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how to package and ship antique light bulbs

During the last ten years a growth spurt has taken place in Internet trading with most of the credit being given to online virtual auction houses. The Internet has also allowed collectors from across the world to easily trade collectibles inlcuding antique light bulbs. It seems fitting to inlcude here a set of basic instructions for Internet sellers to use as a guide when shipping fragile antique light bulbs. I am often emailed about the best way to ship an old light bulb. Here I will outline the methods I use which I have had good success with in the past.


The most critical part of an early light bulb is the filament structure. The filament structure is the most fragile part of the bulb and care should be taken to package the bulb in regard to protecting the filament. Bulbs should always be shipped in the vertical postion, usually so the exhaust tip is pointing upward. The outside box should clearly be marked "This Side Up" with an arrow pointing upward corresponding to the top of the bulb. This will help insure the bulb remains vertical through the shipping process. Original manufacturers were aware of the fragile nature of their light bulbs and took many measures to insure their bulbs would not be shipped horizontally.

Packing Material

Packing material is used inside the shipping box to cushion an item and protect it from shock. Shock is the number one killer of antique light bulbs. It can cause damage to the filament, filament structure, or worse the bulb's glass envelope. Bulbs should be wrapped with a layer or two of small bubble wrap. Care should be taken not to apply so much tape that it is impossible for the buyer to remove the bubble wrap from the bulb.

Many sellers assume foam peanuts are the best solution for packing material. Foam peanuts are the most popular packing material and are usually fine for many items but they have a few drawbacks. During transit the peanuts often settle leaving an item to move around slightly more inside the box. For cushioning early light bulbs, I recommend using white fiberfill (pillow stuffing). Fiberfill provides an excellent shock absorber and is easy to work with. Fiberfill is relatively inexpensive and can be bought by the bag for only a few dollars in craft stores, or even Wal-Mart. In addition to fiberfill, lightly crumpled or shredded newspaper also works well. There should be a cushioned barrier of at least three to four inches between the bulb and inside walls of the box in all directions.


Common sense rules here. When reusing boxes for shipping, be sure the box is still in good condition and isn't marked up a lot by the previous shipper and package handler. Boxes should have stiff walls and not be "soft" to the touch. Free boxes in at least two sqaure (preferred shape) sizes can be had for free from the United States Post Office if using their priority mail service. Heavy boxes can also be purchased at the large office supply chain stores and be bought inexpensively if you scan for sales in advance. I have found that double boxing usually is not neccessary for domestic shipping but I would recommend it for shipping more costly or scarcer items overseas. It is unknown to me if labelling a package "Fragile" actually insures the carrier will handle the package any different than normal. I still label my packages "Fragile Glass" with a heavy felt tip marker. Premade "Fragile" labels are also readily available from office supply stores.

Shipping Carriers

I do not recommend UPS nor FedEx. My preferred method of shipping is insured priority mail through the US Post Office. I have heard confilcting stories about insuring antique light bulbs. Some people have said that a light bulb's filament can not be insured against damage occured during transit. I have never had to file a claim for a damaged filament, so I can not verify if this is indeed true or not, but I still recommend insuring your package for loss, glass breakage, etc. For shipping overseas to or from the US, I recommend postal airmail. From past experience, surface mail has taken several months for my packages to reach their international destinations.

Nothing is better than driving across the country to pick up a bulb in person but for most people this just isn't practical. It is my hope that this guide will be used by sellers to insure these old jewels arrive on our doorsteps intact, to be enjoyed for generations to come!

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