There are plenty of guides for packaging fragile shellac records for shipping, there’s Bryan Wright of Rivermont Records’ excellent guide, the dandy one by the NESPRS, and even one drawn by the legendary cartoonist R. Crumb (courtesy of John Heneghan). Unfortunately, there’s also no shortage of woefully inadequately packed records flying through the mail getting broken, so here’s another step-by-step guide on how to properly package records. The most crucial elements to the survival of the records are in boldface text. For a more brief explanation, see the summary at the very bottom of the article.
Far too many people ship 78s in LP mailers. While they are fine for flexible vinyl records, they are too thin to offer sufficient protection to fragile antique 78s, and all but ensure that they will break in shipping. Do not use LP mailers to ship 78 RPM records!
It is vital to understand that 78s are not made of vinyl, but rather a very brittle and fragile shellac mixture, and if not packed with great care, they will break in shipping. To properly pack 78s, you will need a few materials: a sturdy cardboard box, corrugated cardboard squares cut to the size of the record (10 inches, typically), and packing peanuts, newspaper, or another packing material.
If at all possible, see that all records are sleeved in a protective envelope, especially if shipping more than one disc together. If sleeves are not available, paper tucked between the discs will suffice. Ideally not newspaper, however, as the newsprint can rub off on the records.
Arrange the cardboard squares so that the corrugation runs in opposite directions, as shown in the image to the left.
Place the record(s) in-between the squares of cardboard, ideally with at least two squares on either side of the disc, for optimal protection, making a “cardboard sandwich”, so to speak.
No more than ten records should be packed in the same “sandwich”, and if shipping that many, it is best to put another cardboard square between every two or three records.
Next, affix the sides of the “sandwich” together around the record to prevent the disc from shifting. Packing tape is ideal for this, and rubber bands will work as well (I used rubber bands here so as not to waste cardboard on a record I’m not actually shipping). Scotch magic tape or masking tape are not ideal, as they tend to tear in shipping. Many dealers will put a small piece of paper between the tape edges of the record to prevent it from tearing the sleeve or leaving residue on the disc.
For extra protection, add a layer or two of bubble wrap around the “sandwich”.
Packing fragile shellac records sandwiched between cardboard squares is the most critical element of ensuring their success in navigating the rigorous postal system.
Now, fill the bottom of a very sturdy, larger cardboard box with packing material. Styrofoam packing peanuts, wadded newspaper, or something comparable will work. The box shown measures six by twelve inches, a perfect size, though shorter ones will work fine as well. Place the sandwiched record on top of that layer of packing, and then fill the box up the rest of the way to surround the protected record completely, such that the disc is suspended in the middle of the box. This prevents the record from taking direct blows from other packages or careless postal workers. In the trade, this method is called “floating”.
Finally, seal the package tightly and securely. While I sincerely doubt that it really matters if you write “fragile” on the box or not—I’ve never seen evidence that postal workers actually pay any mind to it—it can’t do any harm, so I’d recommend it just to play it safe.
- Never use an LP mailer to ship a shellac 78!
- Secure the disc, with tape or otherwise, in-between two or more cardboard squares.
- Fill a box measuring around 12 x 12 x 6 inches, with packing material (peanuts, etc.).
- “Float” the record sandwich in the middle of the box.
- Seal the package and mail.