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packing and insurance

updated wed 12 sep 07


Charlie Cummings on mon 10 sep 07

In my seven years as a gallery owner, I have received and shipped
hundreds of boxes of ceramics each year. For the pieces I ship, the
loss rate is less than one percent. I pack pots and sculptures so
the boxes can be kicked, dropped, and generally abused. I don't know
what happens to the boxes behind the scenes...and I don't really
care. I'm sure the shipping company workers don't get paid enough to
care about the contents of every single box that passes in front of
them. If it is packed properly it should withstand the normal wear
and tear of shipping.

For the incoming work, the breakage or damage rate seems to be about
5 percent. Most of the time, the breakage happens because of poor
packing. Just when I think I've seen the worst of it someone comes
along with another bad packing idea. Here are a few of my favorites:

A cup wrapped in a single layer of newspaper in a 8x8x8 inch
box. There was literally 4 inches of empty space in every direction
between the cup and the box.

A teapot stuffed into a box that was too small. The sides
bulged. It had a layer of bubble wrap around it, but there was
nothing to protect it from outer box.

A sculpture stuffed in a box with newspaper jammed around it. The
sculpture was slightly smaller than the box, but it needed a bigger
box. There was 1/4" of Styrofoam between the inner and outer box.

On more than one occasion I have received work packed in plastic
grocery bags and used foam meat trays. The meat trays had been
washed, but yuck!

A cup wrapped in a blanket.

One box had a bra incorporated in the packing materials.

I've seen sets of cups jammed in a tiny box with only a single thin
layer of bubble wrap between each cup. They were packed so tight
that normal handling made them clank together.

Boxes packed with too many pots. They are so heavy that they are
hard to carry. You just know that if they were to fall from even a
few inches the mass would create enough momentum to break something.

I've seen empty soda bottles used as packing material, boxes with
mouse crap in them, boxes so moldy I can't breathe after
opening...the list goes on and on, and it's sickening. It annoys me
to no end that all of the companies I have dealt with (UPS, USPS,
DHL, and FEDEX) combined have paid about 95% of the claims these
artists have submitted. Why is that bad? Because these people get
paid for their incompetence and lack of professionalism. Some are
legitimate claims, but many are just poor packing.

Breakage also creates more work for me. I have to repack the work
for the shipper to pick up, or I have to deal with a claims agent,
and I don't get paid squat for my trouble. I've often considered
adding a line to my exhibition contract saying if the work breaks on
the way here, I get 50% of the insurance payment. (If returned work
breaks the full value goes to the artist, and if the shipping company
doesn't pay because of poor packing I pay for the broken pieces.)

The idea that nothing is precious helps keep us from giving up the
umpteenth time something turns out bad, but it really hurts us when
the pieces leave the studio. Even a $12 cup should be packed as if
it really is precious. When I receive a sculpture that the artist
values at $1800 packed in a box that is too
small...with 1/4" of packing materials between the inside and outside
box...I see someone who doesn't value their work. I don't have time
to deal with artists who unnecessarily gamble with finished work
because they don't want to buy a bigger box or pay the extra few
dollars it would cost to ship a box of the appropriate size. How am
I supposed to tell a potential collector that this is a good
investment when I know the artist doesn't treat the work like it is valuable?

How we pack out work tells the receiver a lot about how professional
we are. If the tiny $99 TV I bought for my studio came packed in
newspaper, I would know without a doubt that it was a piece of crap
that wasn't worth the money I spent. It came in a nice box with
custom made Styrofoam. Hardly anybody can afford custom molded
packing materials, but bubble wrap, foam peanuts, tape, and boxes are
actually not that expensive.

Charlie Cummings

Charlie Cummings Clay Studio & Gallery
4130 South Clinton Street
Fort Wayne, IN 46806