How to Pack Books

From NBSwiki

Jump to: navigation, search

How to Pack Books

This article on How to Pack Books was written by numismatic literature dealer John F. Bergman of Lakewood, CA. Mr. Bergman (1944-2000) was a charter member of our Society and a longtime fixture in our hobby. The article is reprinted here with the permission of his family.


The proper packing of books for shipping is all about common sense. Unfortunately, as Will Rogers said: "The thing about common sense is that it is just not that common." This pretty much sums up the sorry state of book packing. Proper packing takes little longer than poor packing and the cost difference is very slight.


1. Never allow any corner of any book to be directly against any corner or any box.

2. Don't pack loose books (books must be wrapped in paper or placed in bags within the box).

3. Do not use second hand boxes. Used boxes that have lost their shape have also lost their structural strength.

4. Do not use shoe, donut, gift-wrapping or tissue (Kleenex) boxes for shipping books. Boxes should be of corrugated construction and a minimum of 200 pounds per square inch bursting strength. Heavier weight boxes or doubled boxes may be required with very heavy or fragile books.

5.Do not use non-compressible fill around books. The force of an impact will transfer through the fill and damage the books. Compressible yet resilient fill is a must. It can be reused and includes all of the following: foam loose fill, cushioning ('peanuts'), foam or cellulose roll cushioning, shredded paper, crumpled paper (newspapers are ideal), bubble wrap, corrugated sheets and pads, etc.

6. Do not tie boxes with string, rope of bands. This is still a widely used method in Europe but is not acceptable in the United States and with good reason. These ties tend to get stuck in machinery with potential damage to both the package and contents. Even worse is the common European practice of wrapping books in one or more layers of bubble wrap and then tying the package with string. The string invariable leaves dents and or groves in the books. Instead of using these ties, use reinforced tape around the box, in both directions, if necessary.

7. Don't use padded mailers (Jiffy bags) for shipping soft bound books or catalogs unless they are first wrapped in at least a double layer of heavy cardboard with the catalog immobilized within. The cardboard must be larger than the catalog in order that the corners will not be crushed. It is not always safe to ship even a light weight hard bound books in a padded mailer as there is little protection from bending and corner banging. Use padded mailers only sparingly and in conjunction with additional internal protection.

8. Don't ship packages that are not properly sealed All box flaps must be sealed and additionally, on heavy boxes or packages shipped overseas, all of the folded edges should be taped as well. Large or heavy boxes require more tape. One layer of the standard 1.8 mil carton sealing tape applied down the center of the box flaps is not sufficient for any package! [I have received boxes weighing 40 pounds and more sealed in this manner. In one case the tape was broken and the books ready to fall out. In another case some to the books were missing and in another the box was empty]

9. Don't expect any carrier to "Handle with care", regardless of what instructions you stamp on the box. In one instance I asked a large U.S. bookseller to pack with compressible fill around all of the book corners, instead they shipped 35 pounds of books in a box exactly the size of the contents with instructions written on all six sides of the box reading: "DO NOT DROP ON THE CORNERS". Needless to say the box was dropped and two books had damaged corners. [Conveyor belts, catapults, and other package handling equipment don't read instructions nor do employees who are often working under time and quota conditions].


1. Preparing the contents: Arrange the books to be shipped in pyramid shaped piles with the largest book on the bottom and the smallest book on the top. Make the stacks a minimum of from 1/2 to 1 inch less than the height of the box to be used. The books can be wrapped individually but this is not absolutely necessary unless the books are very fragile. The entire stack can be wrapped in paper (newspaper is not recommended as the ink can transfer to the book covers especially if they are light in color). Plastic bags are good and very quick, just be sure that the bags are closed with tape so that the compressible fill does not come in contact with or become wedged into the leaves or dust jackets of the books. Note: As the spines of bound books are thicker than the fore-edges, it is a good practice to rotate each successive book 180 degrees so that the stacks do not become lop sided.

2. Packing the box: The correct size box is critical. Select a box that is at least 3 to 4 inches longer and 1/2 to 1-inch wider minimum than the stack or stacks of books to be shipped. Before placing the stacks of books in the box lay at least a 1/4-inch thick layer of cardboard, bubble wrap or other padding in the bottom of the box. Center the stack or stacks of books in the box. Fill the space all around the books with the compressible material making sure that the fill is very tightly pressed in (this is especially important with foam 'peanuts' as they tend to settle during shipping which will allow the books to move around). Never place the books against a corner of the box and fill in the remaining two sides. Invariably, the box will be dropped on this unprotected corner and the book corners will be banged. [This is by far the most common mistake made in packing and some of the biggest and oldest numismatic booksellers in the world do it time and time again].

3. Closing the box: Before closing the box, lay at least a 1/4 inch thick layer of cardboard, bubble wrap or other padding on top of the stack of books. This step is critical as many inexperienced book collectors will slash away with a razor knife at the box flaps. If there is no protection the knife may cut into the books. In closing the box it is very important to use a strong tape. Gummed, reinforced Kraft tape is probably the best, but those who pack boxes only occasionally will find polypropylene carton-sealing tape strong enough and easier to use. Use plenty of tape especially on heavy packages. Once the box is closed, it is important to protect the address label from damage. This is easily accomplished by covering the label with clear polypropylene tape. UPS does this on all packages but the U.S. Postal Service does not.

We realize that many reading these packing recommendations are not booksellers and will only occasionally pack books. If the job of book packing seems too difficult, we recommend that you take the books to a professional packing service. For those of you who want to do it yourself, you will find that all of the materials mentioned are readily available at office supply stores. The U.S. Postal Service will even supply boxes free of charge for certain priority and express mail material.