How many times have you bought a valuable and glorious vintage toy on auction from a non-collector and found yourself receiving an item that appears to have gone 10 rounds with Mike Tyson? A lack of suitable protection for delicate age-old toys being shipped internationally can mean that the contents of a parcel can really take a beating in transit, especially if there are multiple figures packaged together. Even worse, how many of us have received vintage boxed toys sent to us in nothing more than a padded envelope?
Having noticed a worrying increase in badly packaged items recently, and having sent a number of pre-shipping emails to sellers about how I would like my treasures safely secured for their journey, I decided that while I was wrapping up some premium Transformers I had sold, I would document every step in the procedure. I’ve done this for the benefit of anyone looking for some tips on what a collector like myself would want from a seller who’s just convinced me to part with a significant amount of cash. I’m not claiming that this is a definitive guide, or that my way is the best way, just that this is how I protect toys for shipping. Over 350 positive buyer reviews on eBay spanning 10 years suggests that I must be doing something right…
The first step is to select a cardboard shipping box that is not too much bigger than the item(s) being sent, because the smaller the box, the less you’ll have to charge for shipping. The less you charge for shipping, the more money you’re likely to get for the item(s) being sold. You know you’ve been doing this too long when you walk past a cardboard box in the street or at work and think “That’d be perfect for a Defensor giftset!”. Having selected a sturdy shipping box, I usually take individual sheets of newspaper and roll them up into tubes, as photographed above.
These individually rolled newspaper pages can be arranged neatly to line the bottom of the cardboard shipping box, providing a padded base for whatever item is being sent. If the box is too big for the rolls of paper being used, fold and roll them accordingly to fill as much of the space as possible, then double up with another layer on top if necessary. You should be able to push down gently on the newspaper base and not feel the bottom of the cardboard box. Once you’ve got your padded base sorted, you can place the valuable vintage toys inside the shipping box.
If the items being shipped are loose figures, use plenty of bubble wrap for each individual figure, and wrap their accessories separately to avoid rubbing, friction and wear in transit. The more a figure can be transformed to be compact with the least amount of extremities exposed, the safer it will be. If the figure is quite small, then placing it in the middle of a sea of bubble wrap can result in a mass of wasted wrap on either end, so it’s sometimes better to fold over the sheet of bubble wrap a few times before placing the figure on it for wrapping.
Often with vintage toys, the associated paperwork (tech specs, instructions & stickersheets) can be equally valuable, so it too must be protected for shipping. My preferred method is to sandwich the paperwork between purpose-cut clean pieces of cardboard a little bigger than the paperwork itself. If there is a lot of paperwork, make more than one ‘sandwich’.
The ‘sandwich’ is completed by placing another piece of cardboard on top and taping all the edges to ensure nothing slides out during shipping. You must be careful to close the edges tightly so that if there is any movement inside the sandwich, the paperwork does not become stuck to the tape. Loose bits of cardboard are not uncommon in a parcel, so I always write something on both sides of the cardboard paperwork sandwich in the hopes that the recipient will not throw out the valuable instructions or stickersheet with the newspaper or peanuts.
When all the figures and accessories have been separately bubble-wrapped, and the paperwork has been suitably secured, all the items can be placed centrally onto the rolled newspaper base. You can then surround the bubble-wrapped contents with more rolled newspaper for side impact protection. While it’s important to have everything fit nice and tight, a little flexibility and give in the surrounding newspaper padding can assist with shock absorption in transit.
Another layer or two (depending on box depth) of rolled newspaper on top of the contents, and the cardboard box is ready for closing and taping. So, to summarise:
1) - Select a sturdy cardboard shipping box not too much bigger than the sum of the contents
2) - Roll newspaper pages and line the base for padded protection
3) - Bubble wrap toys and accessories separately
4) - Secure paperwork between flat cardboard sheets cut to size and tape together tightly
5) - Place contents on padded newspaper base and surround with more rolled newspaper pages
6) - Cover contents with more layers of rolled newspaper pages and close up the box
What about boxed or carded vintage toys where you have to consider protecting the vintage packaging as well as the toys themselves?
With vintage Transformers packaging it is especially important to wrap and protect items carefully because the added value of original packaging in good condition can often be immeasurable. Whether it’s making sure the cellophane window is not punctured by toys/accessories, or ensuring that the main flap on G1 Transformers boxes does not get folded over, collectors earn the right to expect safe packaging when handing over hundreds or thousands of dollars.
The mint in sealed box Optimus Prime you see above had its main box flap folded over flat against the box top by the seller so that it would fit in the cardboard shipping box, the result was a gigantic flap crease that significantly affected the value and displayability of the toy negatively.
This is a trick I learned years ago from an experienced North American toy dealer. When toy packaging has an exposed main box flap or thin backing card that can be vulnerable to folding and bending, cut a thick and sturdy cardboard sheet that covers the back of the box or card perfectly. Make sure there are no loose bits of tape or sticker residue that could get stuck to the toy packaging.
After cutting a good size cardboard sheet for keeping the flap supported, use a folded strip of bubble wrap to protect the main flap from damage, securing it with tape to the cardboard sheet. You may be tempted to just chuck a big sheet of bubble wrap over the whole toy, but the protruding box front means that if you tape the wrap too tightly, there is a tendency for it to pull the flap forward. Wrapping the sections separately also allows you to secure the cardboard sheet into place more firmly, allowing it to do its job of protecting the flap.
Just as the flap was wrapped individually, use separate sheets of bubble wrap to protect the main box section and then the box top, securing all of the bubble wrap with tape to the cardboard sheet holding up the flap. Be very careful to not leave any part of the toy packaging exposed, and be even more careful not to attach any tape to the packaging of the vintage toy, the sheets of bubble wrap should always overlap to help avoid this.
This is all pretty straightforward for a sealed toy because the insert packaging helps keep the contents in place, but for toys without inserts, you may consider wrapping the toy and packaging separately using the respective sections above. That would require a larger shipping box though, so an alternative is to use bubble wrap as padding inside the vintage toy box, but then you risk damaging the cellophane window. The aim is that when you package everything up and tape the shipping box shut, you should be able to give it a thoroughly vigorous shake and not hear any sound from inside.
As I say, this is not a definitive guide and I am sure that many experienced sellers and dealers have more ingenious and thorough methods of ensuring the safe receipt of their stock, but hopefully the pictures and words above will help anyone package a valuable toy using very cheap materials in an acceptable time frame and save a few collectors having to type out an essay every time they win an auction.
All the best