Packing an Antique Doll for Shipping or Posting

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This guide tells you how to pack antique bisque headed dolls for safe shipping.  I have received some sad packages of badly wrapped “once a doll, now bits”, I am sure many of you have your own horror story, but it need not be like that.  I hope this will give you all the information you need to wrap your doll before sending  - or to give to your seller who has never handled dolls before so that they can pack your latest win.  Be aware that however carefully a doll is packed, damage can still result from shipping and it always advisable in the case of higher end dolls to fully insure for damage.

Key Rules
  • Make the eyes safe (see below – The Eyes).
  • Make sure no part can bang against another (see below – The Body).
  • Don’t use too much tape – magic tape and elastic bands are my preferred method, cling film works well, but very sticky tape can be so difficult to remove that you use so much force the doll flies from your hands and smashes or you use a knife and damage the clothing.
  • Plenty of packing – peanuts are best, newspaper can work, but can compress and leave room for movement, shredded paper can be very effective but an absolute pain to remove – fill plastic bags with shredded paper and seal before use, holds in air too and is easy to remove.  Sealed air bags are useful and lightweight too.  Padding such as baby nappies/diapers, fabric, plastic bags, is also useful but can add to weight and should really be used in addition to bubblewrap and peanuts unless you are a very experienced packer, as they are not so good at absorbing knocks and drops.
The Eyes
The first thing that needs to be done is to ensure the safety of the eyes; nearly all eyes are held in place with plaster which often dries out in the dry air at altitude (during the flight) and detaches from the head, if the eyes are sleeping eyes they will be attached to a lead weight – should these eyes become loose the weight can (and unfortunately often does) smash the head itself.  So if the eyes cannot be held in place you risk both the eyes themselves and the head too.
If the head is open at the top and the wig and pate are removed (see my guide for removing the wig) – it is a simple matter to gently stuff the inside of the head (not so hard that the delicate eyes break) with tissue or kitchen roll so that the eyes are held in place even if the plaster releases from the head.
Remember always to have the head FACE DOWN before stuffing so the sleeping mechanism presses against the plasters and does not pull away from them.
If the head is not open at the top (solid dome or firmly attached wig/pate) then the simplest option for a composition body doll is to take the head off the body and stuff the head via the neck hole – tricky when small, you may have to use polyester stuffing and a pencil or wire to poke the stuffing in.  For a kid bodied doll, can you take the head off and pack separately ?  (see my guide for removing kid from the shoulderplate without damaging it).
If the head has an open mouth and sleep eyes then it is possible (but not easy) to push thread or wire into the mouth to secure the eyes.  I would suggest a loop of soft wire such as plastic coated plant ties, long enough to easily go round the whole head – lay the doll face up so eyes close, insert loop to back of head and try to keep loop as open widthways as possible, then holding loop in place, lift doll to upright so lead weight swings down and into loop, pull both ends of wire until the wire is holding tight against the mechanism which is tight against the face – now to secure the wire – pull each wire to the respective side of the mouth and then round to the back of the head, twist together at the back of the head.  If there are holes at the back of the head – originally designed for this purpose - they can be used instead but it is trickier and not as effective.
For the doll whose head cannot be stuffed; this is tricky as there are number of options, none of which are foolproof.  Many people use sticky tape around the head and eyes, but I have had the pupils of the glass eyes pull out and the eye mechanism falls loose.  Some just bind the head around, but this puts pressure on the eyes against the plaster so would seem to be making things worse.  I prefer to pack the doll face down with appropriate labels on the outside of the box, this minimises the pressure on the eyes making the plaster less likely to release.
The Head
The head should be wrapped in good quality bubblewrap so that any knocks are absorbed by the bubbles, padding alone allows knocks to impact on the head and can result in hairline fractures.  You need 2 or 3 layers at least all around the head.
The Body
Apart from bisque hands on kid bodies and all-bisque dolls, the body is not as fragile as the head.  The main thing to ensure is that no part can bang against another; I like to wrap bubblewrap around the limbs and then use elastic bands to hold limbs together; bubblewrap between the legs and then use bands to hold the legs together, bubblewrap around the arms (including bisque arms – just use a bit more) then bind the arms to the body.  I then wrap the entire doll in another layer or two of bubblewrap.
The Box
The box you use should be sturdy enough to take knocks and drops.  It should be big enough to allow plenty of room around the head (the UK Post Office recommends a minimum of 4 inches of packing peanuts between wrapped item and all sides of the box), the body though can be gently bent to fit (don’t force it and don’t try and bend a body that doesn’t bend) – it doesn’t matter if stuffed legs in their packing touch the side of the box.
Part fill the box with packing peanuts, put the doll in position, remember to include all extras such as clothes, wig, hat, shoes, fill the box with peanuts making sure they are packed in.  Once the box is full and closed you should hear no movement from inside the box when you move it.  Seal thoroughly but remember that the buyer will probably need to use a knife to open the box – don’t place anything of value near the opening – it is heart wrenching when you realise you have ruined an antique dress whilst opening the box!  Make sure the box is well marked with Fragile stickers/ tape and with This Way Up instructions if needed.

If you require additional information or have comments to make, please contact me.

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