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Rare books - Sending them through the post

Rare books can be delicate items, and wrapping parcels and postage costs are important to postal booksellers. There are many publications available from the Post Office on these subjects which the postal bookseller should obtain. Ask at the counter for what is available. You should find all the details on postage and packing for the UK and abroad which you need.

Contrary to popular belief, I have always found the postal service to be quite good in this country. The Post Office publishes guides to wrapping parcels itself, and if these guides are followed it is very unlikely that parcels will go astray. The most common causes of parcels being lost are poor packaging and addressing. I am pleased to say that most books arrive on my doorstep in the same condition as when they left the bookseller. However, there are a few exceptions.

The most common problem I have come across is the practice of wrapping books in newspaper. A number of times I have received books wrapped in this way which have their covers stained with newsprint. Another problem which I have encountered is books that have been sandwiched between layers of card-board sheets, which have then been stuck together before wrapping in brown paper. The problem here is that the adhesive tape can stick to the covers of the books. Dust-wrappers are particularly prone to this.

The answer is that all items should first be wrapped in plain paper, then in cellophane to protect against the elements, and finally with whatever padding is needed in strong brown paper with all joins taped over. The padding can be anything from sheets of newspaper to corrugated cardboard. The important point is to wrap the book first in plain paper (a paper bag will do), so that it is not marked in news-print. I usually find that after wrapping in three or four further layers of paper, the books have enough padding to protect them. The natural bulkiness at the ends of the parcel acts as protection to the corners of the book.

For valuable items, it is best to include a layer of corrugated cardboard for extra protection, or to use one of the padded bags available from stationers. Magazine packages should have cardboard stiffeners included to prevent them from being bent in the post.

If a number of items are being sent, I wrap each book in a single layer of plain paper, and then sellotape all the packets together to prevent them moving about and fraying the parcel. I then wrap this package in three or four more layers of paper, and again the final step is a layer of strong brown paper.

For very large orders, it is best to put the individually wrapped items in a strong cardboard box, sealed with sellotape or parcel tape. Your local supermarket should have a large supply of boxes in various shapes and sizes. Any extra space should be stuffed with rolled-up paper to prevent the books moving about. The destination address should be written on the box, which should then be wrapped in brown paper, with the address written on this too.

However, even with the best packaging, it is still possible for parcels to go astray. The dealer should accept financial liability for this, and so for valuable items it is wise to have some insurance via the 'Compensation fee' service provided by the Post Office. In this context, I would deem 'valuable' to be any sum you would find inconvenient to write off as a loss. Personally I insure any parcel of value over 20, and I also offer the customer the option to pay half the money with the order, and half on receipt of the package. However, this is a matter for individual booksellers. The Post Office offers insurance at very reasonable rates. More valuable items may be, insured at extra cost.

Special techniques have to be adopted when sending abroad. In this case, you can make use of the 'Printed Paper' rate which enables books to be sent abroad quite cheaply. One proviso is that packages need to be able to be opened and resealed by customs officers. The best solution I have found is to use padded 'Jiffy' bags, sealed using plastic coated wires usually used for sealing bin liners. These wires can be threaded through the punched holes in the bag and twisted to seal the package.

It is also a requirement that no letter is contained in the package. Thus, the bill for the books should be sent with a separate letter by airmail. Details of the 'Printed Papers' service and other overseas details are available from the Post Office.

As regards payment from abroad, most banks will readily accept cheques in whatever currency they are presented. However, they will almost certainly make a 'conversion charge' for this service which varies from bank to bank. It is advisable to find how much the cheque will cost to convert, and to pass this on to the customer. If you advertise your books as 'UK postage paid' only, you should also ask the customer to pay the extra postage and packing costs in sending books overseas.

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