Packaging Paper Collectibles and Photographs for Shipping

Vogue Magazine - March 1, 1959 Photo by Pamela Y. Wiggins

Whether you’re selling Victorian trade cards online, shipping an old magazine you picked up in a local antique shop to a friend, or sending nostalgic photographs to a family member across the country, ephemera can be shipped very easily without damage.

How to Package

One of the best aspects of getting paper goods from one place to another is that they can be shipped inexpensively in an appropriately sized envelope. Don’t assume, however, that the shipper won’t bend or fold the envelope in transit. That's a huge mistake. Whether you’re dealing with a vintage postcard, an entire newspaper, or a piece of sheet music, you should always place a piece of cardboard the same size as the envelope inside with the item.

In addition, it’s not a bad idea to put paper goods inside a plastic sleeve or bag before placing them in the envelope to further protect them. After all, you never know when the postal service might be delivering in the rain and, believe it or not, reports of waterlogged mail are not unheard of in collecting circles. Avoid using newspaper when packing ephemera, however, as the ink can rub off and soil the item you’re shipping.

If the envelope you’re using is a little large, consider folding it over to fit the size of the protective cardboard and taping it accordingly. When you find the need to do this, keep in mind that it’s much easier to address the envelope after it’s folded down to size. Consider how you’ve packed the item inside the envelope before addressing it, however. If you think a marker might seep through or pressing down on the envelope with a pen might damage the item within, consider using a pre-addressed stick-on label instead or addressing the envelope before placing the item inside.

That’s the economy version; you can also buy lightweight cardboard envelopes that are a little more costly at office-supply stores. These work very well with paper collectibles and provide a little more protection than a paper envelope affords. Or, if it's a pricey item, you may just want to send it via Priority Mail and use an envelope provided by the United States Postal Service. Some of those are the flimsy side though, so you may still have to fortify with cardboard to keep them from bending in transit

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Bag the item. Place the item in a plastic sleeve or Ziploc bag to protect it during transit.
  2. Prepare cardboard backing. Cut a piece of cardboard too thick to bend that is a little larger than the item you’re shipping to insert in the envelope with it. For extra security, use two pieces of cardboard or pasteboard to enclose the item and tape along the sides taking care not to damage the paper collectible in between. Don't use too much tape though. You don't want the recipient to tear the item trying to free it from a tape "mummy."
  3. Choose an envelope. Use an envelope, either paper or lightweight cardboard, about the same size as the item and cardboard enclosure you’re shipping.
  4. Prep the envelope. Insert the item being shipped in the envelope. Fold and tape the envelope to fit the item (already enclosed in cardboard), if needed, to keep it from moving around in the envelope while in transit.
  5. Address the envelope. Address the envelope carefully to avoid damaging the item it holds. Remember that a marker might seep through the paper and ballpoint pens can leave an imprint right through the envelope. Use a stick-on label if these issues are a concern.

With some care, you can make sure even the most fragile forms of ephemera make it to their destinations unscathed.