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Shipping a Pen

1 – Dressing up to go out

There is a certain amount of terror in sending a pen from one place to another, because we’ve all heard stories of the back room of shipping companies or postal services being crammed with angry, drunken gorillas with poor depth perception.  It is possible to protect a pen against most damage in shipping, if one thinks of dressing in layers.  From the outside in, then:

Outermost layer:  Use a box.  Pens can be put into an envelope, but all that really gets is a floppier outer shell.  The thickness of the pen in the envelope usually means the charges are the same as for a sensible box, while a box provides better support and is harder to lose down the back of a handling machine.

Second layer: Padding, of a large sort.  Packing peanuts are good, but so is crumpled newspaper.  The point of this is to keep the more interior parts of the affair from crashing to and fro as the angry, drunken gorillas fling the box from one place to the next; think of it as the seat-belt for the pen.

Third layer: The actual protection.  You want another level of hard armour to keep the pen from harm when the box is trod upon.  There are specific pen-tubes used by manufacturers to send pens in the mail (in my experience, in an envelope), which are great, but a length of PVC tubing is just fine, too.  I frequently use the inner cardboard of a roll of aluminum foil, which is extremely thick and sturdy.  Whatever you use, make it at least 2cm (1″) longer than the pen so the ends of the pen are protected as well.  This inner layer should be arranged in the second layer so that it is as close to the middle of the box as possible.

The Core:  Comfy bedding.  Wrap the pen in soft cloth or paper towel to prevent it from rattling around inside the third layer.  This prevents scratches and also keeps the pen from battering its way out of its armour so it can roam about inside the box.  Just roll the pen in this stuff, with an excess at either end to tamp into the ends of the third layer; resist the urge to tape this layer in place.  While this seems secure, it leads the recipient to have to attack the inner protective core with a knife or scissors, which frequently sees the pen damaged.  It’s sort of like having your pyjamas sewn shut, and in the morning having yourself cut out of them; an uncomfortable prospect even if no harm is done.

At post offices in Canada, there are boxes designed for the shipping of smart phones.  I’ve tried them, and I think they’re marvellous– they’re extremely crush resistant, have interior fittings that hold the pen firmly in place, and abolish the need for second, third and core protections listed above.  They only cost a little more than the less engineered boxes at the post office, and only about double the cost of a completely-inadequate padded envelope.  I highly recommend them, and hope similar things are available to folks in other countries.

2 – Who to use

Once the pen is wrapped, the question comes of who carries it for you.  The choice is between a private courier (Fedex, DHL, UPS… whoever) or your own local postal system.  If the recipient is in another country, there is a temptation to use a private firm, because this avoids the handing off of the package from one carrier to another at each national border, and if something goes wrong there is one agency to yell at and sue.  However, one finds that the incidence of angry drunken gorillas is somewhat higher in the private firms, and I’ve found that these firms use the crossing of international boundaries as an excuse to levy usurious “brokerage fees”.  My own preference is to go with the postal system.  I won’t insist upon anyone using one carrier or another when sending a pen to me, but be aware that the cost of shipping via a commercial courier can be many, many times the cost of the repair, or even the value of the pen.

3 – Clarity

This is a silly and seemingly obvious point, but it is important; make sure even an angry drunken gorilla can read the address label.  There’s nothing wrong with clean block capitals if you’ve any concerns at all about other people reading your handwriting, and if you have doubts even at that there’s always the possibility of running up a label on the computer.  Make sure also to include a return address, and for complete safety an little “From:” and “To:” indicator in appropriate locations is wise.

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