored rather than just toss the pieces in the trash or try to glue it back together. That's why you need to buy insurance. 

Here's a link to a foam mattress topper at (I've always found them in the stores too, in various sizes):

If you're using USPS, you can get free boxes from their website:

U-Haul has relatively inexpensive packing supplies:

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