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Collecting Old & Rare Books: The Not So Gentle Art of Wrapping Books

Recycled cardboard

by James Dawson


Recently I bought a somewhat valuable book from a beginning bookseller who didn’t understand how important it is to make sure books are properly wrapped to protect them from damage when they are being mailed. Here is some of our correspondence:

Hello, Jim,
The Jones book has shipped! I’m kind of out in the sticks and the post office I used did not have the supplies that I was expecting, so I had to ship priority instead of media. Also because of this, the packing is less than excellent but should suffice. I also included some ephemera that was with the book that hopefully, you will find of interest.
The tracking # is xxxxx.

Recycled cardboard
Recycled cardboard

Dear S,
Having shipped books by media mail for years, I don’t understand any of that. If the post office wouldn’t accept it for media mail that suggests to me that it wasn’t properly wrapped. This is a $125 book and if it is damaged in shipment because as you say “the packing is less than excellent” than I am not going to be happy. I am in the sticks, too and I just save up cardboard, old boxes, newspaper, and plastic noodles to recycle as free shipping material. It’s not a problem and it works great.

If you are planning to be in the book business for any length of time and do mail order, I strongly suggest that you pay a lot more attention to how you ship your books—for your protection as well as the customer’s—and having to send an apology notice to every book you mail because of possibly unsatisfactory wrapping is not a good start.

Books, especially valuable ones, should be in cardboard boxes with interior padding material, not those padded mailing envelopes unless the book is first encased in cardboard folded around the book and taped.

Did you insure the book as I requested? If the book arrives damaged, I will expect a refund. Sorry to fuss at you, but this is important. End of lecture.

Good morning Jim,
Man, don’t yell at me until you get the book! 🙂

So to be clear, I was expecting the post office to have packing supplies, which they did not. The box that I was going to use ended up being too small after I wrapped the book, which is why I decided to use the priority box. The book should be fine. However, I have not yet deposited your check and will not until you have received and expressed your satisfaction with the item.

Being new to the business, I do appreciate any and all information on how to be better at this, so I AM thankful for your “lecture” :).

And yes, the book is insured.

Dear S,
The book arrived this morning in good shape, so I hate to fuss with you again, but the book was loose inside the box with 3 1/2 inches clearance between the top of the book as it lay loose in the bottom and the top of the box with approximately an inch of space on all four sides between the book and the insides of the box. And the thin bubble wrap bag the book was in offered little protection, but at least it had that. This means that the book could rattle and bang around the inside of the book from the Midwest to Maryland.

This is no way to pack and ship a $125 book or any book for that matter. The book should have been protected by being surrounded by plastic noodles or at the very least crumpled up newspaper, which is cheap and costs nothing. If you can hear the book rattling loose around inside of the box when you shake it after it is sealed up in the box, then in your own words, “the packing was less than excellent.”

We are both very lucky the book wasn’t damaged as it easily could have been. Shipping a fragile old book like that is just asking for trouble.

In hindsight, I would have preferred that you had delayed shipment by a day or two so it could have been properly wrapped. Again, all the book needed was to have been protected by a layer of crumpled up newspaper in the bottom of the box and newspaper stuffed in around it and on top.

It is always better to over-wrap than under-wrap something because you never know what might happen to it during shipment. Always expect the worst. And that is for your own protection as much as the customers’ and you certainly want happy customers. The box could get dropped or fall out of the back of the truck, or something could fall on it. Accidents happen.

Packing materials need not be expensive. Recycled cardboard boxes and crumpled up newspaper work fine and are free.

I am hoping that you will be more careful in the future.
End of lecture,

(I hope I was not too hard on the poor guy!!)


Dear Jim,
As I was looking for an appropriate image for this column, I came across this site that may prove useful for your student/beginner bookman/woman. The Internet can be a wonderful thing!
– Judy, managing editor


James Dawson has owned and operated the Unicorn Bookshop in Trappe, MD since 1975, when he decided it would be more fun to buy and sell old books and maps than to get a “real” job. For this born collector, having a shop just might be another excuse to buy more books. He has about 30,000 second hand and rare books on the shelves, and just about all subjects are represented. Reach him at P.O. Box 154; Trappe, MD 21673; 410-476-3838;;